Force Science class – more quick hits

This week I’m taking the 33 hour Force Science certification course held at DPS HQ in Austin. The course is attended by 80+ people from 40+ agencies, 10 states and 2 countries (one from Canada). Class kept me busy last week so my plan to write “quick hits” each day did not happen. I did post some pics each day to Facebook, so I’ll use those pics for a brief AAR of the rest of the week.

If this picture is rotated 90 degrees off, sorry. Word Press keeps turning it no matter how many times I edit and re-save it rotated properly. Looks fine in the editor and wrong in the preview.

I’m a big advocate of bringing science, facts and measurements to the discussion about deadly force. The presenters do the work and publish it in peer reviewed journals. There are very few funding sources for research into the areas that need to be explored. Part of the revenue generated from the Force Science classes is re-invested into funding new research. The course was the most expensive training class I’ve ever attended — but between the large staff of subject matter experts and the information provided from the research results, the value of the course, per hour, and per dollar, was very high.

Artifacts at the DPS HQ training facility.

The class was held at the Texas Department of Public Safety training facility in north Austin. I remember going there in 1995 for the very first Concealed Handgun License instructor course, and I taught there a few times during my decade with TEEX. The hallways in the facility used for class were filled with display cases showing guns, uniforms, and other memorabilia from the long history of DPS. I should have taken more pictures of these items, as it’s unclear whether that building is open to the public to see them during regular working hours.


This quote opened a section on mindset and mental health. The first part is noteworthy. Most that walk around unequipped and untrained don’t believe that they will ever experience a violent life-threatening event. “It won’t happen to me” is the most popular self-defense and emergency preparedness plan used by the general population.

The good news is that those that survive the events may not be as psychologically damaged by them as “conventional wisdom” might lead us to believe. One of the instructors for the course described a program put in place after 9/11 that paid psychologists to walk around New York City, offering to talk to anyone that needed counseling. According to the instructor, there were plenty of psychologists willing to do this (and get paid by the gov’t to do it), but very few takers among the general population. Talking to peers (others with similar life experiences), friends and family were actually ranked as the most effective post-event coping mechanisms.

The FSI material on post-incident counseling centers mainly on using the counseling to explain the range of reactions that can occur that are normal. And their survey data indicates that for most, within a month of the incident, many of the worst psychological effects subside and continue to fade over time. Their data indicates that mandatory post-incident counseling had little to no impact on reducing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That position is not settled science, though.

How long does it take?

Another large chunk of the course explored movement times. How fast do different movements take? Draw times, shots from ready, turns, head movements, punches, steps (in street clothes and wearing duty belts), and many other actions. These things become very important when trying to figure out the exact timeline of a deadly force incident.

Another time issue relates to synchronizing sound in video. The farther the person recording the incident is from the action, the longer it takes the sound to reach the recorder. Anyone that shot steel targets understands this. Past 15 yards, certainly past 25 yards, there’s a noticeable delay between the shot firing and the “ding” of the bullet hitting the plate coming back to the shooter. This becomes important in cases where the accusation is “the cops shot him in the back”. In many shootings, shots are fired 3-4 shots per second, with split times of 0.25 on average. It can take less than 0.50 seconds for someone to turn in response to the first shot, or even as the gun is almost at firing level. In some situations, the sound can arrive late enough that it appears that the first shot isn’t fired until the person’s back is turned.

When multiple recordings of the same incident, from different positions, are available, it’s possible to correct sound-travel errors. The problem is that most videos uploaded immediately after an incident occurs are the raw feed — and the general public is completely ignorant of this basic science issue — and those most likely to view the incident through the most critical opinion are the least likely to be willing to consider the corrected recording as legitimate. Emotion and biases make rational discussion after a controversial incident almost impossible.

Block learning doesn’t work well.

