Education / News / TV

A White Police Officer's Mind on Adrenaline

Dr. Mark Goulston is a #1 best selling author of seven books, former hostage negotiation trainer, speaker, trainer, coach and renowned psychiatrist. He is regarded as an internationally renowned expert in the field of empathy and listening. As a result of his rich and diverse background and experiences, Dr. Goulston increases people’s ability to get through to anyone.


After watching in horror the videos of police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, the question that came to my mind – as I imagine it did to many – is whether police would have acted the same with white suspects/perpetrators given the exact same information they had (“a man brandishing a gun”) and same scenario.

Given the widespread distrust of police reporting, I guess we’ll have to sadly wait for similar incidents between police and white suspects/perpetrators that are caught on video to see. 

Of course those who believe in supporting “my police right or wrong” might say, “Okay, we’ll keep an eye out for that, but you do know that blacks disproportionately commit more crimes and there are many more blacks in jail and prison than whites, etc.” BTW this is not accurate as pointed out to me by a private email from a reader.  What is true is that a disproportionately higher percentage of the 12-13% black population in this country is in jail (35% of jails) or is incarcerated (37% of prisons) vs. the white population.

Yeah, yeah, I know, but let’s not go down that road just yet.

Instead, after watching a recent interview between Wolf Blitzer and the police chief from Baton Rouge regarding the Dallas shootings, I was struck by the description of the challenge police officers face of thinking clearly in a life or death crisis situation when their minds are flooded with adrenaline.

When adrenaline is rushing through your system and your mind is on full alert it’s very difficult in the moment to think and assess the situation calmly, clearly and objectively.  Instead as a police officer, you resort to the training you have had to deal with such situations.  Training for police is much more focused on how to react and respond to a wide variety of potentially dangerous situations and specific behaviors than it is on race.  I can’t imagine training saying, “If the suspect is black do this, if not do this.” Also given the situations police find themselves in, I’m guessing they are focused much more on danger vs. race (but we’ll address that later).

I next thought of the POP Protocol, which stands for Pull Over Protocol, with their mantra being “Saving Lives One Stop at a Time.” The black co-founders are divorce attorney, mediator and author, Sean Collinson, and tv producer, Jeff Dyson.

What Sean and Jeff and Board Director, Dr. Michelle Conover, have explained to me is that as  stated above, police react in situations much more based on their training than on racial feelings.  They are trained to notice the slightest movements or words coming from suspects/perpetrators and then to react in specific ways when they see or hear them.  They are not focused on black vs. brown vs. white, but rather on specific behaviors or things the suspects/perpetrators do and say.

The focus of the POP Protocol is to supplement training to police and provide training to civilians on how both sides should specifically act when a police officer pulls over a civilian.

For example, one thing I didn’t know (as a white person) is that when that happens, and you’re a civilian, the least threatening thing you can do when you are pulled over is to turn on the dome light of your car and then place both hands on the inside roof of your car where the police can see clearly everything you are doing with them.  That’s because a big part of police training is to always keep their eyes on a suspect/perpetrator’s hands.

The POP Protocol believes that the better trained civilians and police are on what specifically to do in such situations, the less chance of it escalating into a violent and tragic situation.

Now to circle back to blacks who would say, “That’s all well and good, but what do you do when police have an unconscious bias or prejudice that regardless of their training causes them to overreact to behaviors of a black compared to a white suspect/perpetrator?” In essence they are saying, “What do you do when white police officers are inclined to attribute more hostile intent to black males than to brown or white or Asian males? Isn’t that going to cloud their judgment and still make them overreact to situations because of the color of their skin?”

In that regard, those who object to biased police attitudes and their subsequent reactions because of those have a point.

The only way to address the legitimacy of that POV is to create multiple opportunities for blacks and whites to meet and make efforts by both parties to understand the other, before either side rushes to judgment. However, when they do meet they need to listen more and talk less. And when they talk they need to talk to and with each other instead of at or over each other.

Years ago, the famed educator and author, Stephen Covey, advised people to: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” The need to follow that principle has never been greater.