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A peek into the latest policing research from the SEBP - issue 11

Space constraints mean we could only provide the briefest summaries of some interesting and important research in the 11th issue of the SEBP newsletter. These do not do the studies justice, but have hopefully piqued your curiosity enough to bring you here.

The impact of trauma-awareness session on police officers’ trauma-informed attitudes in Scotland by Zara P. Brodie, Karri Gillespie-Smith, Karen Goodall, Kirsty Deacon and Kimberley Collins There is growing awareness that those who encounter the police, either as victims or perpetrators, have high levels of prior trauma exposure. Following reports that up to 80% of calls received by police in Scotland concern vulnerability issues, Police Scotland has sought to adopt trauma-informed policing approaches. In 2018 they began to implement trauma-awareness training to ensure that their frontline officers are equipped to respond to vulnerable members of the public. This consisted of a viewing of a short documentary about Adverse Child Experiences and their impact and then a question and answer session with practitioners and those with lived experience. This study, published in Psychology, Crime & Law, is the first evaluation of how the training session impacted police officers’ trauma-informed attitudes. Using the Attitudes Related to Trauma-Informed Care scale, researchers compared attitudes of police officers from a division which had received the training with one that had not to determine whether officers who had received the intervention had made them more trauma informed, and whether this was influenced by demographic factors. Finally, awareness of the trauma of victims and suspects was measured separately to see if attitudes varied. The findings highlight that female officers were the only group to demonstrate significantly higher trauma-informed attitudes when exposed to the trauma-awareness session. The researchers found officers were less aware of the importance of being trauma informed with suspects than they were with witnesses/victims, and this was not changed by the training. However officer age and time in role were both positively related to trauma-informed attitudes towards suspects/perpetrators, suggesting that trauma-awareness interventions need to be implemented early in the police training process. Researchers suggest this form of trauma-awareness has limited potential to influence trauma-informed attitudes and suggested more intensive tool-based training to be delivered to new recruits would be more effective.

Critical Incidents in Police Work: What Incidents Stay with Danish Police Officers? by Sara Rosenbeck Møller, Anna Sofie Feilberg Hansen, Jesper Pihl-Thingvad, Ask Elklit & Nina Beck Hansen

Police officers are frequently exposed to critical and potentially traumatic incidents in their work, which are associated with increased risk of developing mental health problems, in particular post-traumatic stress disorder. This qualitative study, published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology aimed to discover which critical incidents had the most impact on the wellbeing of Danish police officers. Using content analysis, this study coded 2960 descriptions of work-related critical incidents (CI) that still cause emotional reactions among 1659 Danish police officers. The content analysis resulted in the development of three main categories of CI (danger or threat, accidents, and deaths and distressing crimes) which could be further divided into 28 CI categories. The researchers highlighted the diversity of critical incidents caat can badly affect officers. These included the unusual, such as serious threats or witnessing gruesome deaths, but mainly consisted of common and more routine police tasks of a tragic or distressing nature, e.g., traffic collisions, handling cases of severe violence, suicide, homicide, child neglect and abuse, and making death notifications. This research highlights the importance of recognizing routine police assignments as potentially distressing and emotionally burdensome. These findings underline the importance of focusing prevention initiatives not only on the aftermaths of more extreme CI but also on the daily exposure to emotionally stressful CI and thus on the potential accumulation of psychological strain due to various CI experienced over time. The 28 CI categories show potential as categories for future screening of CI exposure in police work and could aid with education.

Violence-Related Death in Young Australians After Contact With the Youth Justice System: A Data Linkage Study by Melissa Willoughby, Jesse T.Young, and Stuart A.Kinner Few studies outside the US have examined the risk of violence-related death among young people who have had contact with the youth justice system (justice-involved young people) or have compared that risk to the general populations. This new study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence aimed to improve understanding of violence-related death among justice-involved young people outside the US to inform prevention responses for these young people. The researchers examined violence-related death in a large, whole-population cohort of young people who were followed for up to 23 years after contact with the youth justice system in Queensland, Australia. Researchers used data linkage methodology to: calculate the rate of violence-related death, compare the risk of dying from assault to that in the age- and sex-matched general population, and identify predictors of violence-related death. They found: justice-involved young people have a risk of dying from violence that far exceeds that of the general population. Young justice-involved Indigenous people are more likely than non-Indigenous people to die from violence-related causes. Those who experience detention have more than twice the risk of violence-related death than those who were charged only. The risk of death was the same of justice involved males and females - though females were far more likely to die than the general population. The study identifies key groups to target for violence prevention efforts. The results differed from the previous studies carried out in the US, which were influenced by higher access to guns, and so indicate violence prevention strategies should be informed by evidence that is specific to the targeted population and setting.

Executive Functions Related to Quality of Reporting Following Police Officers’ Use of Force Training by Jessie N. Doyle, Mary Ann Campbell and Donaldo D. Canales

The capacity to use force against citizens is one of the most salient and controversial issues in policing. Following a use of force encounter, investigations are carried out to understand why force was used and whether it was justified. Officers are often required to provide written and/or verbal statements in an official report detailing the encounter and justifying their decisions. Thus, accurate reporting is imperative to use of force investigations. Yet being involved in a force encounter triggers acute stress responses that may affect cognitive processes and contribute to errors in recall of those events. To date, few studies have examined the psychological mechanisms underlying police officers’ reports of use of force encounters. This study, published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, seeks to fill in those gaps, looking in particular at non-lethal violence. The researchers asked 84 Canadian municipal officers to complete a self-report measure of executive function. Officers then participated in a live action video-recorded use of force simulation. Officers provided a written narrative of their use of force experience immediately post-simulation. Researchers coded videos and narratives for officer and suspect behavioural actions to determine comparability between observed behaviours in the simulation and narratives. Results demonstrated that officers’ behaviours and their narratives were reasonably comparable, with the greatest comparability observed with details relating to officers’ own actions. Poorer metacognitive abilities were predictive of lower comparability for details pertaining to suspect behaviour. The research suggests better training, including reviews of narratives post-simulation to enhance metacognitive functioning, may help create the most accurate accounts of use of force encounters , and enhance current approaches to investigation following use of force encounters.

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