Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Monitoring the Impact of Scenario-Based Use-of-Force Simulations on Police Heart Rate: Evaluating the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Skills Refresher Program

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Monitoring the Impact of Scenario-Based Use-of-Force Simulations on Police Heart Rate: Evaluating the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Skills Refresher Program

Article excerpt

Abstract: This research aimed to establish the extent to which scenario-based use-of-force training undertaken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) replicates aspects of the essential physiological characteristics of real-life, high-stress police activity. Using heart rate monitors, the physiological stress reactions of 132 officers were recorded while they completed one of four use-of-force training scenarios (including a control, where no use-of-force was required). Average heart rate information was used as a proxy measure for officer stress reactions at four time points during the scenarios: (a) 10 minute pre-scenario, (b) during the scenario when verbal contact was made, (c) during the scenario when physical contact was made, and (d) 10 minute post-scenario. Relative to pre- and post-scenario rates, heart rates were elevated during verbal and physical contact. No differences in this pattern were observed between scenarios, including the control scenario. Relative to previous use-of-force simulation evaluations, the strengths of this design are the size and quality of the sample of participants, the collection of the stress proxy measure during the scenarios, and the inclusion of a control scenario. Overall, this examination demonstrated that the RCMP's current scenario-based use-of-force skills refresher program produces heart rate patterns that are consistent with the elevated physiological stress produced by real-world policing as demonstrated in prior field research.

Keywords: heart rate monitors, scenario-based training, police, physiological stress indicators, use of force

INTRODUCTION

Previous field research has demonstrated that on-duty Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers who encounter high-risk situations produce predictable physiological patterns that are consistent with elevated stress levels (e.g., Anderson, Litzenberger, and Plecas 2002, as discussed below). Given that these use-of-force situations occur infrequently, skills refresher training that police officers undergo must be relevant to ensure that police officers are optimally prepared to act under the high-stress they may encounter. Taking these factors into consideration, the purpose of this research was to examine whether RCMP scenario-based use-of-force skills maintenance simulations replicate the physiological patterns produced by police officers when faced with use- of-force situations (as measured by heart rate). The experimental design chosen for this study improves on previous similar work because of (a) the size of the sample of participants, (b) the measurement of physiological stress throughout the scenarios, and (c) the inclusion of a control scenario. To preview the conclusions, this research demonstrates that the scenario-based use-of-force skills refresher program used by the RCMP does produce heart rate results that are consistent with the elevated stress levels found in field research monitoring real-world policing situations (e.g., Anderson et al. 2002).

THE STRESS-INDUCING NATURE OF POLICE WORK

According to Anderson et al. (2002), a stress reaction involves two basic components: one of which is hormone- based (endocrine) response and the other is a nervous system response. Given the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the release of adrenaline, the heart responds with an elevated rate. In conjunction with other system stress responses, increased heart rate prepares a person to fight for survival (Driskell and Salas 1996; Murphy and Ross 2009; Peters et al. 1998; Violanti et al. 2007; Weinberger, Schwartz, and Davidson 1979). During a life threatening event, perceptual information is quickly processed through the thalamus and an individual's emotion or level of perceived threat is attached and routed through the amygdala, which then alarms the rest of the body of the threat (Murphy and Ross 2009). A physiological stress response may include an elevation of heart rate, and increases in perspiration, stress hormones, and muscle tension (Driskell and Salas 1996; Murphy and Ross 2009; Violanti et al. …

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