Reducing Lethal Force Errors by Modulating Police Physiology

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Abstract

Objectives:

The aim of this study was to test an intervention modifying officer physiology to reduce lethal force errors and improve health.

Methods:

A longitudinal, within-subjects intervention study was conducted with urban front-line police officers (n = 57). The physiological intervention applied an empirically validated method of enhancing parasympathetic engagement (ie, heart rate variability biofeedback) during stressful training that required lethal force decision-making.

Results:

Significant post-intervention reductions in lethal force errors, and in the extent and duration of autonomic arousal, were maintained across 12 months. Results at 18 months begin to return to pre-intervention levels.

Conclusion:

We provide objective evidence for a physiologically focused intervention in reducing errors in lethal force decision-making, improving health and safety for both police and the public. Results provide a timeline of skill retention, suggesting annual retraining to maintain health and safety gains.

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