Study Analyzes Police Officer Memory After High-Stress Incidents


Moments after completing a traffic-stop training, Hillsboro, Or., police officer Dave Morse remembered clearly that the “suspect” suddenly pulled out a semi-automatic pistol. What he didn’t remember is a key component of a national study in Hillsboro that drew more than 90 police officers from 22 agencies in Oregon and Washington, The Oregonian reports. Morse didn’t remember flinching or hearing shots, or dashing behind a vehicle for cover, or jumping out to fire shots.

It wasn’t until he watched a video of his performance that he realized the discrepancy between his memory and what actually occurred. The way high-stress incidents affect an officer’s memory is part of the study funded by the Force Science Institute of Mankato, Mn. and documented by the Canadian Discovery Channel. After traumatic incidents, some officers remember things that didn’t happen. Some don’t remember things that did happen. Others confuse the sequence of events. “What we find is that officers will have a lot of memory gaps,” said Alexis Artwohl, a retired police psychologist and national expert on police stress.

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