The officer was acquitted. He had shot and injured the driver of a car. He was acquitted and restored to his police force.
The officer claimed he had been hit by the car and knocked to the ground. He had fired in self-defense, heroically. There was a video of the incident, though, and it showed no such thing. The video showed that he remained standing as the car moved past him, not even at a car-like speed, and he fired point-blank at the driver on the driver’s side. The driver was not badly injured. The officer was arrested for assault, and he was also arrested for fabricating evidence.
The prosecutor said on the record at the time that if officers can get away with shooting people and lying about it, “the system is doomed.” The officer’s own lawyer recently told The New York Times, “There was no way around it—he (the officer) was dead wrong.” The two lead lawyers on both sides agree: The officer had lied about the incident. He was wrong. But he was acquitted by a jury and eventually restored to the force, and he successfully sued the city and won his back pay.
All a jury needed was an explanation for how a police officer could be wrong and yet innocent of wrong-doing at the same time, an argument that not many civilians get to hear be made on their behalf in court. The founder of Force Science Institute, Dr. Bill Lewinski, provided that explanation. He made things unclear enough to make them clear to a jury.
His perspective, which he has sold to hundreds of juries (he charges legal teams $1000 per hour for his services), to dozens of police forces in cities across the country, and in hundreds of television appearances since he founded his company in 2004, comes down to this: After the fact, after an incident, no police officer, not even one who lies, is wrong, because whatever the actions are, those actions always come from the proper training in how to assess and handle threats, and we average folks can not possibly understand how that works. Terms like “dynamics” and “physiological factors” are employed.
Force Science™ Institute. Remember that name.
For those who feel powerless in the face of what appears to be an ever-increasing number of violent encounters between police and citizens in which force seemed inexplicable and unnecessary but was used anyway and a citizen was killed, or for those who have been increasingly frustrated by the legal system’s apparent impotence at prosecuting users of violence when they wear a badge, look no further than Force Science Institute.
For those who feel the relationship between our police forces and fellow citizens is not an issue at all, which is still the prevailing popular opinion, this is just evidence that Force Science Institute has done its job over the years extremely well, even though its name is not popularly known at all.
(A Gallup poll published in June shows that 52% of the public has either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police as an institution. This percentage has been shrinking in the last decade, but the majority opinion remains that the police are trustworthy.)
What does Force Science Institute do? For $1500 per student, Force Science Institute conducts a four-day certification class in “Force Science Analysis.” The company’s claim is that it studies “the Science & Human Dynamics Behind Deadly Force Encounters.” One could make the mistake that these are self-defense classes, albeit very expensive self-defense classes, from that description.
(There are four sessions scheduled for the remainder of 2015: two at the FSI’s Des Plaines, Illinois, location; one at a U.S. Army Center in San Antonio, Texas; and one at a criminal justice school in Orlando, Florida.)
A successfully completed certification “attests that the holder has been trained to recognize and articulate important psychological, biological, and physiological factors that can influence human behavior and memory in force encounters and pursuit situations.” That sounds like a good thing. That language almost convinces me that this is a self-defense course. I’ve been held hostage. Mightn’t one of FSI’s classes have helped me back then?
Does the company’s website explain things in plainer English anywhere?
Yes, it does, actually. Here is the company’s ad copy for the course: “Are you and your agency ready for the firestorm from a controversial use of force? Law Enforcement’s newest certification course prepares you to uncover the truth when lawsuits, careers and reputations are on the line.”
Oh. It really is a self-defense course, after all: If a police officer has used force in a “controversial” fashion (controversy usually comes when someone is killed), the police department certainly needs to learn how to defend itself—in court.
This is not training about knowing how to use force or why one ought to minimize the use of force, this is training about how to explain matters to the legal system in such a way that an officer who has already used force is legally protected.
The company also presents a two-day course in “Force Science Basics,” which it brings to police departments at a price it negotiates with each department. The language in that course description is plainer and darker: “The Force Science Institute uses sophisticated time-and-motion measurements to document—often for the first time—critical hidden truths about the physical and mental dynamics of life-threatening events, particularly officer-involved shootings. Its startling findings profoundly impact officer training and safety, and the public’s naive perceptions. In fact, the Institute’s findings have been directly credited with saving officer lives on the street and with preventing some officers from going to prison after being wrongly accused of criminally using deadly force.”
Among the topics promised in the course are these: “How threatening suspects end up shot in the back by well-trained officers making valid, lawful shooting decisions.” And “Why officers continue to fire ‘extra’ rounds in high-adrenaline confrontations after the threat has ended.” Nice air-quotes there, FSI!
In a “controversial” incident (their word) FSI assumes force has been used. It also assumes that the officer is always correct. Force will now need to be applied in the courts. FSI teaches police departments to explain the psychology and dynamics of police encounters in such a way that every encounter between officer and citizen is such a specialized branch of human interaction that the average human could not possibly understand without the specialized training FSI provides.
The “Human Dynamics Behind Deadly Force Encounters,” which the company claims to study the science of, is not the dynamics between me attempting to defend myself from an assailant and the assailant, but is instead the dynamics behind justifying why a police officer has used deadly force.
