Did A Lethal Pseudoscience Kill Sylville Smith?

In the wake of both the acquittal of former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown in the killing of Sylville Smith, and the release of the body cam footage showing Smith’s final moments, the now terribly familiar questions arise yet again: why did Heaggan-Brown fire a second shot when the video seems to show Smith already down and unarmed following the first shot? As Smith’s father Patrick asked after the verdict, ” Why are they trained to kill when they’re supposed to protect and serve us?” Here’s one reason why.

Meet Psychologist William J.Lewinsky. A New York Times article from August 2015 featured Lewinsky and his work which, apparently, consists almost entirely of training police officers and providing expert testimony in officer involved shootings. Lewinsky is the founder of the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers, frequently on the response times of both officers and suspects in armed encounters, and claims it’s all ” Science “. But not everyone agrees.

In 2012 the US Department of Justice hired an editor from the American Journal of Psychology, Washington State University Professor Lisa Fournier, to review a number of Lewinsky’s self designed research studies ( it’s worth noting that Lewinsky also designed his own PhD program at what used to be The Union of Experimenting Colleges and Universities)

Fournier found that Lewinsky’s studies not only lacked the basic elements of sound scientific research, she went so far as to say that in her opinion Lewinsky lacked the ability to even apply relevant and reliable data to support an argument. In layperson terms that means ” he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. ” If Fournier is correct then Lewinsky’s work is based on pseudoscience, not science. Yet he’s training cops all over the country about how much time they have to react to save their lives and the lives of their partners. And he has fans in Wisconsin.

When you peruse the website of the Force Science Institute you’ll see a link to ” Testimonials ” from law enforcement officers. There are only four testimonials listed, two of them from officers in Wisconsin.

Force Science puts science behind what trainers and field officers have speculated for years. My agency has used your information in training and in court. It saves officer and citizen lives.”

Sgt. James MacGillis
Rangemaster, Milwaukee (WI) PD

“A BIG thank you for all the hard work all of you do – it’s a great help to the thousands of instructors who use your material!”

Lt. Patrick Martin
Greenfield (WI) PD

So it’s entirely possible that police departments in Milwaukee and the surrounding area are embracing the work of a man, William J. Lewinsky, who may well be peddling pseudo-scientific snakeoil as legitimate scientific research. Only this stuff isn’t a relatively harmless mix of mineral oil, red pepper and camphor. This stuff can kill you.


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2 thoughts on “Did A Lethal Pseudoscience Kill Sylville Smith?

  1. That the attitude of police officers is to act first and forget the questions. They don’t need this training to have the attitude they have. I’m speaking of those on the force that have these tendencies in the first place, way before any police training. I fear that they kill these folks rather than let them live to testify against them.

    The biggest problem is that of the other officers. I have no respect for those officers that fail to openly question these incidents. These are murders and nothing less. Staying silent is to become complicit in the actions they refuse to condemn.

    1. John Allen,

      I write this piece because addressing the training officers receive is something concrete that can be done. Right now officers are being told, essentially, that they have no time to do anything other than shoot. And they’re taught to shoot at center mass until the threat is neutralized. We can change that training. I’m really troubled by your blanket assertion that all cops are eager to act first. You have no evidence whatsoever to support that claim. Statements like that help nothing and no one.

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