The case of heroic resistance maintained by Marcus Young and Julian Covella to violent felon and killer Neal Beckman illustrates both positive and negative effects of educational and training conditioning, previous experience and stressors inherent in police work on the reactions and operations during emergency situations. The purpose of this report is to analyze psychological principles lying behind the actions of police officers in this situation, determine the effect of stress factors and the consequences of such situations on further life and career of police officers, and to develop recommendations for improving psychological environment among police officers.
The effect of training involving classical and operant conditioning showed itself during several moment in this case, with twofold consequences. Previous experience and intensive training received by Marcus Young allowed him to alarm his instincts when seeing a possible threat, and allowed to reach proper situational awareness. These are the effects of classical conditioning, when job responsibilities are backed up by the instinct of self-preservation (Miller, 2006). Significant results of operant conditioning allowed Marcus Young to develop superior reactions, such as the skill of using the gun with a weak hand; he was also trained to use Kevlar body armor even for “ordinary” situations (and this case resembled an ordinary shoplifting situation). However, some practices empowered by operant conditioning such as the standard request to show hands and the dynamic arm twist which were recommended in such emergency cases, did not prove to be effective in this emergency case. This does not mean than operant conditioning approach should not be used; rather, these problems indicate that there is a need to modify common practices (Miller, 2006) and to provide special trainings for emergency situations (e.g. survival trainings, use of the mix of classical and operant conditioning, etc.).
The actions of police officers are also strongly affected by stress factors, and might reduce the warrior spirit and the will to win over the criminals in the long-term perspective. There are numerous stress factors specifically related to police work which change daily lives and emergency responses of police officers. These factors include constant exposure to human pain and indecency, personal stressors related to shift rotations or having to be on the call 24/7, continuous safety concerns, a variety of administrative stressors, the need to interact constantly with criminal justice system, etc (Thomas, 2011). In emergency situations such factors as witnessing injured or killed people and having to attack or kill someone in the line of duty also emerge (Miller, 2006).
Responsibilities of protecting others’ lives, the need to control emotions even in critical situations and the presence of the gun even during the off-duty time intensify the tension for police officers (Thomas, 2011). For example, in the considered case the administrative stressors and the need to justify the use of deadly force altered the actions of Marcus Young and gave space for dangerous retaliation of the killer. These factors should be addressed by providing individual counseling, group trainings and creating peer support opportunities for police officers (Kitaeff, 2011).
Furthermore, the case clearly shows that specific trainings should be provided for emergency situations. The set of actions used to justify the application of deadly force might be altered, and additional security measures such as attacking the weapon rather than the criminal and using the face down practice should be added to the standard practices supported by operant conditioning training. Instead of one-size-fits-all training there should be specific survival-oriented trainings using the combination of operant and classical conditions (e.g. the situations with threats to loved ones, emergency threats, public threats, etc.). These techniques along with stress maintenance and reduction framework should help police officers to become more effective and secure during emergency situations. Mental conditioning approach should be used to help to overcome the spirit of defeat which might arise due to constant stress and exposure to violence (Thomas, 2011); the combination of mental and physical conditioning should be used to help develop the winning mindset and warrior spirit among police officers (Kitaeff, 2011), similar to the spirit of Marcus Young, who refused to give up even in an almost desperate situation.
Kitaeff, J. (2011). Handbook of police psychology. Taylor & Francis.
Miller, L. (2006). Practical police psychology: stress management and crisis intervention for law enforcement. Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Thomas, D.J. (2011). Police psychology: a new specialty and new challenges for men and women in blue. ABC-CLIO.