Friday, 24 October 2008

Researching the validity of conferring

As some of the comments in the last thread obviously show, the topic of conferring is a contentious issue at best, at worst it is seen by some people as Police officers lying through their teeth to cover perceived mistakes. Whatever your view is, there is no perfect answer, short of downloading peoples memories into a computer to be analysed, so the best answer has to be one that achieves the highest quality of evidence possible. There has been extensive research in the areas of memory formation and retention which suggests that the current practice of conferring is one of the ways to achieve the best evidence.

In reaction to repeated calls by the IPCC and the MPA, the Met has commissioned Portsmouth University to conduct studies to determine which methods would be best for not only achieving best evidence but also for the welfare of the officers involved. There have been extensive studies already conducted in the US which suggest that the current practice of conferring IS the best method of obtaining accurate evidence, the problem we face is the public simply don't trust that medical and psychological evidence and think that we are colluding when we sit down, debrief to reconstruct the incident and our own individual actions and then write them up.

The following is an article from the Metline magazine published by the Met Police Federation and discusses the outcome of research commissioned by the Met Fed into how errors in recall can occur. Have a read if you want and feel free to discuss, critique or lament et cetera.

The Write Approach - New research sheds much needed light on how the brain processes memory in high stress encounters and calls into serious doubt suggestions that officers should not be able to confer over notes after incidents.

Officers who confer and write a report after a firearms incident are likely to produce a more accurate account of the event than officers who do not confer and are interviewed. That is the conclusion of a research team which carried out an experiment in which volunteer firearms officer were put through a challenging simulation of an incident and were afterwards required to demonstrate what they had remembered of it. The events during the simulation were recorded by three CCTV cameras so that the officers recollections could be checked against what actually happened.

The primary aim of the study was to examine the validity of current theories about how memories are generated and their relevance to Police officers involved in high stress incidents, but it also examined the effectiveness of achieving accurate recall of events from individuals afterwards. The experiment was carried out by the Force Science Institute, which is conducting a number of scientific research programmes for the Met Federation. The researchers realised that the study had to be realistic enough to create genuine stress among the participants, as well as requiring them to make the sort of 'action decisions' that would be vital in a real life encounter. It also had to be arranged in a way that the outcome would be changed by the officers actions and novel enough that the officers would have to read the situation rather than rely on experience.

The answer was to rig the gym at Hendon to resemble the reception area of a hospital ward, complete with waiting patients sitting around. The officers were given a scenario, learning that they were being posted as guards for a man who had been wounded in an armed robbery and was in a locked ward. As they walked through the reception area to their posts, they were confronted with a conflict - which they had not been told about - between the 'brother' of the wounded man and the receptionist (the receptionist having denied the brother access to the ward) of such an intensity that the officers were obliged to intervene. While their attention was taken up by this incident a hostage taker burst through a door beside the reception desk with his left arm around a hostage and a double barrelled shotgun in his right arm. The hostage taker discharged his weapon twice into the floor before pointing it at the officers, who then needed to control or shoot the man. Once he had been disabled, the action ended.

Forty six officers participated in the study, divided into teams of two or three. When it came to recalling the incident some were asked to write reports after conferring with colleagues, some wrote a report but without conferring, some were questioned - after conferring - by a third party while a fourth selection of officers were each interviewed without conferring among themselves.

The researchers, meanwhile, categorised the officers recollections into two types. The first type - called 'internal' - encompassed recollections of the officers own thoughts and behaviour. The second - 'external' - dealt with recollections about the other players and the environment. Each of these types was then further divided into "narrow" (a specific focus of attention) and 'broad' (a wider overview).So, for example, if an officer remembered thinking that he or she had to move to a pillar, the recollection was graded 'internal narrow', while if they thought they were in danger it was an 'internal broad' recollection. A recollection that the shotgun had two barrels was recorded as 'external narrow' while the memory of someone falling to the floor was 'external broad'.

