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Training program aims to ‘slow down stressful situations’ for Washington police officers

Police officers look on at protesters in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Strategies for reforming policing have dominated the public discourse for the last year, from calls to change how incidents are investigated, to restrictions on how officers use crowd control weapons. In Washington, neuroscientist Dr. Jonathan Page believes the key could be in our brains.

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Dr. Page pioneered a program known as “Cognitive Command,” designed to help train police officers through an app that “targets the subconscious to enhance perceptual awareness and build a structured mental framework to better process information.”

He believes that it could help officers stay calm and collected in volatile situations, and make decisions that lead to safer outcomes for all involved.

Early data shows that officers who have gone through the training possess heightened awareness, increased self-control, greater restraint when firing weapons, and improved accuracy. That was demonstrated in a training exercise, where almost 90% of recruits trained in Cognitive Command spotted a pipe-bomb while clearing a room, versus 5% who spotted it in the control group.

“Some of the problems and issues that we see in policing, a lot of those can be traced back to how the brain functions,” Dr. Page told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

As he describes it, the brain goes through three steps when it encounters a potentially high-stress scenario: It perceives, it processes, and then it performs.

“Our training focuses on the first two steps to make officers more aware and to make brain processing more efficient,” he detailed.

The result is that “it slows things down in stressful situations, so that they can think through things and not just react to things.”

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The way the program is taught also differs from the more common, one-off courses taught at training academies. Instead, officers learn Cognitive Command with more informal “unstructured, unplanned training,” through a series of 2-5 minute activities spread out across a full year that they can access daily through a mobile app.

“This training adds scaffolding and structure around their daily activities and experiences so that they are being trained throughout the year,” Dr. Page said.

The program is already in place in Washington, and is funded for all of the state’s training academy recruits. The state training commission also hopes to expand it to include roughly 11,000 active officers as well, and eventually provide it to “every officer in the state of Washington.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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