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Doing psychological research with police: A chat with Lorraine Hope

Will and Timothy are joined by guest Dr. Lorraine Hope, for a chat about doing research with the police.

In this chat format, we gather regular authors and guests in Slack and have a moderated conversation, guided by prompts and questions selected in advance. Participants get to respond to each other's points, make comments, and ask each other questions in real-time.
The transcript has been lightly edited.




Will Crozier 🐙
Welcome to another ExE chat! Today we’re happy to be joined by Dr. Lorraine Hope to talk about her research. Lorraine is a psychology professor at University of Portsmouth in the UK, and does quite a wide range of psych law research. Most relevant to our chat today, she’s done work with police officers in the UK – both improving their practices, as well as conducting research. So really taking some of the research we talk about on this blog, and applying it to real world situations to see if it works.

Lorraine, thanks for joining us! Care to introduce yourself?

Lorraine
Hi there - delighted to join for a chat today. As you said, I’m Lorraine Hope and I’m Professor of Applied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

My main obsession is memory, how it works, when it works and in particular, how we can extract more information from memory in the course of investigative interviews or other information elicitation contexts.

Will Crozier 🐙
Timothy, you've done work with the police in the US, correct?

rabbitsnore (Timothy J. Luke)
Correct. I've done some interrogation research with American law enforcement, and I've also pretty frequently given lectures and talks to audiences of cops.

I've talked more with cops than I've worked with them. My experience working with police as participants is actually limited to one study. It was an interrogation training study. Specifically, they were state, local, federal law enforcement. We had a pretty nice range of people – local cops, military police, border patrol officers, even a couple park rangers. We recruited them from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. The study involved training about half of them in an interviewing approach we had developed called the Strategic Use of Evidence technique.  The technique is designed to improve deception detection accuracy, and in the context of an interview with a suspect, that typically means determining whether someone denying involvement in a crime is guilty or innocent. The officers we trained as well as a group we had not trained conducted interviews with mock suspects, and we had them make a judgment of whether or not the suspect was guilty1.

Will Crozier 🐙
Sounds interesting!

As I mentioned, there are two sorts of ways you can work with the police...you can use research to train them in some way, and/or you can do a study where the officers are participants. Lorraine, can you describe some of the research you've done in the latter case - where police are your participants?

Lorraine
We’ve got two main lines of research with police – in both cases they are essentially participants, either directly taking part in an experiment or being the recipient of some intervention (as Will described).   The first line is a set of studies looking at memory performance for high fidelity simulated situations involving use of firearms; the second is focused on the development of tools and techniques to enable more effective investigative interviewing.

Although we have conducted research on frontline interviewing practice via the use of body work video to test a training intervention designed to improve interviewing by frontline officers, I guess police are the more obvious ‘participants’ in the first line – and we’ve been describing this group as ‘operational witnesses’ (given that they are required to come up with some response in a scenario – defuse, de-escalate, contain or otherwise secure the scene to prevent a threat extending to other members of the public).

In our research using firearms-type simulations, we’re mostly interested in the content and accuracy of post-incident accounts by officers.

Across the three main studies we’ve conducted, I think we could summarise our findings as follows:

1.    Officers responding/acting in these scenarios report less information (cf. observers)2.  Across studies we noted the omission of information – including legally relevant details2,3,4.

2.    Overall accuracy rates tend to be high for free report – which, when considered in the context of omissions, suggests conservative reporting strategies3,4. Accuracy rates for cued recall questions are significantly lower3.

3.    Despite high accuracy rates, we also observed some sizeable errors – including impaired recognition of a target if the officer was physically exerted2  and also mis-reporting about a perpetrator’s weapon4. For instance, in one study almost one fifth of officers incorrectly reported that a gun had been pointed at them at the end of a stressful, escalating scenario – when in fact, the gun remained in the perpetrator’s waistband throughout the scene4. This is an interesting misinformation type error.

rabbitsnore
Fascinating! When you use the term "conservative reporting strategy" what do you mean?

Lorraine
I think they regulate reporting to avoid error - as they perceive that error will be 'punished' harder than absence of reporting. This is contextually driven as far as I can tell - accounts are circumspect given the likelihood of tough cross-examination.

rabbitsnore
That seems to make good sense, given the potential legal ramifications of getting details wrong.

Lorraine
Yes. Although at the same time, it creates another potential problem - which often ends up being an issue - failure to report specific detail or omission of key information. This then becomes the focus of any further investigation and can create sizeable animosity. It's an interesting dilemma.

So it's a question of the risk of being wrong versus the risk of omitting (potentially accurate) information.  I think it's particularly acute in this context

Will Crozier 🐙
We just had a paper come out earlier this year looking at body-worn cameras, but one of the findings in it was that people think police have better, more accurate memories than lay people

Your work suggests that police can make memory errors as well

Lorraine
That belief about memory is a massive problem

It really works again the police with respect to their accounts of events.  Worse still, it often precedes accusations of collusion.