In this way, it was easy to see what sort of things were most likely to attract an officers attention, and which things they were least likely to pay attention to and, consequently, fail to memorise. The different methods of eliciting their memories - written reports, interviews, conferring and non conferring - were also graded for their effectiveness in respect of the number of things officers could recall and the accuracy of those recollections. Overall, the officers recall of 'external' things was more than 400% better than their memories of what they themselves were thinking or doing. And within the 'external' category, their recollection of specifics ('narrow' focus) was almost twice as good as their recollection of the broader picture.

The researchers report comments: "this 'tunnel vision' or 'selective attention' is characteristic of all humans who engage in this type of encounter... this study indicates that this phenomenon also occurs in well trained Police officers." It continues: "the important element of an 'external' focus of attention particularly an 'external' and 'narrow' focus of attention, is that the process of focusing allows the officers to focus on what is important to them at the time but that they can miss other items that may later turn out to be important. For example, if the officers attentional processes at the moment of the shooting were on the alignment of the gun, they did not note anything about the specific movement of the subject, their clothing, the subjects action towards the hostage etc"

The researchers say that this narrow, external focus facilitates great performance but renders officers 'attentionally blind' to anything they are not focused on. Their memories therefore became less accurate, or non-existent, about things upon which they were not focused. The report points out: "They were quite often inaccurate or unobservant about the hostage and almost never noted the behaviours or action of anyone other than the shooter. They almost never noticed the presence or action of the shooters brother and even other officers."

The researchers cite one officer who described how his two colleagues 'froze' and how he fired his first shot before either of them had drawn their weapons, but the video showed them all drawing their guns almost simultaneously, with one - who was just two feet away - firing immediately afterwards. Another officer spent a great deal of time describing how he pushed an individual out of the way, while the video showed him putting his hands as if to push the person but then recoiling back and taking cover. The different methods of getting officers to reconstruct events after the incident - writing reports after conferring, being cognitively interviewed without conferring - had wildly varying error rates.

When it came to recalling those things upon which the participants were 'externally' and 'narrowly' focused upon - that is things to which they were more attentive - the officers who conferred and wrote reports recalled 314 correct details and only made two errors, representing an error rate of 0.14 per officer. The researchers describe the statistic as "amazing". The error rate per officer of the 'external narrow' recollection of the report writing group who did not confer, although still small, was 0.6 per officer. Officers who were interviewed provided, on average, more than twice the amount of information that the report writers did, but their error rate soared. For example, officers who conferred and were interviewed about their 'external narrow' observations recalled 765 items of which 66 were incorrect - an error rate of 4.5 per officer.

Worst for errors were those officers who did not confer and were interviewed, whose error rate in the 'external narrow' category was 6.6 per officer - that is, 47 times greater than the confer/report group.

Commenting on the big discrepancy between report writing and interviews, the researchers comment: "The primary source of the errors dealt with information on the edge of the constables focus of attention. The constables worked hard to provide accurate information but the interviews apparently led them to expand on items that they were less knowledgeable about." The researchers point out that the primary aim of the experiment was to demonstrate the degree to which 'focused attention' occurred in high stress incidents and the manner in which it affected the officers perception afterwards.

The effectiveness of the different methods of eliciting memory recall was only a secondary study and did not meet the criteria of a full study, which would require more officers to participate. But they conclude that, nonetheless, their findings indicate "reports produced less information but are more accurate in their detail" They add: "when constables are going to have to report on an incident, the most accurate reporting of the details is going to be provided by those constables who had a chance to confer. A further conclusion might be that the less the officers provide about the incident, the fewer errors they will make, especially if they report only on the behaviour that they were most specifically focused on"

The article was based on the research report entitled "A study of the presence of perceptual distortions in firearms officers" and raises some very important points which the study by Portsmouth University will go into much greater depth. The issue regarding statements is always going to be the perceived credibility or ability to trust those submitting the evidence, but the ultimate aim is to provide evidence to a court for trial or coroners inquest. There is only so much error in a statement that a jury will tolerate before bringing the whole statements reliability into question. With regard to the accuracy in statements, the problem we face is to decide if we want an extremely accurate statement whose credibility will always be questioned by some people, or if we want less accurate but more detailed Police witness statements that face being deemed unreliable because of the vastly increased number of errors.

