In recent years, cases involving police use of force have sparked intense debates and scrutiny regarding the behavior and decision-making of law enforcement officers. To shed light on these incidents, behavioral sciences have been increasingly relied upon to analyze the reasoning and actions behind such occurrences. However, it is essential to note that courts have resisted accepting specific behavioral sciences as valid evidence.
Let me emphasize that while I may not hold a doctorate in behavioral sciences, my qualifications and educational background in the field are robust. I have been a police officer for over 15 years and currently hold the rank of Sergeant. I am a police instructor and have taught all over the country. I have an associate degree in psychology, sociology, and anthropology and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. I have developed a comprehensive understanding of the complex factors that influence human behavior within law enforcement. Currently pursuing a Master of Science in Counterterrorism, I strive for continuous growth as a lifelong learner, constantly seeking to expand my knowledge and insights.
Moreover, my passion for learning extends beyond formal education. Throughout my law enforcement career, I have engaged in various courses and training programs to refine my skills and enhance my expertise. These include rigorous training in behavioral analysis and advanced interview techniques, among others. By actively pursuing these professional development opportunities, I have gained valuable insights and practical skills to approach complex situations with a well-rounded perspective.
This commitment to ongoing education and personal growth enables me to provide informed and impactful perspectives on police behavior, the use of force, and the role of behavioral sciences. My diverse academic and professional background enables me to contribute valuable insights to the ongoing dialogue surrounding these crucial areas within law enforcement.
The Role of Behavioral Sciences
Behavioral sciences, including psychology, sociology, and criminology, offer a comprehensive understanding of the complex interplay between the human mind and behavior. These disciplines provide valuable insights into the factors influencing an individual’s thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions, making them highly relevant in analyzing police use of force incidents.
When applied to the analysis of police use of force, behavioral sciences serve a crucial role in examining the decision-making process and situational factors.
By utilizing principles from psychology, experts can delve into an officer’s cognitive processes and mechanisms that contribute to their decision-making during critical incidents. This includes examining stress, perception, attention, memory, and decision biases that may impact an officer’s judgment and actions in high-pressure situations. Understanding the decision-making process becomes vital in determining whether an officer acted reasonably and in line with established guidelines or if any lapses may have led to an inappropriate use of force.
Sociology plays a significant role in analyzing the social and environmental contexts in which police use of force occurs. It seeks to understand how factors such as the location, demographics, community dynamics, and the presence of bystanders might influence an officer’s actions. By considering these situational factors, experts can assess the influence of external circumstances in shaping an officer’s behavior and the escalation or de-escalation of force during an incident.
Criminology is crucial in assessing police officer use of force incidents for several reasons. Criminology provides a foundation for understanding the legal standards and guidelines that govern the use of force by law enforcement officers. It involves studying the relevant laws, court precedents, and constitutional principles, such as the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. This understanding is essential in evaluating whether an officer acted within the boundaries of the law when using force.
By integrating these behavioral science disciplines into the analysis of police use of force, experts aim to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying factors that contribute to an officer’s actions. This multidisciplinary approach allows for a holistic evaluation of the officer’s behavior, considering their cognitive processes and the situational context. Such analysis can contribute to better-informed assessments of the appropriateness and legality of the use of force and help identify areas for training, policy improvements, and systemic reforms within law enforcement agencies.
Challenges in Courtroom Acceptance
Despite the potential benefits of implementing behavioral sciences in court, several challenges have hindered their widespread acceptance in police use of force cases.
One of the critical reasons for the court’s skepticism lies in the subjective nature of specific behavioral sciences. While these disciplines offer valuable theories and frameworks, their application in particular cases can be prone to interpretation and inconsistency. Experts may reach varying conclusions based on their analysis, making it difficult for courts to rely on a standardized approach.
Courts typically demand scientific evidence to be reliable and valid. Some behavioral sciences still need a solid foundation of empirical research and rigorous methodology. This hampers their credibility in the eyes of the courts, leading to doubts about their accuracy and generalizability.
The court’s reluctance also stems from concerns about behavioral science experts’ qualifications and potential biases. Evaluating an officer’s decision-making in high-stakes situations requires an expert who understands law enforcement practices and psychological dynamics. However, shortcomings in professional competence and potential bias can raise doubts about the integrity of an expert’s testimony.
The court’s hesitation to accept specific behavioral sciences in police use of force cases has significant implications for legal proceedings and the overall understanding of such incidents.
In a recent court ruling in California (Tracy Alves v. Riverside County, March 13, 2023), a federal judge refused to accept an “expert witness” named Mr. Borden. The judge deemed him lacking in credibility and unqualified to testify on behavioral science related to police use of force. For further details, please refer to the attached PDF link of the case from the Federal Court system in California.
While it is essential to acknowledge the issues with this expert witness, the court’s rejection of any application of behavioral sciences in the case is concerning. The focus here is not on whether the officers’ actions were justified but rather on why courts are reluctant to explore the realm of behavioral sciences.
Website: Tracy Alves V. Riverside County
The exclusion of behavioral sciences can create legal challenges for prosecutors and defendants. Expert testimony is necessary to ensure the ability to analyze an officer’s behavior and decision-making process comprehensively. Consequently, this may result in consistency in how different cases are evaluated and outcomes are determined.
While the court’s reluctance poses challenges, it also highlights the need for further research and development within behavioral sciences. Experts can enhance the validity and credibility of their findings by addressing concerns about subjectivity, reliability, and qualifications. This, in turn, can contribute to developing standardized frameworks and guidelines that courts can rely upon during police use of force cases.
In the end, while behavioral sciences offer valuable insights into the complex dynamics behind police use of force incidents, their acceptance in courtrooms remains controversial. The challenges of subjectivity, reliability, and professional competence have led to the court’s reluctance to accept specific disciplines as valid evidence. Addressing these concerns through enhanced research, methodology, and professional standards can provide a more comprehensive understanding of police actions and facilitate fair and just legal outcomes.
Ayman Kafel is the founder and owner of Hybrid Wolf Blue Line Strategies, LLC. A veteran-owned training and consulting company for Law Enforcement officers and agencies. He combines his military and law enforcement experience to bring much-needed cutting-edge training to the law enforcement profession.
Ayman is not only an active police officer but also a law enforcement instructor and has taught across the East Coast of the United States. He offers a wide variety of training, such as advanced patrol tactics, mechanical breaching courses, designated marksman, and Human Performance under duress.
In addition, Ayman is an Army Combat Veteran who was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. He became a police officer in 2007 after 8 years of service in the Army
Ayman has seen the ugliness of war and evil in the world. He survived two civil wars prior to immigrating to the United States in the late eighties.
His current position is the commander of his department’s Problem-Oriented Policing Unit. He leads a team of investigators that employs unconventional methods and Special Forces philosophy in achieving specific objectives in the communities he serves. These unconventional methods range from winning hearts and minds to specific strategic law enforcement actions to arrest and prosecute those who are the root cause of various crimes.
To reach Ayman, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.