Of course, collusion can and does occur - there was an interesting article in the NYT about 'testilying'.  But that is quite distinct from naturally occurring memory error5

rabbitsnore
In practice, it can be difficult to distinguish deception from memory errors -- and that, of course, makes everything so much messier.

Lorraine
Yes - of course. In pretty much every talk I give to police or other investigators (including the independent investigators who investigate police shootings etc) I end up saying there's no silver bullet beyond good interviewing practice

rabbitsnore
It's interesting that you see such a high error rate, for instance, for remembering that the perpetrator drew a weapon. That's exactly the sort of "error" that could easily be taken as a deceptive attempt to, say, justify the use of force. But it could also be a genuine memory error.

Lorraine
And even then...there's still no silver bullet

Sure.  It could be a genuine memory error. It could also be a rational post hoc justification in the absence of actual memory.

i.e. I'd only have taken a shot if a gun had been pointed at me

rabbitsnore
Exactly.

Lorraine
When we debriefed officers in that particular study, they were pretty shocked to be wrong.

Will Crozier 🐙
I wonder if it changed their view of memory going forward?

Lorraine
I wonder.  It's one of my big frustrations.  A good deal of police training focuses on technical aspects - tactics, shooting accurately, legal rights, etc etc

But officers never get (in any of the forces I'm aware of) an opportunity to take part in a tough simulation and then sit down to write a statement and experience the memory issues they're likely to experience in the aftermath of an actual shooting. I think that's pretty negligent and repeatedly advise including this aspect in training.

Imagine the first time you really experience a serious gap in your memory (due to stress, divided attention etc) is when you have shot someone?

rabbitsnore
That would be pretty jarring, I imagine.

Similarly, in my interrogation study at FLETC, there were a few officers who were extremely confident in their deception judgments and were shocked to learn they were wrong. I spent a while debriefing one officer and watching the tape of his interview with him. He seemed pretty disturbed that his judgment could have been off.

He kept saying, "But I've put people in jail based on stuff like this."

Lorraine
That's tough. But it's the fault of inadequate training. It's one thing that keeps me focused on working with people in these jobs - mostly they're trying to do their absolute best but they aren't always given the best tools for the job.

Or the right information.

rabbitsnore
I totally agree.

Will Crozier 🐙
What is your goal in doing this research? Strictly to improve practice? Are you building psychological theory?

Lorraine
First, I think if you are going to describe yourself as doing ‘applied research’ or even if you want to claim that your work has application to some field or external activity, you have to work with the people at the coal-face or, at the very least, have some meaningful communication with them about what is actually involved in the problem, challenge or issue you are attempting to work on.  

Otherwise (a) you probably don't understand the real-world nature of the task/problem very well (i.e. have only rather superficial knowledge) and (b) you or your work will lack the credibility to have any lasting influence in terms of practice or policy.

When working on research with the police we usually have a few different but complementary goals.

First, we are always there with the goal of getting a better understanding of some phenomenon – and usually if we are working with the police, it’s with a view to inform or improve practice in some way.  This kind of research is incredibly expensive in terms of the time it takes, the number of people involved, the logistics and locations involved etc so there needs to be a very clear outcome – with practical aspects – from the outset.

Second, as a scientist, I’m interested in determining whether existing theories that may have been developed under lab conditions adequately account for data obtained in different context.

Third, I think it’s incredibly important that there is a two-way communication back and forth between researchers and practitioners if at all possible. Communication with police and other stakeholders informs both my lab work as much as it informs more applied work with special samples.

Will Crozier 🐙
There is certainly a wide variety of memory research, ranging from showing nonsense strings of letters, all the way to measuring memory in real world situations like you do here. My inclination is that the easiest is somewhere in the middle...you use a realistic event (like watching a video of a crime) but do it in a lab setting. I think it's really important to get work on both ends of that spectrum though - and your work certainly qualifies as being on the "very applied" end

Timothy, how does this compare with your work at FLETC?

rabbitsnore
Lorraine pretty much summed up my experience for me! Heh. I agree with everything she said.
I guess the thing that I'd add is that working with cops can be really logistically challenging. It’s difficult to gain access to the law enforcement – even just to get their contact information and get in touch with them. It’s hard to recruit and retain police participants. For these reasons, I think it’s tough to get a large enough body of data when working with police to really develop theory (since it usually takes a lot of data to develop theories).

So I think what we end up doing often with this sort of thing is developing a "working knowledge" of a phenomenon in the lab, and then if we're lucky we get to test it with the police.