As always, it seems we're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't.



Area Trace No Search said...

I think that it's still pretty simple - most witnesses don't get statements taken straight after the event, especially with more traumatic events.
They therefore, get time to confer.

The hackneyed old line about suspects getting no opportunity to confer does coppers a disservice.

We carry weapons rountinely and legally, and so shouldn't be immediately treated as suspects when we use the equipment and legal powers available to us.

Anonymous said...

That old saying...A police officers lot is not a happy one, really is quite true. Also true...damned if we do and damned if we don't. There always will be people who doubt, mistrust or refuse to believe an accurate account of a situation. Been there got the T-shirt, and Insp Gaget's slogan of "You couldn't make it up" was often stated in response to my rather traumatic experiences.

I was also told numerous times, in early training, that I had an exceptional memory and an eye for detail, determination and integrity. All the qualities required in a police officer.

It does seem to me, that the public have very high expectations of police officers. They do expect them to be Superman or Superwoman, which is impossible for mere humans.
Public pressure on service providers, like the police force, to act and do the job how the public think it should be done, isn't always the best thing.
But that doesn't stop them interfering and muddying the waters with their unqualified, inexperienced "expert opinions," to make people and systems change to suit them and their often unrealistic expectations.

Conferring enables clarity about an incident. Good post.

ER Indoors

loveinvienna said...

Very interesting reading! I personally think the Police should be allowed to confer as nobody is perfect and it is humanly impossible to note every single detail of an incident for later explanation. No one could do it but the majority of the public seem to think the Police should be able to...

Apart from that, couldn't lack of conferring between Police Officers mean that an innocent person might be unintentionally dragged into an investigation because a copper or two saw them in the fray and thus assumed from the glimpses they saw (quite rightly) that the person was involved when actually another copper nearer the person saw that they were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I don't know if i'm right, I was just pontificating... :)

Liv xxx

Anonymous said...

LIV....Yes,I do think that you are right in what you say.

The system is not perfect and neither are the people who work within it. The standards that are set for police officers are very high, justifiably, considering the power they have over the public.
But humans do make mistakes.

Problems can arise when, for whatever reasons, standards are lowered and "conferring" mutates into collusion and arse covering.
ALL the professions can be guilty of this, to save jobs, pensions, reputations and face, when mistakes are made. This is what the public object to and quite rightly, because it just adds insult to injury to be on the receiving end of it.

A possible solution to this taking place within the police, would be to have the event of "conferring" back in the office actually filmed, as a record of how the incident was remembered by the officers involved. Providing they did not discuss matters before they sat down to confer and make their statements.

Maybe getting it on camera would stop the mistrust and accusations of collusion and cover ups. To be fair, nobody can deny that this has not gone on in the past, which is why officers are under such intense scrutiny now.

However, that doesn't solve the NEW potential problem, of innocent people being wrongly accused or pre-judged as a "bad" person, because of incorrect information held by "Partnership Agencies" who confer with the police. Nor does it solve the potential problem of incorrect information on individuals, which is held by police, being passed on to their new "Partnership Agencies".
A rather cruel and nasty "game" of Chinese whispers can occur.

Whatever way you look at it, some people WILL put their own "spin" into the information mix, because of their own perceptions or misperceptions of people, events, and even due to their own prejudices or bias. Social workers, the press and politicians seem to be the worst for doing that! Saying that black is white, and white is black.
Hmmmm Orwell again!

ER Indoors

Metcountymounty said...

'er indoors - I've not got a problem with debriefs being taped, same goes for incidents with a head/body cam, the problem comes with the questions asked about what happens when the camera is off.

