Name: Simon Baldwin

Area of Study: Forensic

In what program are you currently enrolled?


What year of the program are you currently in?


Citation in APA format: Baldwin, S., Bennell, C., Andersen, J. P., Semple, T., & Jenkins, B. (2019). Stress-Activity Mapping: Physiological Responses During General Duty Police Encounters. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2216). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02216

Abstract: Policing is a highly stressful and dangerous profession that involves a complex set of environmental, psychosocial, and health risks. The current study examined autonomic stress responses experienced by 64 police officers, during general duty calls for service (CFS) and interactions with the public. Advancing previous research, this study utilized GPS and detailed operational police records as objective evidence of specific activities throughout a CFS. These data were then used to map officers’ heart rate to both the phase of a call (e.g., dispatch, enroute) and incident factors (e.g., call priority, use-of-force). Furthermore, physical movement (i.e., location and inertia) was tracked and assisted in differentiating whether cardiovascular reactivity was due to physical or psychological stress. Officer characteristics, including years of service and training profiles, were examined to conduct a preliminary exploration of whether experience and relevant operational skills training impacted cardiovascular reactivity. Study results provide foundational evidence that CFS factors, specifically the phase of the call (i.e., arrival on scene, encountering a subject) and incident factors (i.e., call priority, weapons, arrest, use-of-force), influence physiological stress responses, which may be associated with short-term performance impairments and long-term health outcomes. Implications of research findings for operational policing, police training, and health research are discussed.

How did the idea for this research come about?

When presented with a threatening stimulus (whether real or perceived) the body engages in a series of automatic physiological processes that prepares us to respond to threats (more colloquially known as the “fight-or-flight” response). Research has suggested that stress reactivity that matches situational demands (not too high or too low) is beneficial for performing optimally during threatening situations, as it can result in heightened sensory perceptions, rapid decision-making, and improved cognitive functioning. However, under conditions of extreme stress, such as when police officers encounter life threatening situations, performance may be impacted in various ways, some of which can be detrimental to performance. Moreover, chronic, or maladaptive stress reactivity can be detrimental to health over the long-term. For those committed to public safety, learning to recognize, manage, and operate under high levels of stress is critical. For the police, that process begins by understanding when and how they experience stress. However, very limited research exists that objectively measures stress reactivity experienced by police officers during active duty. As someone who works for a law enforcement agency and is passionate about public and policy safety, I wanted to provide evidence of the extent and frequency of stress arousal in police operations, as it has important implications for general duty policing, police training, and health research.

This study is part of a large SSHRC funded research project, led by Dr. Craig Bennell (Police Research Lab; PRL) with Dr. Joanna Pozzulo (Laboratory for Child Forensic Psychology), Dr. Judith P. Andersen (UoT), in collaboration with Canadian law enforcement. The broader research project, being worked on by several students in the PRL, is examining police use-of-force performance; particularly, the relationship between stress, training, decision-making, memory and body worn cameras (BWCs).

Overall, this research will answer important questions about use-of-force decision-making by examining the impact that stress and BWCs have on member behaviour and their ability to recall events. This will stimulate further research on the effects of stress and BWCs, which is urgently needed. The research will also: (1) assist police agencies in developing more informed policy around BWCs (e.g., whether members should be permitted to view BWC footage while preparing reports), (2) demonstrate which types and what level of training produces physiological resilience and peak performance, (3) provide the opportunity to conduct non-operational user testing on new BWC models and evaluate emerging technology in force-on-force training, (4) help police trainers develop more effective training (e.g., by addressing tactical errors repeatedly observed throughout the research), and (5) educate police officers, the public, and triers of fact about use-of-force decision-making and BWCs to ensure the critical appraisal of both (e.g., with respect to the underlying physiological processes involved in use-of-force encounters and the consequences of these processes for member performance and memory). So stay tuned for more!

How did you collect the data for this project?

To improve the likelihood of capturing physiological responses to high-stress encounters, the selection of the study location and collection period were informed by an examination of UoF trends and violent crime severity indexes in Canadian cities. Tori Semple (PhD student, PRL), Bryce Jenkins (PhD student, PRL), and I traveled to an urban city on the West coast of Canada in 2017 to conduct the study. Over a period of nine days, 69 active duty frontline police officers from a large Canadian police agency volunteered to participate in our study. These officers were equipped with a heart rate monitor, GPS, and inertia sensor throughout their shift. In total, 125 shifts were recorded, capturing HR data for 754 officer responses to 593 calls for service.

Was the journal you published in the first journal you submitted this paper to?


Why did you choose this journal?

We were approached to submit an abstract to Frontiers in Psychology’s article collection titled De-escalating Threat: The Psychophysiology of Police Decision Making.

Given the article collection’s focus on physiological processing and reactivity to threat, as well as the journal’s overall emphasis on promoting research and improving the evidence-base for psychological interventions, we thought that this was a great venue to disseminate this research. Since Frontiers is open access, it also facilitates the research getting out to police officers which is a big priority for us.

How many other journals did you submit this paper to before it landed in the journal that eventually published your work?


What was your revision experience?

Overall it was a positive experience. Frontiers has a very slick and interactive review forum. They did take a bit of a different review process, where reviews were done sequentially instead of all at one (i.e., you had to provide revisions to reviewer 1’s comments before it went to reviewer 2, etc.). I found this prolonged the review and approval process a bit and could cause some issues and additional work if reviewer’s have contradictory comments. Once approved, they also publish who your reviewer’s were, which is cool to see!

How many rounds of revision did you experience?

2 (one for each reviewer)

Did you need to collect new data to satisfy a reviewer?


How long did it take from first submission to acceptance?


Was this paper conducted as part of your PhD dissertation?


Was this research conducted with your supervisor?


If yes, provide his or her name

Dr. Craig Bennell

Was this research conducted with fellow graduate students in our program?


If yes, please provide names

Tori Semple and Bryce Jenkins

Was this research conducted with researchers external to Carleton?


If yes, please provide names

Dr. Judith P. Anderson, University of Toronto

To access the published version of the article, please follow the link below: