Performance Objectives:

  • Participants will be able to describe the difference between the subjective application and objective application of characteristics, behaviors, and situational indicators.
  • Participants will be able to describe the possible effect of "mental models" on their decision-making and actions during police-citizen contacts.

I. Individualized Suspicion and Behavioral Profiling

A. Most people agree that racial profiling is wrong and is an inappropriate way for officers to conduct traffic stops. But we seldom hear from the media or other concerned groups about the "correct" way to identify criminals and to conduct stops. The fact is that identifying criminal activity is difficult. What are the different signals and clues that a law enforcement officer can use to investigate criminal activity? Is it only appropriate to stop someone on the highway for low discretion stops? Where can we draw the line between good solid police work and questionable practices?
B. The purpose of this module is to break down the different tools and indicators that officers have at their disposal to make contact with citizens. That is, we will attempt to clarify the different criminal activity components that officers must use to do their job in upholding the law and deterring criminal activity. The intent of this module is to clarify and help enable officers to articulate the clues and processes behind assessing criminal activity.
C. We have divided "criminal activity components" into three basic categories for purposes of explanation and clarification: characteristics, behaviors and situational indicators.
  1. Characteristics are distinguishing aspects that may assist in the identification of an individual.
  2. Behaviors are actions undertaken by an individual and may be directly observed by the officer or described by a witness after they have occurred.
  3. Situational Indicators refer to other criminal activity components and can be defined as associated circumstances, events or information that may suggest criminal activity.
D. The Use of Criminal Activity Components-Mental Models
  1. Mental models help individuals understand and classify information. When information about a situation is missing we tend to "fill in" that information from our own experiences, values, cultures and beliefs.
  2. Mental models allow us to sift through massive amounts of information; they evolve and change over time as new information and experiences occur. They usually contain many errors and contradictions but are usually vague enough that they can be used even if they are incorrect.
  3. Mental models originate in a primitive part of the brain referred to as the Limbic System, whose principal function is survival and reproduction. The Limbic System operates below consciousness and constantly processes sensory perceptions for anything that may be a threat or advantage to survival and reproductive interests. Any perception that is found to be a threat or advantage results in immediate physiological and mental changes including the release of powerful hormones and generation of emotional states such as anger, fear, or pleasure. These changes begin before conscious awareness and affect our subjective feelings about a situation and our decisions.

    Because of the primitive nature of this part of the brain and the need for speedy action and decisions necessary to ensure survival, the Limbic System relies on binary stereotypical thinking based on genetically prepared fears, personal experience, education, and cultural background. Limbic thinking includes the powerful tendency to classify people and groups as either "us or them". This means that based on superficial characteristics such as race, another person or group can be automatically classified as dangerous and to be avoided or friendly and to be approached.

    Our minds are predisposed in perceived dangerous or critical situations to rely on limbic thinking before conscious thought processes. Thus we have the origin of powerful racially based stereotypes that influence our subject feeling about other people based on race or ethnicity. Research has shown that most people, including minority groups, on a limbic basis referred to as "implicit bias", associate persons of color with dangerousness and automatically become hyper-vigilant.

  4. A critical point here is that we tend to use mental models absent specific information. This means that when we don't have all the facts, we use these models to help us make sense of the scene.

II. Conduct During a Stop

This portion of the training will contain a multi-part scenario that will provide information for police and citizens about a traffic stop.

  1. The first part of the scenario will be the traffic stop from the police officer's point of view, including ways of making a stop that are not recommended but are engaged in by officers.
  2. The second part of the scenario will show the traffic stop from the point of view of the motorist and will also contain behaviors that are not recommended but are often experienced by police.
  3. Finally, the scenario will show a traffic stop as it should be conducted and comment upon how much more agreeable it is from both the officers' and the motorists' viewpoints.

Downloadable Reference Materials

  1. Buried Prejudice: The Bigot in Your Brain - Scientific American pdf format of buried_prejudice.pdf
  2. Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing - Journal of Personality & Social Psychology pdf format of eberhardt_seeing_black.pdf
  3. The Police Officer's Dilemma - Journal of Personality & Social Psychology pdf format of police_officers_dilemma.pdf

Training Videos for this Module

YouTube image Module 2 - Part 1 Module 2 - Part 2