The public don't want to see what goes on behind the scenes regardless of how much they say they do, they don't want to see that we have personal lives and friends and that we slag off idiots and chavs every single day. That would make us no different from them and there are a lot of people who don't like the idea that they simply couldn't deal with the things that we do.

Same goes for nurses, ambos' and fire crews - the public want to see us all working and know that we will be there to do our jobs but don't really want to know everything because they couldn't handle it.

Anonymous said...

MCM. I think you missed my point about filming a debrief and statement making event after a serious incident, like the shooting of a suspect. If officers were not able to "confer" until the camera was on, this could help officers in situations where later on there are accusations of collusion, which then become part of an investigation. Any film record obviously would NOT be for public consumption. But the public probably could handle it, because they are as nosey as all the government agencies, who want to know EVERYTHING about members of the public, which they keep on record in files and datbases, including misinformation!

I don't agree with your notion that the public don't want to know what goes on behind the scenes. The success of many of the unoffical blogs and reality TV programmes proves that they do. And local gossip in rural communities is a source of entertainment for them.

But yes, the public do want to know that public service providers are going to be there for them when needed, and that they will do their best for them in a time of crisis or distress.

What really gets people's backs up is abuses of power, lies, and arse covering collusion to protect "professionals" when they do wrong, or make mistakes. Especially when innocent people are subjected to smear campaigns and defamation in the systems records and the press. There has been far too much of that in the past, and that is why the police are under such intense scrutiny.

The same level of scrutiny should apply to other partnership agencies of NHS, HMRC, DWP, Social Services and Local Councils regarding the "statements" they make about MOP in their records, because they can be the cause of injustice, misunderstandings and a great deal of harm and distress.

Er Indoors

Metcountymounty said...

er indoors, logistically it would still be very difficult to separate people post incident until they get the chance to debrief on camera to the degree of eliminating any suggestion that there has been any form of collusion.

Given the influx of detractors and trolls on the last post, after 3 days and 1200 hits to the site, the sum total of troll comments or people saying we're all making it up and are all liars has been, well, nil actually.

Maybe they're all just having a long weekend off, or possibly that recent scientific evidence (in addition to copious amount of historical and anecdotal evidence) has suggested that we have been right all along in how we write up and debrief incidents?

Scary that, anyone would think it wasn't actually our first day at school....

Anonymous said...

MCM. ....erm, don't really like to argue with you, however, I don't agree that it would be too difficult to eliminate accusations of collusion by officers after a serious incident.

Officers need not be separated post incident. They could be "supervised" by observation by an officer from PSD maybe, and instructed to not discuss the incident until on camera.

If bus companies can put cameras on buses, then cameras could be placed in the vans that officers use to get too and from an incident. If it is for their protection against allegations of collusion, what's the problem?

When one considers the amount of hours spent and the cost of an IPCC investigation, a bit of foresight and positive backside covering by means of scrutiny by means of camera recordings after the event, would probably save officers a great deal of stress and agro, as well as save taxpayers money. This could increase confidence in the police whilst they continue with the practice of conferring after incidents. It would be a bonus for the force to be able to prove that there has been no "collusion".

The public are subjected to a great deal of camera observation and other means of scrutiny. And as the police are the public, and the public are the police, what's good for the goose, is also good for the gander!

I wasn't suggesting that "you" are all liars, or making it up incidentally, but I do know from my own experience as an undercover officer that it does happen, sadly. So there's no need to get defensive and sarky with me Mr MCM...I'm just telling it how it is and how I see things.....and also trying to be constructive by suggestions which would prevent trouble and save time and money as well as the reputations of officers. Chill out dude! XX

ER Indoors

Metcountymounty said...

er indoors, sorry I should have clarified, the first part of my post was in response to you, the rest was a comment on the lack of troll comments that the article received!!

