- March 7, 2017
- Posted by: Keith Graves
- Category: CNS Stimulants, Officer Safety, Police
A young officer in Florida was dispatched to a home invasion robbery in progress. When she arrived, she was confronted by three armed intruders, all armed with handguns. The suspects opened fire on the officer, striking her multiple times. She was struck in the right arm and leg, shattering bones in both extremities. She was shot multiple times in addition to those crippling extremity wounds.
The officer picked up her handgun, which had fallen to the ground when she had been initially shot, and fired on the first intruder. She emptied her magazine striking the intruder with every round fired. All the while, she shot with her weak hand. She did a single handed reload, fired one round, and struck the second intruder. The third intruder fled the scene.
If we checked this officer’s pulse, she probably had a pulse rate upwards of 160 beats per minute. Her pupils were probably dilated and her respirations, or breaths, were more than likely above normal.
People On Meth Can Hurt You
In another incident, a parolee smokes methamphetamine from a glass pipe in a cheap motel known for its high crime rate. The parolee leaves the motel, but is quickly encountered by two plain clothes officers looking for their next drug arrest. They see that he is under the influence of a drug. His pupils are dilated to 8.0 millimeters (normal is 3.0mm to 6.5 mm). His pulse is 140 beats per minute (normal is 60-90 BPM). His breathing is fast, but not too fast. His body movements are quick, but not overly hyper. The officers quickly determine that the parolee is under the influence of a CNS Stimulant and could be a danger, so they decide to pat search him.
The parolee knows what is going to happen. He knows that he is going back to the joint. With the help of the methamphetamine he has just smoked, he fights both of the officers. During that fight, the parolee grabs one of the officer’s guns in an attempt to free it from its holster. A radio call for help is broadcast by the officers’ partner. Unfortunately, the same low bidder that installed your radio system also installed these officers’ radio equipment. The radio call is never heard.
The fight continues for the gun for another five minutes. During this fight, both the officers and the parolee take a beating. The fight continues until a segment of a call for help goes over the radio. This call for help has gone out numerous times during the fight, but only this transmission is heard. Help is soon on the way. Arriving officers take the parolee into custody. After being released from the hospital, he is jailed for two years.
Commonalities Between Drug Influence and Combat Stress
It may not seem like it, but there is a common thread among these two incidents. The first officer performed so well because of very good training on her part. But, she also experienced some dramatic changes in her body’s homeostatic base that helped her perform at her peak. The parolee, also experienced a change in his homeostatic base, but this change was chemically induced.
So why did this officer perform so well in the first incident? Research by Lieutenant Colonel Grossman, Dr. Alexis Artwohl, Loren Christensen and others have shown that the body reacts in certain ways when it is involved in combat. In their book “Deadly Force Encounters”, Dr. Artwohl and Christensen state, “When Fear explodes inside of you, your sympathetic nervous system instantly dumps a variety of natural drugs and hormones into your body to cause the high arousal state known as fear. You are literally under the influence of these natural chemicals, so your body operates differently, just as it would under the influence of a chemical you deliberately ingested.” Simply put, drugs like methamphetamine bind with the same neuron receptors as do the naturally occurring hormones.
If you experience the fight or flight reflex, such as a one produced by a gunfight, your body releases neurotransmitters and hormones to make your body battle ready. It is a reaction from the sympathetic nervous system. Your pupils will dilate, which may make your eyesight more acute to danger. Your pulse will increase dramatically and your blood pressure will increase. Your body will shunt blood away from the skin and viscera to the skeletal muscles, brain, and heart where it is desperately needed. Your brain will be awakened.
Now we need to look at a typical methamphetamine user. When a user ingests methamphetamine, it will have a dramatic affect upon their sympathetic nervous system. This is the same system that was stimulated when the officer was involved in the gunfight of her life. The meth user’s pupils will dilate, his pulse will increase dramatically and his blood pressure will increase. His body will shunt blood away from the skin and viscera to the skeletal muscles, brain, and heart and his brain will be awakened. This is the exact same response as the officer that was involved in a gunfight.
The difference; the officer’s reaction lasted a very short time. For the meth user, the affect can last from 4 hours, or up to 24 hours, depending on their tolerance and quality of the drug. This can be very dangerous to the officer that encounters him.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the meth user can now go drive a car without fear of being arrested for DUI and the officer shouldn’t fear of being arrested for under the influence immediately after a gunfight. What it does mean is that we need to be acutely aware of a suspect’s drug influence. This can explain why it is so tough to fight with a person under the influence of certain drugs.
If an officer is properly trained in drug influence detection, then the officer can avert a potentially dangerous situation. If the officer can determine immediately that the suspect is under the influence of a drug that affects the sympathetic nervous system, then he can call additional resources, use extra caution, or justify certain force options if necessary.
We now know that these drugs can make the suspect more violent. But, the suspects know this as well. Reports from around California have shown that suspects are taking MDMA, or ecstasy, prior to committing street robberies or shootings. Officers from San Francisco, Oakland, Fresno, and Los Angeles have reported that gang members are taking MDMA prior to shooting other gang members, committing robberies, or committing other dangerous crimes. They use MDMA because it is a drug that effects the sympathetic nervous system and helps them be battle ready and to mimic that fight or flight response.
Fight or Flight and Training
We know that people reacting to fight or flight react with some undesirable traits. An example would include an officer that has not trained or prepared himself for a gunfight. The officer, if he experienced enough fear, might experience irrational fighting or fleeing, freezing, submissive behavior, voiding of bladder and bowels, and gross motor skills (such as running and charging) at their highest performance level.
In my experience in evaluating drug impaired subjects, I have seen these same traits in people who have ingested drugs that affect the SNS. In fight or flight, you can see how some of these traits would be harmful to an officer encountering a person who is at this state of drug influence. Although submissive behavior would be desirable, most of the drugs that affect the SNS also produce paranoia, which would negate the submissive effect. Instead, this might shift to irrational fighting, running or charging.
This is why it is imperative that drug influence detection be a basic skill for officers on the street. There are programs that teach officers this skill that last anywhere from 24 hours, such as the Drug Abuse Recognition Course offered by the Graves & Associates LLC, or the 80+ hour Drug Recognition Expert Course offered by the International Chiefs of Police.
Hopefully through better education we can help officers identify offenders under the influence of drugs. With this knowledge, officers can better stay safe and continue to safely put these offenders back into jail and away from the public.
 Artwohl, A., & Christensen, L. W. (1997). Deadly force encounters: What cops need to know to mentally and physically prepare for and survive a gunfight. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press.
 Tyner, E. A., & Fremouw, W. J. (2008). The relation of methamphetamine use and violence: A critical review. Aggression and violent behavior, 13(4), 285-297.