Police officers' assessment of operational situations

Rhona Flin, L. Wujec, Z. Pender, V. Grant, E. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


<B>Purpose</B> - The aim of this study is to identify the dimensions used by police officers in Scotland to discriminate and categorise operational situations. <B>Design/methodology/approach</B> - This article was based on two studies: study 1 was a card-sorting task: 23 officers categorised a set of 19 typical police operational situations, analysed using multi-dimensional scaling; study 2 was a judgement task: 112 police officers rated 20 situations (19 from study1) in terms of amount of time to make a decision, risk to self, risk to others, familiarity and stress. Frequency data and correlations were calculated. <B>Findings</B> - Study 1 results showed that the two main dimensions used to discriminate between situations were "familiarity" and "risk to the officer". Study 2 found that most situations required a decision in less than three minutes. Rank and experience were related to familiarity but not to the other judgements. The situations requiring the fastest decisions were also judged to be of higher risk and more unfamiliar. Risks to self and to others were highly correlated, and higher risk situations were judged as more stressful. <B>Research limitations/implications</B> - This preliminary study shows that knowledge elicitation techniques can be used to improve our understanding of police officers' knowledge and cognitive skills for operational policing. <B>Practical implications</B> - Good situational judgements form the basis of effective operational decision-making. Understanding how officers "read" situations and how this develops with expertise can provide valuable information for police training and critical incident management. <B>Originality/value</B> - Police officers' cognitive skills have rarely been studied in relation to routine operational policing. This study is a first attempt to examine situational judgement skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-323
Number of pages14
JournalPolicing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • decision making
  • policing
  • Scotland
  • situation analysis
  • skills


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