Lorraine
And I think that's actually a great approach. I don't think we’ve observed anything so profoundly novel that it hasn’t already been documented in some form or another in lab research. But, frankly, I probably wouldn’t have expected that to be the case – as our hypotheses are always drawn from the existing theories etc.

However, we have been able to push the envelope on the conditions under which we test participants. We would not have been able to put standard lab participants (students or members of the public) into the scenarios we were able to test officers in - for a variety of ethical reasons. And even if we could have done, what would have been the point?  We would have been ignoring the training and experience of a special sample for performance in the task we were actually testing.  So, I do think that it is important to conduct research in a variety of contexts.

Having said that, I think that there is a very important place for lab work – and we conduct plenty of that too. As I mentioned earlier communication with police and other stakeholders informs both my lab work as much as it informs more applied work with special samples.
So, in terms of the contribution of the work with police simulations, I think it creates a bridge between lab tests and actual field performance while maintaining as much experimental control and methodological rigour – and we put a huge amount of effort into that – as possible.

Will Crozier 🐙
Are police interested in the theory side of the research at all? Or just care about the results they can use?

Lorraine
Hmmm. On the whole, external stakeholders are not interested in our theories!

So the trick can be to design work which hits both their needs (for practical information) and those which are more abstract

rabbitsnore
Heh. Yeah, my experience is that the police aren't super interested in the more esoteric parts of the project -- which is understandable. They're largely interested in potential practical benefits.

Will Crozier 🐙
Maybe if you didn't refer to it as esoteric, it might be more interesting 😉

rabbitsnore
Also, my experience is that law enforcement officers -- like anyone else -- don't like to be treated like lab rats.

They often want to get a concrete understanding of the real-world applicability of the work.

Lorraine
It can also be a bit tricky to explain/convince regarding necessary elements of the design or sample size requirements

rabbitsnore
Oh, man. Yeah, that kind of stuff is hard.

Lorraine
But that's sometimes true of other researchers - especially in interdisciplinary work

rabbitsnore
Explaining experimenter expectancy effects and the need for blinding can be tricky.

Lorraine
Control groups, systematic procedures, matched procedures, replicable stimulus event - but we have managed to win them over on all of these

Will Crozier 🐙
So police don't always understand the nitty gritty of the research design....but do they enjoy taking part in research in general? How do they react?

Lorraine
This work is very challenging to do but once there is alignment between the people who need to say ‘yes’ and the researcher, it can go very well. We've always had really positive feedback from officers taking part in our research - they find it interesting, they ask great questions - and often I feel that the majority of officers just want people to try to help them do their job better. Clear communication is absolutely critical. Researchers really need to be clear about their expertise and what the research ‘red lines’ are (we can’t answer all the questions in a single study; we need a viable sample size; we must be able to control for X and Y). At the same time, researchers need to be humble about their contextual knowledge. You know what doesn’t work well at all?  Stomping in there with a “Let me tell you how to do your job properly” attitude.

I've seen other academics do this - and it tarnishes the road for everyone.

rabbitsnore
Yes indeed.

I think a good approach to take is to acknowledge that we -- academics and practitioners -- have a lot to learn from each other.

Lorraine
Of course occasionally (and it is pretty occasionally), particularly in training, you get the odd individual who is defensive - not keen on the whole collaboration with an egghead idea. But it's really rare in my experience.

rabbitsnore
Heh. I've literally been called an egghead to my face by a practitioner.

Lorraine
I think the HIG has a great model that often combines an academic with a practitioner for training.

rabbitsnore
Yeah, I've taken part in one of those joint training sessions. My sense is that it's a really good approach.

Lorraine
I've been taking that kind of format for talks/presentations etc in the UK - gets you much further in terms of being able to get the research out there.

rabbitsnore
The practitioner-trainers often have a better sense of how to "translate" the research into language that resonates better with other practitioners.

That is, a better sense than us eggheads.

Lorraine
They also have much better anecdotes to contextualise the abstract idea or findings in...

rabbitsnore
No doubt.

It's kind of remarkable to me that practitioners have been as receptive as they have been, in my experiences. The results of the study I ran with FLETC aren’t especially encouraging for cops’ ability to detect deception, so there’s a risk that the work wouldn’t be particularly popular.

But at least some groups of American law enforcement have been eager to learn from psychologists (and other researchers) to help improve practice. I’ve been asked on occasion to comment on their training materials, for example. The eagerness to collaborate, cooperate, and learn from each other is certainly not universal, but my experiences have often been quite good.

Will Crozier 🐙
I'm sure you spend some time doing networking and explaining before the research actually takes place though, right?

rabbitsnore
There was certainly a lot of coordination and preparation with FLETC in my work.

Lorraine
A lot of time - and a lot of false starts/dead leads. It's a very big time/effort investment compared to a lot of other research sometimes.

rabbitsnore
Before data collection, we spent a considerable amount of time explaining the plan, getting approvals, setting dates, hitting delays, setting dates again...

