Being a police officer isn’t all parking tickets and drunk and disorderly calls. There are times, as a cop, when split-second, life-or-death decision-making is necessary.
It’s not hard to imagine that in situations of extreme stress—when lives are on the line—police can make decisions that are deemed questionable, or downright wrong, once the immediate drama has past, and calmer, rational perspective is granted. In the last few years we have seen many examples across North America of police officers whose actions, and motivations, are called into question, usually after a suspect has been killed. At that point, communities rally into anger, officers get defensive, and tensions can further escalate into protests and other violent incidents.
Could such incidents be minimized, or perhaps eliminated altogether, by training police offers how to better deal with extremely stressful situations?
That’s the shared goal of University of Toronto Mississauga psychology professor Judith Andersen and Peel Police, who announced last month that they would be on collaborating to put Andersen’s International Performance Resilience & Efficiency Program (iPREP) into effect for Peel’s police officers.
iPREP is an evidence-based system that was developed by Andersen and her team to train first-responders in techniques and methods to help them improve their mental and physical readiness in high-stress situations, and thereby improve their decision-making capacity in times of crisis. Andersen has been testing her de-escalation and use-of-force instruction with police organizations across Canada, the United States, and Europe, and now here, in her local backyard.
Andersen’s broad research work involves studying the effects of severe and chronic stress on mental and physical health, and her lab is equipped to measure the biological, psychological and social factors of stress, in the real world, as they happen. The iPREP program was developed out of Andersen’s research findings, and integrates tools such as real-time heart rate monitoring, biofeedback, tactical breathing, and physiological control techniques to give each officer a personalized toolkit that addresses their individual stress responses.
The collaboration between Peel Police and professor Andersen is a spectacular example of the synergy that can result when researchers work with organizations in their communities. It’s a terrific opportunity to put research findings into practice to the benefit of the wider community.
Devin Kreuger is Director of the Office of the Vice-Principal Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He can be contacted at [email protected] Visit www.utm.utoronto.ca/research