Men and women in uniform put their lives at risk every day to protect people and serve our communities. This week, National Police Week, we want to thank our colleagues in law enforcement for their service and recognize the sacrifices of the fallen.
This past year has been challenging for federal, state, local and tribal police forces. We’ve seen the news reports, we’ve mourned the great losses—particularly in our black, indigenous and people of color communities—and some policing practices have come under fire. With this great criticism comes great responsibility, and many departments across the country are looking inward and working with civic leaders to implement changes. We at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) applaud these important steps and are committed to using our research and development capacities to be part of both the conversations and the solutions.
With the spotlight fully shining on police policies, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), now really is the time to be proactive and address them head on. S&T is taking the lead in studying high-stress law enforcement interactions with the aim of developing best practices, improving policing policies, refining TTPs, and reforming training to better standards.
Last month, senior officials from S&T and 62 different groups—including the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute, police partners, George Mason University, several major law enforcement and community associations, and mental health professionals—participated in a two-week-long law enforcement simulation experiment (SIMEX) in Virginia.
Funded by S&T, the DHS Office of Partnership and Engagement, the DHS Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), and U.S. Secret Service, the SIMEX used virtual reality to simulate outdoor officer-civilian encounters, focusing on law enforcement’s applied use of force and the factors that go into officers’ decision-making processes when applying force.
Specifically, five factors were analyzed during the simulation: 1) suspect resistance; 2) whether or not a suspect was armed; 3) presence of mental health professionals; 4) suspect race; and 5) suspect mental state, to determine, in an evidence-based way, if these contribute to any differences in how an officer applies force. Results will provide law enforcement organizations evidence-based data to examine and evolve current TTPs and implement new ones.
S&T’s efforts do not stop there. We’re also working with FLETC to learn more about the personal interactions that occur during police encounters to identify methods and techniques that can de-escalate conflict. We are doing this by reviewing video footage of police encounters, coding them to classify behaviors and outcomes and detecting patterns that can inform future training. Following this project, S&T and FLETC will look at the possibility of developing an intelligent automated coding system that can be used by researchers and law enforcement agencies to further answer questions about complex social interactions that occur between officers and citizens. This information could help improve individual and departmental training on how to manage conflicts with civilians.
Thank you to all the men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect ours. We at S&T salute you and will continue supporting you through our ongoing R&D efforts for first responders.