On pre planned ops you could have transport vehicles ready that were rigged up with cctv in order to cover arses, but the only way to ensure you were covered for a fast time incident would be to have every vehicle in the fleet cctv'd up as you just don't know how many you'd eventually need or how many officers would be involved. You'd have to cover everyone involved and not just the officers taking the shot in order to be fair and proportionate.

Take the Mark Saunders incident for example, officers from DPG and CO19 were involved in that, seven of whom fired rounds and a half dozen others who were involved directly, and then a dozen or so response officers who were there and could have seen what was going on from he RVP and outer cordons. There simply aren't that many vehicles readily available to transport them all individually back to base unless you use response units.

Further to the cost of installing cctv in each vehicle, you'd have the cost of download and storage of the data for at least 6 years which is a massive amount of largely redundant data, and the job certainly won't go for the best bit of kit, they'd go for the cheapest and then spend a fortune constantly fixing it, the cost would be huge and in my opinion, disproportionate to the need that it would be installed for.

Another problem (which I indicated to about the public not wanting to know what we do or say behind the scenes) was an incident that happened up north to two traffic officers.

They stopped a guy speeding, had in car CCTV which captured everything and all the data was verified and the guy was convicted. As part of the appeal the defence requested the whole tape for the tour of duty 'just in case' they had stopped the guy before and antagonised him which is why he ran when he saw them again.....

Anyway, the defence got the tape which showed everything and proved that the defence suggestion was completely made up, the conviction was upheld.

However, the defence solicitors lodged a complaint with the force alleging unprofessional conduct because the tape showed the officers eyeing up women, slagging off motorists as well as the obligatory bitching about the job. Whether the complaint was to simply stick the boot in or the members of staff at the solicitors were genuinely offended, who is to know. The complaint was upheld because the officers had to be seen to be completely professional at all times, even in their car when no members of the public could possibly hear them, and the officers were disciplined.

I've got no problem wearing a camera for a tour of duty or being cctv'd in vehicles, it would certainly help evidence wise for a lot of incidents. As I've said in a post before, saying in a statement that someone was violent, drunk, aggressive and they attacked officers is nice and sterile, showing them a video that could easily be a cutting room floor scene from 28 days later has just a bit more impact and it would help us out no end! My only concern is someone getting hold of tapes from between incidents for no other reason than to scrutinise things like comments, refs breaks, phone calls etc to find a head to stick on a spike.

Anonymous said...

MCM. That's fair comment and I can't argue with that. Thanks for explaining all the ins and outs so fully. It would appear that not only do the public expect cops to be superhuman, but solicitors do they must surely be!

Poor guys who were diciplined for being normal human beings, upon the complaint of the solicitor.
So unfair and so unreasonable, considering the basis of law rests on the ethos of the "reasonable man". Who would be a cop in the 21st century!?!

Anonymous said...

"Scientific evidence" ?

Are you serious?

Metcountymounty said...

anon 2208 - yes, actually, unless you think the Force Science Institute is a group of McDonald's workers brought in to play about with men with guns to justify a point that no one thinks exists.

I really can't be arsed at the moment to start listing them off because I'm knackered, but if you REALLY REALLY want some reading material I'll give you a list of the 32 books on the subject that I've got to start with (all based on peer reviewed research) and some other suggested material?

If you actually want to know it makes for some interesting reading, if you're not interested then I'm sure you might be able to suggest some decent Hollywood movies to 'prove' the research is all wrong.

Anonymous said...

"Can't be arsed?" Bit of a flimsy response if you are trying to make a case on a public forum, no?

However, whilst not meaning to doubt your science credentials MCM ...

..but presenting something based on a contrived and highly artificial situation involving some amateur dramatics in a gymnasiumum - that was overseen and conducted by a couple of sociologists from Plymouth Poly is not credible "scientific evidence"

Really, it isn't.

I think too that if you were to list qualifications and scientific credentials of the members of the Force Science Institute that they would tend to gravitate towards forensics, chemistry and that sort of thing? Rather than the social "sciences"

So, I accept your offer. For the edification of us all, please list, if you can, the results of your intrepid research and your other source material and soi disant evidence.

