understanding police behaviour

Power, police officers and the human brain

As a keen amateur photographer I enjoy spending some time browsing the photos posted on Instagram wishing I had the "eye" to have captured some of the amazing shots posted there. Inevitably, given my professional background, I do tend to drift to law enforcement photos and end up following some officers as they post their daily events on line.  I thought it worth raising what one officer had posted there. The photo related to giving citizens a ticket for not pulling over when a police car was trying to pass them in an emergency. The officer who owned the post said she often gave out "tickets" to motorists who failed to pull over. This raises the interesting question about when, and if, a police officer should use the powers they have been given and what will be the benefit or consequences of using these powers. 

Every police officer who has ever been en route to an emergency call with the "blues and twos" blasting, is well aware that the world is full of motorists who it feels are deliberately impeding the police vehicle. There they are driving along in their own little world, oblivious to what is behind them. And what is behind them is a police officer getting more and more stressed and more and more frustrated.

Now let's try and add a few facts to the situation that might help anyone involved:

  1. As soon as the officer gets an emergency call, stress levels rise instantaneously. The activity in the brain changes significantly and the way the officer perceives the world changes.
  2. In reality, the motorist is oblivious to all but what happens to be in their world, at that  particular moment. [Rarely do people deliberately try to impede the police in such a manner.]

Assuming that the police officer continues to the emergency, (if they don't their stress level has already removed the ability to think logically) and that they note the licence plate/vehicle number returning to speak with the motorist at a later time, what occurs then is:

  1. The officer is still likely to be in an annoyed/frustrated state, whether they realise it or not.
  2. The motorist may still be totally oblivious to what they have done. If they are aware the are likely to be:  a) Feel sorry for their actions,  and/or   b) feel that, as their actions were unintentional, an apology is sufficient to make it right. 
  3. The officer decides to issue a ticket because that's what the frustration in their brain is telling them to do.
  4. The police officer alienates a citizen.

Just because a police officer has the power does not mean they have to use it.  If the officer writes a ticket nothing is gained except the 'power buzz' for the officer. The motorist learns nothing, except resentment.

That said, how often do we equip officers with understanding of the human brain and how to develop their interpersonal skills to use that knowledge? The fault  often begins, not with the individual officer but with the training that is provided to them, when they are recruited.

Want to know more: ask about our basic interpersonal skills course