Use-of-force experts create cutting-edge courses on investigation of officer-involved critical incidents

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LAS VEGAS, NV – At a time when officer-involved critical incidents stand front and center for professional investigators and armchair quarterbacks alike, a company established by well-known police use-of-force and performance experts is offering a well-received, specialized and intensive training course in the investigation of critical incidents.

Critical Incident Review (CIR) is a Las Vegas-based company founded in 2012 by retired Police Sergeant James Borden. 

Along with his colleague, retired police officer and Assistant Professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, Dr. Paul Taylor, CIR offers cutting-edge courses including a certification course in Enhanced Force Investigations, “Force Investigations: Video Review and Analysis,” and “A Leadership Perspective on Force Investigations and Analysis.”

Borden initially founded CIR because of his involvement in the study of human factors and expert analysis of cases, producing expert reports under the umbrella of the company.  

Meanwhile, while working in a large police department in Nevada, Borden developed a Use of Force Training and Analysis Unit, in order to meet the need “to review and analyze every single use-of-force case that occurred.”  

His model of this unit was adopted by other large departments throughout the United States, including Miami-Dade, Pennsylvania, Ventura County, Utah, and others.

Use-of-force experts create cutting-edge courses on investigation of officer-involved critical incidents
Photo courtesy of Critical Incident Review

Borden, along with Dr. Taylor, also worked extensively with the respected Force Science Institute, which is, according to its website, “dedicated to promoting the value of knowledge through empirical research in behavioral science and human dynamics to enhance public safety, and improve peace officer performance in critical situations.”

At the FSI, Borden was mentored by the esteemed Dr. William Lewinski, a behavioral scientist who has worked extensively on the study and research regarding human dynamics in highly stressful events.  

Other mentorship came from the also noteworthy Dr. Edward Geiselman, expert witness in over 350 criminal trials and co-developer of the Cognitive Interview Technique, a “very effective non-adversarial interview process” used throughout the country in law enforcement critical incident interviews.

For his police department, Borden tackled force investigations, reviews, and analysis in 350 to 400 cases per year.

In addition, through CIR, Borden took on several expert cases, and he became the first and only advanced specialist for the FSI for three years, before others followed in his footsteps to become certified as well.

After multiple certifications, Borden became a full-time lecturer and instructor for FSI while continuing high-profile case reviews throughout the country.

Use-of-force experts create cutting-edge courses on investigation of officer-involved critical incidents
Photo courtesy of Critical Incident Review

It was at this time that Borden drew his attention to the often-overlooked “human factor side of police work.” 

He told us:

“As I progressed with the [Force Science] Institute, as a lecturer, and I was applying this information day to day in case investigations, reviews and analyses, I started to recognize that there were some missing links, some missing associations, between the human factors and police performance issues and the investigations that were occurring.”

Those “human factors” are broad and include cognitive, reactive, visual, auditory, and psychological components of the human condition that drive or affect a police officer’s decision making process. 

Some examples include tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, apparent slowing of time, individual stress response, and myriad attentional issues that can be associated with these factors.

Borden also told us:

“‘Human factors’ examines the relationship between human beings and the systems or events in which they interact.”

This discovery that human factors were taking an apparent back seat in officer-involved critical incident investigations led Borden and Taylor to create an intensive and interactive three-day course, Enhanced Force Investigations, that incorporated and applied human factors in the investigative process.

In developing this class, Borden credits Dr. Lewinski’s work and expertise on human factors in law enforcement for his own fund of knowledge on human factors and the ability to address those factors in investigations.

Together, Borden and Taylor also benefited from the mentorship of Cognitive Interview expert Dr. Geiselman, who gave his blessing for them to use the Cognitive Interview process in their course offerings, and to modify it to focus on officers who are involved in, or witness to, critical incidents.

One primary focus in Enhanced Force Investigations is the determination of the “why” in an incident.  As an officer-involved incident investigation begins, what is likely already known is who, what, where, when, and how things happened, but the “why” is often elusive.

Discovering the “why,” Borden told us, requires a deeper understanding of the performance dynamics.  The “why” is typically unknown, and it must be investigated in terms of what human performance dynamics led to those decisions and actions.

Borden explained further:

“We rarely have information on why the things occurred.  What’s very important is the missing association between the data that we gather and how we gather it.  This process has an effect on our ability to discover why an officer did what they did….

“We know what happened.  The officer responded, this thing occurred, shots were fired.  That’s what happened.  In many cases, that’s usually the only information that gets put into the initial investigative report.

“Well, why?  Why did that happen?  What did the officer know going in?  What did the officer need to know going in?  And what was driving the officer’s decision-making process during that critical event?  Those are the things that oftentimes get overlooked.”

