Law enforcement decision making during critical incidents: A three -pronged approach to understanding and enhancing law enforcement decision processes

Laura Ann Zimmerman, University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

Decisions made by police officers in dynamic situations with ambiguous information, time pressure, and high-stakes outcomes, are often attributed to intuition and more precise explanations about what led to these decisions are often not offered. Perhaps this is because little is known about the factors that contribute to officers' decisions, or about how experience influences those decisions. This study investigated how novice and experienced police officers processed information and determined courses of action when making decisions during high-stakes critical situations. Thirty-five peace officers from El Paso County Sheriffs Office and El Paso Police Department participated in this three-part study. Officers participated in (a) live simulated training scenarios, (b) a post-event interview, designed to gather in-depth information about decision making processes, and (c) a cognitive skills training course designed to improve ability to make decisions during critical incidents. Analysis of interview data revealed differences between novice and experienced officers. Experienced officers tended to focus on assessing the situation and applying mental models to the situation, while novice officers focused on procedures, the subject's and their own actions. Detailed explanation of police decision processes and decision tasks are presented, along with implications for future research and training. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, General|Sociology, Criminology and Penology|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Zimmerman, Laura Ann, "Law enforcement decision making during critical incidents: A three -pronged approach to understanding and enhancing law enforcement decision processes" (2006). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3214014.
http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/dissertations/AAI3214014

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