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Presumed Compliance and Training
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 05/20/2013

Brain b Have you ever heard of presumed compliance? No? Well let me give you the cliff notes version: In the article “The Theory of Presumed Compliance” by Tony Blauer, he states, and I’m paraphrasing here, that based on our position of authority, we automatically assume that everyone is going to comply with our orders and be nice about it. When they don’t, we have a feeling of indignation at the fact that “how dare they!” not comply with what we told them to do. As a result of the presumed compliance, we allow our skill set to deteriorate over time and when we have to act we tend to fumble for a response (or at least it’s not as sharp as it used to be). Yes, he put it much better than I did but at least you get the gist of it.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time that you practiced your responses to various situations? Drawing your OC from your holster? A weapon? Anything? Some people would answer that it has been a while and although it is a shame, it is not uncommon.

Have you ever thought how long it takes you to react to a situation? How long so you think it will take you? After years in the law enforcement and corrections field I still remember what I was told when I first started in the academy almost 20 years ago: An average person can close a 21’ gap in less than 1 ½ seconds and it will take you at least that long to see the threat, recognize the threat and say “Oh SH*T!”

This same theory I have put into practice on many occasions. I will have one person stand 21’ away from the other. I will inform the “attacker” that they are to charge towards the officer when I say “go.” I tell the officer that as soon as they see the “attacker” start to move, they are to draw their OC and simulate spraying. I will also time how fast the “attacker” crossed the 21’ mark. Needless to say very, very, very few people ever get their OC out in time to even remotely simulate an OC deployment. Most people fumble while drawing their OC from the holster. The usual reaction that I have seen is that at least they start moving out of the way which is better than nothing at all.

Hick’s Law states that for every additional response that you have to a situation your reaction time increases by 58%. It is imperative that we train continuously in order to DECREASE our reaction time and have our reaction be a learned response vs. something that we have to think about.

In order to understand how we process information and our reactions, we have to look at how we come to decisions. Imagine this: You are driving down the road during rush hour traffic and you know that your exit is coming up. In order to get to your final destination you can take one of 2 exits. As you approach the first exit, you see that traffic is backed up onto the off ramp. You decide at that point that you will take the next exit since it will still get you where you want to go.

What just happened was this: As you are driving you saw the traffic backed up on the off ramp. The visual input went straight from your cornea to your thalamus where it kicked it forward to your frontal cortex. Your frontal cortex (where you make your informed decisions based on what you know) then sends the appropriate response to your amygdala which in turn executes the selected response.

Now let us look at a different situation: You are driving during rush hour traffic when someone cuts you off. Without even thinking you slam on the brakes, flip them off and yell out “F*** You!” What just happened was this: The stimuli went straight from your cornea to your thalamus where it was quickly redirected to your amygdala bypassing everything else and an automatic response was kicked out. The thought process was virtually nonexistent.

Why did this happen? Because of the learned response that we have developed to situations. We are either reacting based on learned responses (and these responses have been repeated over and over again where they are now automatic, almost involuntary) or we are making decisions based on what we know.

Now what does all this mean to us? It’s pretty simple if you really think about it. Offenders know when they are going to come after you. You only find out about it when it starts to happen. Do you have the time to stop and think about what you are going to do as a response or are you going to react with an appropriate response to the situation (and peeing yourself is not one of them)?

When you CHOOSE not to practice your responses on a continuous basis (and mental practice is almost just as good and the physical practice) you may very well be CHOOSING to leave the building via ambulance during your shift.

Bottom line…dust off the cobwebs and practice. The choice is yours as to how you leave the building. We all know that they will not always comply so don’t assume that they will.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.

Other articles by Avila:


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