He added:

“That’s not because investigators are making mistakes.  It’s because these investigations are fundamentally flawed based on how the investigations are viewed.”

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The mechanics of gathering information regarding the “why” are also emphasized in the course, largely through instruction of police-specific Cognitive Interviewing, which Borden estimates comprises nearly 50% of the course material. 

Also material to the mechanics, Borden said, is developing an understanding of the global process and the associated human factors.

Borden also told us:

“When we understand why an officer’s decision and actions occurred… and we understand the human factors associated with that, then we have to put our focus on how we gather this information.”

Moreover, in conducting investigations, human factors related to the investigator are every bit as important to be aware of as the performance dynamics of the officer involved.  Everyone involved in the event is a human being and subject to human factors and biases.

For example, as part of their investigative training, Borden and Taylor stress in their course the potential bias in investigators, and the importance of its identification and impact on investigations.  It is paramount to minimize the impact the investigator can have on the investigation itself.

As such, the Enhanced Force Investigations course “looks much deeper than the accepted or bench-mark approaches to the investigative process.”

Borden continued:

“We look at the global investigative process and we focus on expanding the officer’s, the investigator’s, or the attorney’s knowledge base regarding how all of the different functionalities [processes of the investigation] are congruent with one another in these critical incidents.”

In so doing, Borden requires class participants “identify their own role, purpose, and function within the investigative process,” and then appreciate the functions beyond their involvement.  This, he told us, will help the investigator identify and navigate potential bias, and view the investigation progressively.

As for the Cognitive Interview portion of the class, and the modifications to that method by Dr. Taylor, class participants dig deeply into a study of the Cognitive Interview as it relates to interviewing of officers involved in a critical incident.

Regarding those modifications, Borden told us:

“Dr. Taylor has identified that police officers occupy a very unique space in these critical incidents.  They can be a victim, they can be a witness, or, they can be directly involved. 

“So keeping that in mind, the [Cognitive Interview] process had to be modified slightly so that it is specific to the officer involved in a critical incident.  This is a very complex, sensitive, and technical investigation that differs from any other investigative process.”

In keeping with this interview technique, Borden has also created an extensive Use of Force Investigative Checklist, available to his class as well as to law enforcement visitors on his Critical Incident Review website as a free download.

Use-of-force experts create cutting-edge courses on investigation of officer-involved critical incidents
Photo courtesy of Critical Incident Review

This checklist, a living document which invites modification and adjustment as necessary to a particular situation, provides “a consistent but flexible protocol” for officer-involved critical incidents, allowing the investigator to delve into human factors, police performance dynamics, and the “why” of the incident, as well as the who, where, what, when and how.

In addition to the clear benefits the Enhanced Force Investigations course offers in terms of improved information gathering and thorough investigative techniques, Borden points out that Dr. Taylor also recognized the additional benefit for officers who undergo the Cognitive Interview: there is a decrease in post-incident trauma and resulting improved memory of events.

Borden told us:

“The CI [Cognitive Interview] not only collects better evidence in the form of statements and interviews, but it also can lessen the traumatic impact that the interview process can have on an officer, which can help to inoculate the memory of the event against contamination or potentially even forgetting aspects of the event.”

The Enhanced Force Investigations course also exposes participants to issues related to video evidence review. Video has played a prominent part in over 90% of cases Borden has reviewed, and so, given their obvious importance in critical incidents, video analysis is included in the course of study.

Borden explained:

“Our course provides investigators with the perspective and the tools required to successfully navigate the very sensitive landscape of these complex and technically demanding, potentially [video-documented] cases that we are presented with every day across this country.”

He went on to say:

“What the participants get from myself and Dr. Taylor is a very deep-rooted application experience, technical experience, and academic experience in human factors, police performance factors, video review and analysis, the interviewing components, and a look at how we report our findings.

“There’s a lot of information in very little time, but we’ve had great feedback from some of the most talented, dynamic professionals across the country.”

Use-of-force experts create cutting-edge courses on investigation of officer-involved critical incidents

Indeed, one review on the CIR website, written by Chief Ken Wallentine, West Jordan Police Department Chair, Salt Lake Valley Officer-Involved Critical Incident Investigation Protocol Board, reads:

“Our already-skilled investigators gained deeper understanding of the cognitive interview technique, improved the comprehensiveness of our investigative scope, identified issues in applying human factors and confronting assumptions in the investigative process. 

“Moreover, the teams learned together, under the direction of superb instructors, promoting an even more cohesive and effective team effort. I highly recommend this certification course.”

Law enforcement agencies can review course offerings and reach out to Sgt. Borden via the Critical Incident Review website to schedule training. 

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