Emotional Reactivity and Police Expertise in Use-of-Force Decision-Making

Abstract

Given the vast amount of evidence showing the substantial influence of emotion on decision-making, we examined emotionality—a person’s emotional reactivity to a stimulus—in police use-of-force decision-making between a sample of expert (n = 42) and novice (n = 36) officers. Officers observed body-worn camera footage and described the course of action they would take, the kinds of information they paid attention to, and their assessment of the situation. Natural language processing techniques were used to detect measures of valence, arousal, and dominance from officer responses. Linear mixed-effects models indicated that responses from experts were more positively valenced, more dominant, and less arousing compared with responses from novices. In other words, the ability to react and assess situations calmly, with a greater sense of control, and less negatively seems to be linked with the production of accurate, effective, and efficient behaviors that mark expert policing. These results shed light on the ways in which expert and novice officers understand and experience stimuli involved in use-of-force decision-making. Practical implications for use-of-force training and future directions are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We used the terms “expert” and “novice” rather than alternatives such as “experienced” and “less experienced” for several reasons. Experts, compared with novices, “…know more, their knowledge is better organized and integrated, they have better strategies for accessing knowledge and using it, and they are self-regulated and have different motivations” (Persky and Robinson 2017, pp. 75) and such expertise is developed “…through years of experience, but years of experience do not guarantee an individual will become an expert” (Persky and Robinson 2017, pp. 73). Experts in our sample were not recruited solely based on their number of years on the job. They were identified as experts by their department’s commanders based on the criteria reported in the “Participants” section of this paper. In other words, not only did the experts have considerably more time on the job than novices but they were also identified as having a deep understanding of the subject matter. Being Use-of-Force/Firearms/Defensive Tactics instructors also requires a nuanced understanding of such techniques in order to explain why and when certain tactics should be used in various scenarios. As such, we deemed the terms “expert” and “novice” appropriate for the current research (Klahm and Tillyer 2015).

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Funding

This study was funded by Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA-2016-VI-BX-K005).

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Correspondence to Vivian P. Ta.

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Ta, V.P., Lande, B. & Suss, J. Emotional Reactivity and Police Expertise in Use-of-Force Decision-Making. J Police Crim Psych (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-020-09428-5

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Keywords

  • Emotional reactivity
  • Police
  • Expertise
  • Use-of-force
  • Decision-making