By Bryan Avila, Backgate Contributing Author
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
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
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
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 and Backgate Website
Contributing 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. - Note; the views expressed within this article are
opinion and do not reflect those of the TDCJ (Texas Dept. of
Criminal Justice) in any way.