The “Hesitation Factor”: the biggest threat to the safety of law enforcement

Now, I hate to admit this, but I watch a lot of LEO videos. I also watch television shows about law enforcement chases, arrests, crimes caught on tape and news stories about such topics. Ialso admit that those depicting “stupid criminal tricks” are the most entertaining. However, these videos also hold a great deal of information for LEOs and more specifically LEO trainers. This post is about a trend I see that I’ve termed, the “hesitation factor.”

There is no secret that LEOs react under stress differently than they do in training. Despite our best efforts to simulate the stress of encounters on the street, we can only hope to introduce a shred of realism. The goal is to prepare our students to incorporate the training we impart to their list of options. This is especially true of classes involving survival tactics. We simply seek to add another arrow to their quiver so that they may survive a deadly encounter.

While watching these videos, I have seen a trend; LEOs hesitating to engage suspects after the deployment of devices that are intended to incapacitate a suspect from a distance.

Here is the typical scenario that illustrates the “hesitation factor.” LEOs face a suspect who must be taken into custody. The LEOs assess the situation and make a decision to effect the arrest. Based upon the suspect’s actions, demeanor, size or the presence of a weapon, the LEOs choose an appropriate intervention to incapacitate the suspect. Of course if the suspect is armed with a firearm, the decision is usually clear when deadly force must be used and the approach of the suspect involves a different set of criteria. However, in many of the cases that do not involve the use of deadly force, I have seen LEOs hesitate to close the gap between themselves and the suspect after the deployment of a bean bag round, chemical sprays, a TASER®, or any other similar devices designed to incapacitate the suspect from a safe distance. I presume that these LEOs are well-trained and experienced. So, why do they hesitate?

Admittedly, we must also consider that we typically do not see the same hesitation factor when dealing with SWAT or SRT units. In those cases, it is not uncommon to see a coordinated effort to rush to the suspect as soon as the device successfully incapacitates the suspect. Part of my analysis here also includes an inquiry into why these units do not demonstrate the same hesitation factor.

I believe the hesitation factor can be explained and, more importantly, can be drastically reduced or eliminated through focused training. I believe there are three reasons for the hesitation factor. The first is that LEOs have seen too many videos of LEOs doing their jobs on the news! Let’s face it, there are cameras in nearly every patrol car, surveillance cameras are everywhere and almost every citizen carries a cell phone with a video feature. The problem is that the use of force to effect an arrest typically does not look pretty on camera, especially to the untrained eye. Someone must overpower the resisting suspect to secure him. When the video of such efforts hits the news or social media, everyone becomes both a critic and an expert on law enforcement tactics!

The second reason for the hesitation factor is the temptation for the LEO to wait for the expected effect on the suspect. Perhaps they have seen training videos where a suspect struck with a bean bag round fell to the ground and surrendered or a suspect exposed to the TASER® complied with all voice commands at the end of the first deployment cycle. Unfortunately, we cannot expect any suspect to react like any other suspect! This has always been the case. I can recall using compliance holds and stunning techniques on suspects before we were equipped with other options. Those techniques were successful on most suspects and were completely ineffective with others. Within that range, suspects demonstrated varying degrees of reactions from a complete surrender to fighting harder!

The final reason for the hesitation factor is the lack of intense focus on training scenarios and training under stress. This often results from a lack of critique of the effectiveness of these tools based upon the real world experiences of LEOs. Put simply, it is not enough to believe the manufacturer who tells you about an effectiveness rate of a device. You must review your own agency’s experience of actual deployments to study not only the device, but to determine if the LEOs in your agency are practicing proper deployment techniques.

So what is the danger of the hesitation factor? Put simply, any device that enables LEOs to temporarily incapacitate a suspect relies upon some element of surprise. Whether the device is deployed from 10 feet or 50 feet, the intervention must be as fast as possible to control and handcuff the suspect before the suspect is able to recover. When the suspect recovers from the deployment of the device, he will be ready for a fight and is not likely to react the same way to follow-up deployments. The suspect who has an opportunity to plan for the second deployment may find a way to defeat the device, fight through the effects of the device, or retrieve a weapon you were not aware of and change the odds to his favor.

Getting back to my observations that SWAT and SRT units typically did not demonstrate the same hesitation factor, I believe the reason why is simple: training, communication and coordination. They train for these scenarios more than the average LEO. They communicate as a team in everything they do on every operation and their operations, by their very nature, employ an advanced level of coordination.

So here is the take away. Remember that the tools you use, however expensive, sophisticated and advanced, will not secure a suspect in handcuffs for transportation to the jail. At best, those tools can only reduce the risk of injury for the LEOs who perform that final task involved in making an arrest. LEOs must be assertive if not aggressive in closing the gap with a suspect who is temporarily affected by a tool designed to do so from a distance. We must proactively train LEOs not to wait for some expected reaction from the suspect. Any reaction that allows the LEO to close the gap to the suspect safely is preferred and must be exploited. Training in this area can be time-consuming but it is time and funds well-spent. The training should be governed by the demonstrated ability of the students to retain the information, notby the clock on the wall. These skills are too important.

Do not worry that the use of the device or the “rush to the suspect” will look bad on camera! Explain it to the media proactively before and after the incident. Remember that rapid intervention will reduce the need for repeat applications of the device. This will in turn reduce the likelihood of injuries to both the suspect and the LEOs on the scene. If your agency is lucky, that might just lead to a reduction in suits for excessive force….maybe.

Hesitation in these situations and what I term the “hesitation factor”, can have deadly results. A suspect who is able to retrieve a hidden edged weapon or firearm can quickly turn an arrest into a tragedy. An unarmed suspect who is ready for the second deployment of a device and who is determined to fight can also injure LEOs who wait to approach him. Deploy, get in, and secure the suspect. These are words we can all live by for many years to come. Stay safe.

photo credit: wwarby via photo pin cc

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