Assessing Law Enforcement Performance in Behavior-Based Threat Detection Tasks Involving a Concealed Weapon or Device

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Abstract

Across 3 experiments, we assessed the ability of law enforcement officers and naïve controls to detect the concealment of a weapon or device. Study 1 used a classic signal detection paradigm in which participants were asked to assess whether a target was concealing a neutered 9-mm handgun. Study 2 involved a compound signal detection paradigm in which participants assessed whether or not 1 of several individuals was concealing an unstable device in their backpack. Study 3 moved to a 2-alternative forced choice paradigm in which participants evaluated which of 2 targets was concealing an unstable device in his backpack. Across all 3 experiments we consistently found no significant differences in detection performance between law enforcement and naïve controls, although participants did perform above chance levels when response bias was free to vary. Furthermore, officers’ years of experience was associated with a bias toward perceiving concealment. Given the frequency with which officers are asked to assess the concealment of weapons or devices, and therein to identify threats, our findings suggest the need for additional research to explore various factors (e.g., context, race of target, operational experience, etc.) likely related to performance on such tasks.

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