Police officers faced with a realistic training scenario undergo plenty of stress — and plenty more when they talk about it later:
Last October, under Lewinski’s direction, and with coordination by Branch Board representative Dave Blocksidge, 48 male and female volunteers from London’s armed response teams, SWAT unit and diplomatic protection group were fitted with heart-rate monitors by Justin Dixon, head of the exercise physiology lab for the Met force.
Divided into teams of 3 and armed with Glock 17s loaded with Simunition blanks, they were assigned one team at a time to participate in the same scenario: an armed robber had been shot and was in a hospital setting; they were to respond to his bedside as a protection-and-containment unit.
As each team entered a simulated hospital lobby, filled with patients and visitors, they unexpectedly witnessed a verbal altercation in progress between a receptionist and a man who claimed to be the brother of the wounded bandit. He was adamantly insisting on seeing the suspect; the receptionist was standing firm that no visitors were allowed.
The male role-player kept escalating the situation, even grabbing the receptionist if that’s what it took to provoke the officers to intervene. (This was so realistically staged that during one enactment when Lewinski was playing the receptionist, he was dragged across a desk and broke his glasses!)
As officers responded to calm the conflict, another “brother” of the armed robber unexpectedly popped out of a room off the lobby, wielding a sawed-off shotgun and holding a female hostage. He fired Simunition blasts out of both barrels into the floor, then pointed the gun at the officers and started to make loud demands that his wounded brother be freed.
As soon as officers responded–invariably by shooting and controlling him–the scenario ended. (Interestingly, the volunteers were highly enough trained that even though they had never worked together before, each team automatically split its areas of responsibility so that while 2 officers dealt with the receptionist squabble one stayed alert to the surrounding environment. “As a result,” Lewinski recalls, “the response to the suspect with the shotgun was so fast he never got a chance to fully voice his demands.”)
Immediately after the scenario, the officers, still wearing their heart monitors, were divided into different groups. Some conferred with other team members on what they had just experienced, which Lewinski says is standard after-action practice on London Met. Others were not permitted to confer. Then each of these groups was further divided. Some wrote reports of the incident and some were interviewed.
The interviews were conducted by trained investigators who had undergone refresher sessions on cognitive interviewing techniques before the scenario. Again, cognitive interviewing, a specialized technique in which all an officer’s senses are explored in an effort to enhance memory of a stressful experience, is standard practice on London Met, Lewinski says. (The refresher training, in this case, was provided by Dr. Amina Memon, a psychologist with the University of Glasgow and a recognized expert on that interviewing style.)
Finally, the officers were subjected to aerobic fitness tests during which Dixon measured their pulse rates and oxygen levels.
The two major findings:
- Pulse rates among the officers spiked to 160 bpm once the shooting started. “That’s roughly double the normal heart rate for a reasonably fit person,” Lewinski says.
- During the post-scenario interviews, when participants were asked to recall details of the threat encounter, heart monitors recorded jumps in the officers’ pulse rates up to 135 bpm, about 60% of their maximum heart rate.