Many thanks

XTP said...

Am I the only one who doesn't really give a shit if the mops have "lost confidence" in us?

If I am then I'll shut up. If not, I'll expound (you lucky people!)

Hunter Rose said...

Here's a book that you may want to add to your reading list

PC Plastic Fuzz said...

Im take ASNTs stance that we shouldn't be immediately treated as suspects when we use the equipment and legal powers available to us.

TheBinarySurfer said...

Interesting post ATNS, some good points in there.

@XTP - I think the lack of public confidence is largely irrelevant. I think the lack of respect is very, very relevant.

19 said...

Well it'll surprise no one inside the job to find out ACPO have rolled over and had their tummy tickled and rewritten the guidelines on conferring basically discontinuing officers right to confer following a police shooting. Apparently it's to help regain the publics trust in the police.
Strange they weren't worried about wholeheartedly implementing every crackpot Labour police scheme over the past thirteen years but hey ho, they must know better than us being such experienced coppers and all.

Metcountymounty said...

Cuddles - happy reading, I forgot one I'd lent to a friend, list is below.

Binarysurfer & plastic fuzz - ditto!!

19 - I'd like to think they were actually going to wait for yet another batch of (extensive) evidence that proved the existing post incident debrief and statement taking process is the most accurate and fair all round, and that their hand was forced in the circumstances, but I suspect there's an excess of spineless wankers in ACPO with as much conviction as the CPS in a rape case. God forbid we might actually be right and they have to fight for our corner.

On Killing –Dave Grossman
On Combat –Dave Grossman
Sharpening the warriors edge – Bruce Siddle
Warriors Edge - J Alexander, J.Smith
Foundations of physiological psychology – Neil Carlson
Deadly force encounters – Alexis Artwohl
From pain to violence – Felicity De Zulueta
Treating psychological trauma and PTSD – Wilson, Friedman, Lindy
Battle Studies – Ardant du Picq
Combat Stress Injury – Shay, Figley, Nash
War and Redemption – Larry Dewey
From shell shock to combat stress – Hans Binnevald
Combat Stress – USMC
Performance under stress – Hancock, Szalma
Understanding PTSD – Joseph, Yule, Williams
The psychology of conflict and combat – Shalit
Critical incident stress and trauma – Gerald Lewis
Critical incident debriefing – Frank Parkinson
Critical Incident Stress management – Everly, Mitchell
Traumatic Incident reduction – French, Harris
Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – Judith Herman
The body remembers: psychophysiology of trauma – Babette Rothschild
Combat stress reaction – Zahava Solomon
Combat, ritual and performance – David Jones
Steeling the mind – Helmus, Glenn
Judgements under stress – Kenneth Hammond
Violent Death – Edward Rynearson
A Guide to psychological debriefing – David Kinchin
Practical aspects of interview and interrogation – Zulawski, Wicklander
Essentials of human memory – Alan Baddeley
Death work: Police, trauma and psychology of survival – Vincent Henry
In the line of fire – Regehr, Bober
Strategic interventions for people in crisis – Louis Everstine

Metcountymounty said...

Cuddles, did you just read the titles and make some assumptions without actually looking into any of them? Bless. You know what they say about making assumptions, they make you look like an over opinionated twat. And that's why I deleted the comment.

The significant majority of research by physiology and psychology experts into stress related recall and post incident memory recall has been by studying critical incident trauma and military personnel in combat. If you're too short sighted to realise that, then that's your issue pal, not mine.

Ignoring the research doesn't make it go away or make it any less valid, and if you could even be slightly arsed to actually do some reading of your own (I'm sure a clever wee bod like you could get around some of the more clinical terms) then you might realise it. Pick any three and read them, shouldn't cost you too much. Dare ya.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to sound like a geek, but does anyone know when the Fed report (Perceptual Distortions in Firearms Officers) is published? It'd be handy for work...(you can ask, but I ain't tellin')