Part of the course discussed how much material taught in large blocks was retained. The answer: not much. In the private sector training world, the same is true. There are people that will travel to “destination” schools, spend a week training, end the week at a high level of skill, and then check the box “done” for the year, doing no maintenance or refresher training beyond un-timed target shooting, usually at a range that does not allow holster use. That’s better than doing nothing, but by the time 12 months have passed, their return to the “destination” school usually means a lot of review and refresher just to get back to where they were when they ended the previous training. The same is true for law enforcement cadets. A better approach is what we do at KR Training – breaking up blocks into shorter segments, encouraging students to return for the next increment within 3-6 months, combined with structured dry fire and/or live fire practice to maintain skills. It’s the same approach FSI’s training indicates produces better results.

Why “the gun just went off”

This section looked into unintentional (a.k.a. negligent) discharges. Routine firearm tasks includes holstering and reloading.

One type of muscle co-activation I’ve noticed is “pinching”. That occurs when someone moves both thumb and forefinger when pressing the mag release button. Often this results in the trigger finger coming out of “register” (high and flat on the upper frame or slide) and ending up curled pressing straight into the frame, as the user “pinches” the frame to operate the mag release. This happens a lot more often than many realize. It happens because the pinching movement makes it easier to work a stiff mag release. But it puts the trigger finger perilously close to the trigger, pressing in a direction that could easily cause the gun to fire should the finger contact the trigger instead of the frame. Next time you press the mag release on your pistol, pause just before you press (or video the reload) and look at what your trigger finger is doing.

This picture shows an example of “pinching”.

Sample “public safety” questions

The conventional wisdom in the armed citizen world is that you should not say anything to responding officers. Police officers may have to answer questions like these, which are public safety related and time sensitive. In my opinion, this type of question is something an armed citizen might want to answer also, with the challenge being to keep the answers short and specific. About a half day of training was dedicated to sleep and memory, and research results showing that ability to recall details 48-72 hours after an incident occurs was better than immediately after the incident. The issue of whether someone involved in an incident should be allowed access to any recordings taken of the incident prior to giving a statement was also discussed. If the recordings were taken by witnesses, who are likely to upload (and monetize) them as quickly as possible, there may be no way to avoid that content.

Another issue related to that is the difference between what a camera sees and what an individual sees during an incident. According to FSI, we are only going to really pay attention to those details and actions that are critical to use in the moment, and our field of vision will likely be 3 degrees in sharp focus and at best 10-20 degrees of periphery. Wide angle lenses on body cams, and cell phone video taken from farther distances are going to show details that the people involved may not have noticed — and as with the issue with delayed sound, those viewing the incident with emotion and bias will be resistant to the idea that the individual actors didn’t see everything the camera did. The FSI team drew on research on driver and pilot performance, from research funded by insurance companies, car & plane makers, and gov’t agencies, as well as their own research running force on force scenarios involving participants with eye trackers, to explain this complex topic.

One of the best aspects of the course was a ‘study guide’ that had questions related to the key learning objectives for each module. During and after each module, we had to write down answers to the study guide questions (writing things down reinforces learning), and we reviewed the study guide questions and answers several times each day. This was important because there was a 75 question multiple choice/true-false test students had to pass in order to receive the certificate. The level and quantity of information was college level. Students in class were attentive – very few laptops open, very few people looked away from lectures at their phones. Lots of notes were taken. Most that attended were law enforcement or lawyers — and the topic was information essential to making better decisions under stress and (most importantly) being able to defend and explain those actions. So those that attended were highly motivated to learn. Instead of blogging I had to do homework each night studying the materials to be ready for the test.

This course should be considered essential for anyone in law enforcement or anyone in the legal profession involved with defense of deadly force cases. As with many other credentials I’ve spent “my own time and my own dime” to acquire (to borrow a phrase from Tom Givens), it’s a class that would be of great value to anyone teaching state level carry permit classes, were they motivated to attend. The Force Science website is here. They have more classes coming up all over the US, and an email newsletter you can subscribe to.