VESTed interest


Doctoral psychology students use behavioral insights to tweak Academy curriculum

When new police recruits start their training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy this year, they may have some UIndy students to thank for part of their curriculum. Doctoral-level psychology students in Professor David Wantz’s Psychological Consultation and Education class spent a semester reviewing training material at the Academy and making suggestions for improvement.

They discovered that the Academy curriculum that was being employed to understand human behavior was out of date. As part of a class assignment, the doctoral students reviewed the content being taught and realized that their knowledge of human behavior and reaction could be helpful. The UIndy students developed new behavioral objectives designed to keep officers calm, safe, alert, and certain while on duty. Students came up with a simple model that can be applied to all the skills the Academy trainees are learning: having situational awareness, maintaining a duty to self, and maintaining a duty to others. Situational awareness is about understanding how to lower anxiety in a situation—such as a traffic stop—or how to predict whether the anxiety is escalating.

Lowering anxiety

The psychology students want the police recruits to become aware of how others may react to their behaviors and how an officer’s action can affect a situation. Methods such as lowering one’s voice, repeating a command, or simply slowing down can help to lower the anxiety in a situation. To help the trainees quickly identify risk factors in a situation, the psychology students developed a protocol called VEST, which refers to the potential for Violence, Emotional state, Situation, and Type of call. The officers can use a simple red/yellow/green evaluation process to determine the level of action needed.

“We want to find ways to help the officers understand the relationship between performance and anxiety,” explains Wantz. “Our students were using their clinical skills to inform their consultation, training, and teaching in a real-world setting.”

In May, psychology students began working with the Academy to help provide an evaluation of its recruits’ reading comprehension. The UIndy team will make recommendations about possible changes to the exam. Wantz would like students to understand that as psychologists, they may be asked to consult, evaluate, and use their skills beyond a private practice.

“Students were skeptical at the beginning of the semester, but by the end, when they realized how they could use their clinical skills, they were very excited,” says Wantz. “And when competing for internships or a job, skills such as consultation, training, and teaching will really give them a leg up on the competition.”