The below picture is one that I often use when teaching The CP Journal’s Tactical Analysis class to police officers that demonstrates how behavioral analysis not only helps police officers identify people of interest, but to communicate exactly why that person is important.  The picture is of onlookers to a Los Angeles gang shooting and was taken just as the first responders were arriving on scene. I typically lead the class through a discussion that ends with the students establishing expectations for what they think they would encounter before I even show them picture.  The goal is for them to simulate what would be going through their head if they were the officers who had gotten the call to respond to this type of situation and to be able to arrive on scene with an anticipated baseline already established.  Students find themselves not only thinking through the different clusters of behavior that they might observe (dominant, submissive, uncomfortable, or comfortable) but also the different causes for each type of behavior and why those different reasons are important.

The intent of the exercise is to establish a baseline for the situation with only minimal information available and to show how the domains of observable behavior can begin to reduce the uncertainty that is present when an officer responds to violent situations.  This applies not only to gang situations but also to domestic violence calls, drug-related crimes or in response to a terrorist attack.  I use the below picture as a decision-forcing case to put students into the shoes of the responding officers and force them to quickly determine which witness might have information about the shooting, which witnesses would not be an immediate priority and to justify the reasons why they made those assessments.


When I finally show the class the picture, they typically quickly determine that the first two women fit our baseline, and therefore did not require immediate attention from the arriving officers.  Students also typically observe that the third woman (the woman in the white long-sleeved shirt) is displaying a different cluster of behavior than what they anticipated.  Last week I was going through this process with a group of students when one of them blurted out “she’s an anomaly, she stands out, we need to talk to her!” He was right, but he was also only halfway there.  The fact that the student realized that the woman stands out is not good enough. You have to be able to communicate why.  This is why behavioral analysis is so empowering to a police officer – it provides the ability to clearly state why someone stands out from the norm and requires further attention.

This is important to bring up because of the recent ruling against New York City’s stop, question and frisk policy.  Many people are wondering what the impact of the ruling will be on the city’s police officers.  The answer is that it doesn’t have to impact any of them.  In order to continue being effective however, it is going to require that officers learn how to analyze and assess the behaviors of the people they question using observations backed by science.  Behavioral analysis provides officers with the opportunity to focus on the right people by identifying criminals based on how their behavior causes them to stand out from their surroundings and ignore unreliable indicators such as race, religion, age, or gender. They can also then effectively communicate why they believed the person warranted being stopped, questioned, and ultimately frisked.  Behavioral analysis provides an objective terminology and observation process to officers so they can get beyond simply stating that they saw “furtive movements” in “high crime areas,” which Judge Scheindlin points out in her ruling are so vague and subjective that they are practically meaningless.  With the ability to not only make informed assessments about the intentions of others, but also to elaborate why those assessments are important, behavioral analysis supports the higher standard that police officers are going to be held to by their chain of command, the judicial system, and the taxpaying public.

Providing observations backed by science is important because the perception of the stop and frisk policy is similar to the way the American military is fighting a battle of information and perception throughout the Middle East.  Even if actions that police officers are taking are with the greater good in mind, the public is going to assess a program’s effectiveness based on the information that is publicly available.  If the only information people have access to are the statistics about the race and ethnicity of those stopped, and there is no narrative provided regarding what the officer observed, then the public is going to draw conclusions from what they hear in the press or from friends.

In the stop and frisk ruling (you can download the full ruling here), Judge Scheindlin made it clear that she didn’t want to disrupt the proactive policing concepts that the NYPD is using to keep the city safe. She does demand though that a system is put in place that doesn’t infringe upon the constitutional rights of America’s citizens.  Behavioral analysis allows officers to do just that.  It protects our citizens by ensuring that officers only target those people who display universal threat behavior or reveal their violent intentions, and it protects our law enforcement officers by letting them communicate why they took the action they did.  It’s a win – win.

The purpose of using this picture of gang violence as an example is twofold.  The initial purpose is to help officers realize how behavior-based assessment can be used to identify onlookers who could be valuable witnesses, prevent officers from walking into ambushes and identify people hiding in the crowd who are conducting surveillance on the responding officers.  The next step in the process, communicating the observations, is arguably even more important than the first, which is a bold statement since the first is what actually keeps officers alive.  Intuitive observations become increasingly less valuable when an officer can’t explicitly state what drew their attention to that person in the first place.  That is where intelligent and proactive threat recognition and the targeting of criminal and terrorist networks comes from, and it’s on the path of progress.

To learn more about a behavioral analysis approach to public safety, download our white paper that elaborates on what our behavioral analysis program offers, the science behind the observations and how it can empower officers to take control of their personal safety and ensure the safety of others. Download the white paper here.