Debriefings following scenarios or similar training exercises are a great opportunity for officers to learn from the experience, enhance future performance, and practice the skill of articulation. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to be too eager to get into discussions surrounding tactics and gloss over the explanation of the force used during the incident. In these cases officers are allowed to use generic statements about the subject and simply refer to subject behavior categories from the model. This allows the instructor to mark those off on their ‘check sheet’ and move onto what they perceive as the ‘meat’ of the debrief. The danger with this practice is that officers are being trained and conditioned to believe this is type of explanation is acceptable in the field.
As an instructor you must take the time to conduct comprehensive debriefings in order to maximize every officer’s learning experience and program your officers for success in the field. Failing to do so is a disservice to the officer and to your agency. In order to conduct full and effective debriefings instructors running the scenarios must have an in depth understanding of the totality of use of force authority and training as well as the art of articulation. They must also be familiar with what has been taught in the classroom and the training room to avoid any conflicting messages.
It is worth noting that a potential flaw in the way we examine use of force following an incident stems from a misunderstanding of how humans make decisions under these circumstances. Many people believe that decisions made at the time were based on the officer examining all the options available, precluding options that would not work and selecting the best option. Gary Klein in his book Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions talks about his research into recognition primed decision-making. Klein and his associates found that in the tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances like those faced by officers in the field humans do not examine a range of options. They use a singular evaluation approach whereby they identify one option that will suffice to solve the problem. Klein refers to the decision-making strategy Herbert Simon (Nobel Prize winner in Economics) referred to as satisficing: selecting the first option that works. Satisficing is more efficient than optimizing – especially in situations where there is greater time pressure, dynamic conditions and ill-defined goals, which refers to trying to come up with the best strategy.
Trainers however, have a tendency to expect officers to select what they perceive as the optimal force response option. While you can certainly build towards optimal decision making over the course of training you should not expect this as a matter of course during scenarios, or in the field. Remember as well that ‘optimal’ is very subject in most use of force cases.
Make sure you spend adequate time in debriefing scenarios in training. Rushing the debriefing process to facilitate more scenarios often leads to the ingraining of less desirable habits in officers.