Since February of last year, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which trains law enforcement, has entered into three contracts with a consulting company that offers courses on “Force Science,” which it defines as “the application of unbiased scientific principles and processes designed to determine the true nature of suspect provocation and officer response.”
Criticism from activists in Rochester recently led Mayor Lovely Warren to withdraw city funding for a training course provided by the company, known as the Force Science Institute, in September. That course appears to have been unrelated to any state contract, the most recent of which, valued at $31,000, like the other two, began last month and runs to the end of November.
Force Science Institute has “trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive,” The New York Times reported in 2015, more than half a year before the company’s first contract with DCJS began. The Times story largely focused on psychology professor William Lewinski, the company’s founder, who “has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade,” often “in defense of police shootings.”
We first asked DCJS for more information about the contract on Monday, Nov. 6. One week later, the agency told us that, under the most recent agreement, Force Science Institute provided “two, two-day trainings in 2017 for police and prosecutors who investigate use of force incidents,” teaching “officers skills to stay safe and alive during high-risk situations.”
The course “curriculum is based on scientific principles of biology, physiology, ergonomics and psychology so police and prosecutors gain a better understanding of the dynamics of use of force, specifically during critical incidents, to improve public and officer safety, and to ensure higher quality investigations and fact finding when these incidents occur,” DCJS spokesperson Janine Kava told The Alt.
Nearly 200 individuals registered to attend the courses. The agency did not respond to a request for a list of attendees, nor did it address whether it was aware of the Times story before we mentioned it.
DCJS did provide The Alt a copy of Force Science Institute’s four-page response to the Times story, which the company called “highly distorted.” FSI argues, to name one point of contention, that the headlines chosen by the Times (“Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later,” shortened in print to “Shoot First, and He’ll Answer Questions”) imply that the company encourages “an uncaring shoot-from-the-hip approach to the police use of deadly force that can be whitewashed later with excuses we supply.” This is “pure fabrication,” the company says; it has “never, in our teaching or testimony, spoken in terms of justification.”
The Times story appeared about one month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing the state Attorney General the special prosecutor in the event that law enforcement cause the death of unarmed civilians.
The AG empaneled a grand jury in September, the first time it has done so under the executive order, to review evidence pertaining to Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove’s handling of the fatal shooting of Edson Thevenin by a Troy police officer last year.
A spokesperson for the AG did not return a request for comment concerning the contracts, nor did Gov. Cuomo’s press office.
The Force Science Institute also did not return a request for comment. In September, after the change of plans in Rochester, Dr. Lewinski released a statement to the community expressing disappointment, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
“We believe that the decision to withhold the critical scientific information we provide in our program from these officers— rendered by individuals who have regrettably been swayed by misinformed, irresponsible sources—is detrimental to the community as a whole,” Dr. Lewinski wrote. “The fact that Force Science is held in such high esteem by so many law enforcement professionals, agencies and courts and the increasingly heavy demand for our research and our training stands testimony to the fact that regardless of the inflammatory, often slanderous claims that have been made against us by those with malicious, often financially-motivated intent, have not clouded the credibility and importance of our work and our efforts.”
The courses represent a small slice of DCJS’ overall educational efforts. “On average, DCJS offers more than 400 courses attended by 20,000 police, prosecutors, probation officers and other law enforcement professionals annually,” the agency told The Alt.
Video clips of Dr. Lewinski were used in an October 2016 segment on police accountability produced by HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.