A new study from the University of California State at Fresno that appeared in a December 2008 edition of the Forensic Examiner was generating some interesting discussion over at Officer.com .
The research examines perceptions and reactions in potential deadly force incidents. Researchers used an interactive test and compared the results of citizen (college students for the article) reaction times and effective decision-making versus those of police officers.
Interestingly, the study reported that citizens did not believe that officers should shoot as often as they did, but the non-officers actually pulled the trigger more frequently in the test scenarios as compared to police test subjects.
Specifically, the researchers found:
1. Contrary to much popular opinion, average people exhibited extreme difficulty in distinguishing a handgun from an innocuous object such as a power tool.Obviously, there are numerous limitations with this study including arguing that psychology students are representative of the population, the video game reflex aspect to the test, a power tool as innocuous in the context of a shooting scenario, etc., but it still makes for an interesting demonstration—-encouraging the public to consider that shoot/don’t shoot scenarios are complex split-second decisions that occur in less than ideal circumstances.
2. This difficulty was observed even under ideal viewing conditions, far superior to those in actual crime situations.
3. Average people indicated an overwhelmingly strong tendency to shoot, or at least to decide to shoot, an armed perpetrator themselves if given the opportunity, and did so at the same levels even if the perpetrator was “armed” only with a power tool which was evidently readily mistaken for a weapon.
4. However, even though the vast majority of the civilian respondents indicated a readiness to shoot the perpetrator themselves, only about 1 person in 10 felt it would be appropriate for the police to do so under the same circumstances.
These results reveal a substantial disparity between the actions, attitudes, and beliefs of typical adults and the practical realities of police work in violent situations...
You can take a modified yet enhanced version of the shooting test online at the University of Chicago’s site .*
*Notes: it takes a few minutes to load all of the images at this site, I don't remember seeing the power tool described in the results above, and the test itself takes several minutes to complete.
How did I perform on the test?
Your Score: 695
Average reaction time:
Black Armed: 756.28ms
Black Unarmed: 804.28ms
White Armed: 694.16ms
White Unarmed: 758.72ms