Not explaining, justifying. FSI does not make a distinction between those two words. One of the eight featured bullet-points that the company advertises as part of a successful certification states that students will learn, “Skills to help determine whether an officer is being honest when he swears his recollection of an incident is true … even though his account directly conflicts with forensic evidence.”
For example, perhaps there is a situation in which a video shows one thing, yet the officer has testified, well, the opposite, like in the case I started with. What to do? The video ought to be considered the final authority, no? No. One of the company’s newest courses ($495 per student) provides, “Special Training on Today’s Hottest Policing Topic: Body Cameras & Other Recordings in Law Enforcement.” Of course, if the video and the officer’s recollections jibe, that’s great. Regardless, the training helps police departments, “Enhance public perception and understanding of force encounters.” In group psychology, this is called “inoculation.”
FSI does not happen to like even the idea of body cameras, much less the insistence on using the equipment. The course offers, “Professional media relations guidance on best practices for handling seemingly controversial but potentially misunderstood footage.” It also offers training in, “Understanding and explaining why what a camera sees may not be what an officer sees during a high-stress, rapidly unfolding force encounter,” such as, “The impact of lighting, camera angle, and frame rate on recordings of fast-moving events.” In other words, the company teaches how to interpret video footage for a judge or a jury or for the public at large. Department spokesmen are trained to tell news program audiences that videos do not tell a complete story. As far as FSI is concerned, if two people can see two different things in a given video, then the video is not clear evidence of anything except the lack of clear evidence. Thus, the video is the department’s best argument for giving the officer the benefit of the doubt, which is, again, a thing that average citizens do not get to hear judges or juries award them.
Another topic in the $1500 certification course: “Whether shots to the back really reflect what an officer saw when he pulled the trigger.”
Read that again. Remember that FSI does not train departments to train officers to not shoot people in the back, something which one hopes is always a part of training. No. FSI exists to conduct classes in which this is the discussion: “How threatening suspects end up shot in the back by well-trained officers making valid, lawful shooting decisions.”
An officer has shot someone in the back. Maybe the shooting is on tape, too. It is “clear” to every layman viewing the recording that a person is dead because a police officer shot him or her in the back, which always sounds like a case of using too much force against a runner, or, worse, a coward’s way of handling matters. FSI trains its students to explain to the public and to our justice system something like this: “The dead man was shot in the back, but our officer was under threat, and when he fired his weapon the assailant turned.” The philosophy behind this is that once an officer declares he or she feels threatened, that officer now is under a factual physical threat and he or she must draw the weapon, which increases the likelihood of using the weapon.
FSI trains police departments (dozens across the country through the years) to argue to the public—and to train the public to think this; remember, 52% of us do indeed think this—that every use of force by a police officer is justified. If an officer has declared that a threat was felt, then that threat existed and any and all responses were by definition the well-trained responses of a sworn law officer. FSI has been profoundly successful in this training of public opinion, this particular inoculation.
Police officers are being trained to shoot first, shoot before having made a clear assessment of a situation, shoot first because wearing a badge means that the assessment was made upon putting the badge on that morning and is thus always 100% correct, so if a threat was felt a threat was definitely made; they are being trained to shoot first because the understanding is that the department will defend you by clarifying matters in such a way that indictments will be difficult to come by or acquittals assured.
FSI trains police agencies how to explain (away) what its officers are doing.
In July 2015, 123 people were shot and killed by police officers across the country. Seven months into the year, the total number is 691. The count is provided by a vetted web site called Killed by Police. There have been eight so far in August. Those are 691 individual lives. In the first half of 2015, 16 police officers were killed in the line of duty. Those are individual lives and not numbers, as well.
This is a national problem. It’s a political problem. It’s a power problem. And most importantly, most criminally, the vast majority of those 691 dead were people of color.
Dr. Lewinski, who is 70, taught criminal justice at Minnesota State, but earned his doctorate in 1988 from a school that is accredited but does not have a campus, and has not subjected his “Force Science” studies to any peer-reviewed journals. According to The Times, “The American Journal of Psychology called his work ‘pseudoscience.’ The Justice Department denounced his findings as ‘lacking in both foundation and reliability.'” Social scientists who have looked at his work have testified in court documents that they “question the ability of Mr. Lewinski to apply relevant and reliable data to answer a question or support an argument.”
He has published hundreds of articles in police publications, which are neither scholarly nor peer-reviewed, and he has conducted his courses for dozens of police departments. He is a success and his company is a success because the course teaches what any specialized and dangerous profession wants to hear about itself: that it provides a service that no one understands or appreciates, that every moment in the field could be the last moment alive, and that every decision made in the field is always the correct one or is at least justifiable when explained. Even lies are thus justified, as in the story I led with.
It is a philosophy of policing that is making policing more dangerous, certainly for citizens, and, probably, for the police, too.
It is a philosophy of policing on which I fear we can lay the names of 691 dead as of August 4, 2015. It is not the philosophy of policing that was taught in the past. And FSI has made millions on this new philosophy.
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