Lorraine
On the other hand when everything is set to go and you have the relevant resources allocated to you, it is amazing to work with such an effective team of people - for example in one of our studies which involved 300 firearms officers round the UK, we had a lot of police personnel charged with different tasks to make everything in the experimental scenarios (which were very complicated) work like clockwork - they were incredible to work with.

rabbitsnore
That was my experience working with FLETC as well. They were quite supportive and eager to assist. I think it helps that the police are generally accustomed to large-scale coordinated operations. Heh.

Will Crozier 🐙
Overall it seems like good news police are open to participating and collaborating though. I think sometimes, especially here in the US, some officers create a reputation for being hard headed and we'll-do-things-our-way that doesn't generalize to most officers or departments. It's encouraging that many are open to the idea of testing strategies and hopefully learning the most effective way to do their jobs.

rabbitsnore
And likewise, we can learn a lot from them working with them, too. As someone who studies interrogation, it's important for me to have a clear understanding of the circumstances under which interrogations take place and what officers' objectives and concerns are, for example. It's the police that have that knowledge.

Lorraine
I think it's really important to encourage the idea of collaboration. Some of the negativity can be attributed to the perception that X will involve more work, more forms, create stress...so part of the job for the academic, ideally in conjunction with a practitioner champion, is to get people onboard by being very clear about what's in it for them.

Agree with Timothy - we really need to know what the actual problems and challenges are - we can't adequately come up with these from the comfort of our offices!

Will Crozier 🐙
What happens when you're done with the study? Do you follow up with the department to send them your findings? Never talk to them again?

Lorraine
It varies (although it's never not talk to them again!). In some cases, we submit specially prepared reports of the findings; in others, I'll send a copy of the paper (assuming it doesn't take years to get through the writing/publication process). If it's taking a long time, I like to send a short form overview or if it's feasible (depending on location etc), go back in, do a presentation and a Q&A.

rabbitsnore
In our case, we had a sit-down debriefing session with the unit at FLETC that assisted us, and we were able to give them preliminary results at that meeting. Later, we sent them a copy of the paper, and I've been back down to FLETC a few times to give presentations to their staff. We want to make sure we're not just taking their data and running. It helps everyone if the collaboration continues.

Will Crozier 🐙
Glad to hear it isn't just debriefing that helps disseminate the findings, then

I wonder if this is a good opportunity for science transparency to be helpful, too....do you ever post the short reports / recorded presentations on the internet somewhere?

Lorraine
Other options are write-ups for end-user outlets, magazines, websites etc.

Will Crozier 🐙
Well, that wraps up all the questions we have for you Lorraine

Any parting words?

Lorraine
Thanks for a great chat round some really interesting topics close to my heart. Hopefully we can all continue doing work that might eventually make a difference to someone facing a challenging situation!

rabbitsnore
Indeed! And thanks for joining us!

Lorraine Hope is Professor of Applied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, UK and a member of the UK Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST; (https://crestresearch.ac.uk). She is also the Strategic Lead for the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (iIIRG). Her work focuses on the performance of human cognition in applied contexts, including memory and decision-making under challenging conditions. Over the past 15 years, her research has resulted in the development of innovative tools and techniques, informed by psychological science, for eliciting accurate and detailed information and intelligence (e.g. Timeline Technique, Self-administered Interview, Structured Interview Protocol). She regularly delivers tools, research, evaluation and training for investigative interviewing and information elicitation in international policing, intelligence and security sectors. She has published widely on memory and information elicitation topics and speaks regularly at academic and practitioner conferences. She is currently Associate Editor of British Psychological Society journal Legal and Criminological Psychology and a Consulting Editor for the American Psychological Association Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

References
1. Luke, T. J., Hartwig, M., Joseph, E., Brimbal, L., Chan, G., Dawson, E., Jordan, S., Granhag, P. A., & Donovan, P. (2016). Training in the Strategic Use of Evidence: Improving deception detection accuracy of American law enforcement officers. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 31, 270-278.

2. Hope, L., Lewinski, W., Dixon, J., Blocksidge, D., & Gabbert, F. (2012). Witnesses in action: The effect of physical exertion on recall and recognition. Psychological Science, 23, 386-390.

3.  Hope, L., Blocksidge, D., Gabbert, F., Sauer, J. D., Lewinski, W., Mirashi, A., & Atuk, E. (2016). Memory and the Operational Witness:  Police officer recall of firearms encounters as a function of active response role.  Law & Human Behavior, 40, 23-35.

4. Hope, L., Gabbert, F., & Fraser, J.  (2013). Post incident conferring by law enforcement officers:  Do discussions affect beliefs and accuracy?  Law & Human Behavior, 37, 17-27.


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