The fight or flight syndrome is mediated by an officer's perception. That is, what one person may perceive as a threat, another may see as a routine incident. An excited neighbor who gets in the face of an experienced brawler may get a "ho hum" response. If the same excited neighbor gets in the face of someone unfamiliar with butting heads, the response may differ. This is an important training concept: The sympathetic response can be partially offset by training.
Fight or flight is also a protective response. The increased strength and other benefits improve chances of survival. Blood is pulled away from skin surfaces to minimize bleeding when a person is cut. Individuals also experience an increase in the immune system. In an excited state, injured officers may not know or acknowledge their injury. Post incident, assume any injury is worse than the victim says it is.
This response also alters perception. Officers can experience tunnel vision, where the focus is on the perceived threat; and visual acuity, where some things are seen with unusual clarity. Officers experience slow motion time or time distortion, and often a sense of disassociation or detachment. Some have reported automatic responses to certain things, memory loss and brief periods of false memory.
Regular training helps officers manage perceived threats. Because the adrenaline dump should be used sparingly, agencies have a responsibility to give officers the tools for better threat recognition
An officer's perception of administration should not be a factor. If a civilian has a breach in judgment, usually the consequence requires cleaning up a mess or doing some work over. If an officer makes a mistake, things can come to a screeching halt. If the officer perceives that he will not be treated fairly in a situation, especially a high-risk situation, his decision-making process will be similarly diminished.Factors in altered decision making
The concept of altered perception is an important aspect for the administrator. For example, consider taking cover in preparation to deploy, but waiting out non-compliant, non-physical threats. A person who just had an adrenaline dump may be inclined to force the hand. Supervisors should assume that a perceived critical incident has taken place and allow the involved officers to prove otherwise.Sequester the officer
After the incident, any words coming out of the involved officers' mouths will be tainted by their aroused system. Do not allow them to make any type of statement to anyone for any reason. Have a fellow officer with him and give that officer the authority to intercede on his behalf. Sequester them.
Have a policy for a blood test, measurement of vital signs and control of involved weapons in place before an incident occurs. The policy should state that the officer's weapon should be entered into evidence immediately and a replacement firearm should be given to him in the same motion. Do not delay the replacement firearm, even for a minute, lest it be perceived as an afterthought.
Anyone who makes a public statement concerning the incident should have a repertoire of "It's too early to tell … At this time, this is all we know" statements.
It is the parasympathetic system that brings the body back to the "rest and digest" balance. Its triggering is also mediated by perception. If the officer feels like he needs to be on his guard post incident, the calming effect is delayed.
Prolonged or repeated activation of the sympathetic nervous system results in stress disorders. A stressed person may experience loss of sleep, which only leads to more stress. Stress can also affect sexual appetite or performance, which can then compound other relationship problems. Extremes in stress disorders manifest themselves in the form of PTSD and panic disorders.
The other parts of the stress equation are the post critical incident signs. These include fatigue, upset stomach, muscle twitching, headaches, shock, weakness and dizziness. The person can suffer mental confusion, which may show up as difficulty with problem solving abilities and unfamiliarity with familiar situations. How long these symptoms last may depend on the effectiveness of coping mechanisms used by the officer.Policy
Constant adrenal exposure is hard on the heart. Fortunately, there are things that administration can do to empower the officer: