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The Art of Decision Making for Criminal Justice Professionals

3 Min Read

Criminal justice professionals have limited time to make critical decisions, which could mean the difference between life and death. While there is no decision-making process that is foolproof, training, conditioning, and practice among criminal justice leadership can help these professionals react more rationally and strategically in the heat of the moment. Additionally, an MPA program with a criminal justice specialization provides the tools and knowledge to make effective split-second decisions, and enjoy a rewarding career.

Decision Making Challenges for Criminal Justice Professionals

Stress-exposure events, which are defined as being unpredictable, unstable, chaotic, and in high-stress conditions, degrade a criminal justice professional’s ability to make a logical, rational decision. During these events, criminal justice professionals can experience lag-time in their decision-making skills.

Other challenges called psychological traps can negatively influence a police leader’s ability to make decisions as well. The FBI outlines five psychological traps:

  1. Framing: A situation that is evaluated through only one lens
  2. Overconfidence: Overestimating one’s abilities or expertise; in fact, overconfidence was highlighted by a California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training as being a primary cause of officer injury and death1
  3. Selective perception: Consciously or unconsciously choosing what to focus on and to recall about a scene or incident
  4. Information overload: The burden of having too much to focus on and therefore missing or losing time or observations
  5. Emotions: Feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and so forth that can impact one’s judgment

The consequences of making the wrong decision can include:

  • Loss of life for a law enforcement specialist or an innocent party
  • Monetary costs to a department or a jurisdiction
  • Public scrutiny and negative public perception
  • Losing one’s job or being demoted
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder, family issues, and other psychological issues related to the consequences of a poorly made decision during a stress-exposure event

Due to the consequences listed above, it’s important that criminal justice leadership provide the training needed to make reliable, ethical decisions in all circumstances.

Tips for Effective Decision Making on the Job

Scenario-based conditioning and training are necessary for criminal justice professionals to prepare themselves to make important decisions in the line of duty. Police training simulators are increasingly relied upon by criminal justice leaders to hone professionals’ decision-making skills as finely as possible.2 Some simulators even allow trainees to feel near-misses or impact in a contrived use-of-force scenario. This provides a truly comprehensive experience.

In addition to training with a simulator, there are several tips criminal justice professionals can apply to their decision-making processes, which can result in saving a life, such as:

  • Look at a situation from different perspectives and angles to maximize the number of solutions
  • Evaluate the situation to identify threats and non-threats; try to make logical decisions about how to react appropriately
  • Visualize how situations will play out before acting
  • Challenge assumptions about a situation
  • In situations that allow it, solicit advice and guidance from colleagues
  • Make decisions about what information is most important and strive to commit that to memory
  • Be aware of emotions and acknowledge them before making a deliberate shift to logical decision-making
  • Practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills with colleagues in order to transmit messages on how to respond to a situation

Criminal justice professionals are responsible for their own mental, emotional, and physical fitness, all of which influence their ability to make decisions. However, leaders in criminal justice should value continuous mental and physical decision-making training for their team. Such comprehensive training bears a meaningful difference in criminal justice professionals’ abilities to make decisions in the both tactical and strategic scenarios.

If you are interested in a rewarding career in criminal justice, Anna Maria College offers an immersive online Criminal Justice MPA degree program that arms you with the skills required to make effective split-second decisions that can save lives. Request more information about this program, or speak to a specialized Program Manager today: 877-265-3201.



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