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Neurocop: Behind the scenes with how brain’s being used to boost police training

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As law enforcement training continues to evolve, so does the science, including a new technique now being taught to help officers handle high stress calls.

Dr. Jonathan Page is an Asst. Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and the author of the book “Neurocop.”

He is helping police officers deal with extreme stress by giving them techniques from years of research. “I started finding the research telling police officers that when you’re under stress that’s not good, it results in tunnel vision and auditory exclusion, and the response I was getting back was ‘we already know all of that. It’s interesting how you’re studying it, but we want to know what can we do about it,’” Page explains.

And with that Cognitive Command was born.

David Bales is the Deputy Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Academy and says, “What interested us with the Cognitive Command is it appears to offer scientific techniques that will allow people to better handle stress and process and perceive changes in their environment.”

Dr. Page adds, “About 7 years ago I changed my focus and really just focused in on what can police officers do to maintain control during stressful events both mental control and emotional control.” His techniques are being taught in several police academies including Baltimore and will likely be adopted here in the Pacific Northwest. There are three that he focuses on: Tactical breathing, mental imagery and then self-talk. Dr. Page says they can change the way an officer reacts by giving them better clarity under duress. “What happens is under stress all of your intentional resources go to other parts of the body to larger muscles for like the fight or flight system. If you breathe, it redistributes those systems back to the brain,” Page explains. It’s simple in theory, but vital to the job officers do.

Bob Bragg is the Manager of Fitness, Force and Firearms Training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Academy and says, “Dr. Page was looking at the differences between the cognitive load for a fighter pilot who people think it’s a big task, and it is, but you compare that to what an officer has to do while he’s driving at high speeds in pursuit, that cognitive load is much greater than what a fighter pilot has to do.”

This kind of training and knowledge is a far cry from when officer’s main concern was how to properly search a suspect, but new techniques are needed as the demands on police continue to grow. And there’s evidence that this training may be here to stay. Dr. Page adds, “The techniques we’re using is a way to kind of train the brain, to re-wire the brain, to start seeing the world differently. It’s a way to build pattern recognition systems so that officers can understand a situation automatically. They don’t have to think about what’s happening.”

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