A Cognitive View of Policing

Last registered on July 19, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

A Cognitive View of Policing
Initial registration date
July 07, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
July 19, 2023, 12:02 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


Primary Investigator

The University of Chicago

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Chicago
PI Affiliation
California Southern University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
What causes adverse policing outcomes, such as excessive uses of force and unnecessary arrests? Prevailing explanations focus on bad actors among officers or deficient regulations and oversight. Here, we introduce a new, overlooked perspective. We suggest that the cognitive demands inherent in policing can undermine officer decision-making. Unless officers are prepared for these demands, they may jump to conclusions too quickly without fully considering alternate ways of seeing a situation. This can lead to adverse policing outcomes. To test this perspective, we created a training program that teaches officers to more deliberately consider different ways of interpreting the situations they encounter. We evaluated this training using a randomized controlled trial with 2,070 officers from the Chicago Police Department. In a series of lab assessments, we find that treated officers were significantly more likely to consider a wider range of evidence and develop more explanations for subjects’ actions. Critically, we also find that trained officers performed differently in the field: They were less likely to use force and make discretionary arrests, while their levels of activity overall remained unchanged. Moreover, trained officers were less likely to be injured on duty. Our results highlight the value of considering the cognitive aspects of policing and demonstrate the power of using behaviorally informed approaches to improve officer decision-making and policing outcomes.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Dube, Oeindrila, Sandy Jo MacArthur and Anuj Shah. 2023. "A Cognitive View of Policing." AEA RCT Registry. July 19. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.11730-1.0
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Experimental Details


Our research team developed the Sit-D curriculum in its entirety. We drew on key concepts from the psychology of decision-making, adapting them to the policing context. We then designed numerous exercises in different formats to make it easier for officers to connect the principles of the training to the issues they face while on duty in the field.

The curriculum design was also iterative. We used a “train-the-trainer" model, instructing 31 CPD trainers on how to deliver the training. During this process, we modified the training based on extensive input from key CPD personnel, including the leadership of the Training Academy. We also modified the training based on events in the city. Notably, after widespread policing protests in Summer 2020, we added more protest scenarios to the curriculum. These steps ensured that the training was relevant and engaging to Chicago police officers.

The training consisted of four sessions that were each four hours (i.e., 16 hours total). Each session had on average 16 officers and four trainers. This ratio was important for managing the different components of each session and facilitating discussion. Typically, there were several weeks in between each session. This allowed officers to start using lessons from Sit-D while in the field and to begin subsequent sessions by debriefing how they had applied the training. Sessions consisted of a mix of classroom instruction (which included lecture and interactive activities) and scenario-based exercises. The first two sessions had more classroom instruction, while the final two sessions were entirely scenario-based exercises. Officers in the training had to take the first two sessions (which were foundational) before they could move to the final two sessions.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Uses of non-lethal force; discretionary arrests; officer injuries (days off); officer activities (index)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
To assess effects on outcomes in the field, we use CPD's administrative data. Specifically, we use data from Tactical Response Reports (TRRs) to measure uses of force. TRRs provide comprehensive information on force incidents since they must be filled out every time a subject resists an officer, is injured by an officer, threatens an officer, or physically attacks an officer (Chicago Police Department, 2021).

In the post-training data we analyze, uses of force are divided into 3 categories: Level 3 comprises lethal uses of force (e.g., police shootings); while Levels 1 and 2 comprise all non-lethal uses of force (which range from using a TASER, using a wristlock, or punching and kicking). We distinguish between lethal and non-lethal levels of force (per our pre-analysis plan) since there are only 20 lethal force incidents in our sample, and we are not powered to detect changes in this outcome. We therefore focus on non-lethal uses of force, and our main measure is the number of such incidents associated with each officer.

The TRRs contain other information on subject injury and tactics, which we use to construct additional measures analyzed in Table B13. These include: officer recorded injuries, subject allegations of injuries, measures of hospitalization, and an index of officer reliance on force tactics (versus other types of tactics) in use of force incidents.

We also draw on CPD's arrest data to examine various types of arrests. We pre-specified examining a set of arrests categorized as discretionary, for charges such as disorderly conduct and resisting or obstructing an officer. These charges often arise in situations where officers can either choose to make an arrest or resolve the situation in other ways. Therefore, these discretionary arrests are often perceived to be arbitrary or unnecessary, while holding little public safety value. As such, the number of discretionary arrests is one of our main measures of adverse policing outcomes.

To gauge effects on officer activities more generally, we turn to administrative data from the Performance Recognition System (PRS), and we use it to build an index of officer activity which includes: warrants; recovered vehicles; recovered guns; traffic stops; driver stops; Investigatory Stop Reports (ISRs)/contact cards; Administrative Notices of Ordinance Violation (ANOVs); citations; curfew violations; CTA checks; parking citations; and all other non-discretionary arrests. To measure effects on officer injuries, we use daily attendance data, which provides information on days off due to injury on duty (IOD).

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Considering alternative interpretations of situations, assessing ambiguous situations, coping with stress, emotion regulation, CPD use of force policy, knowledge retention from training program
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
CPD personnel administered an endline assessment at the training academy four months after completion of the training. It consisted of two components. First, officers completed a computer-based survey that included a mix of questions and responses to scenarios in video and audio recordings. Second, officers completed scenario-based exercises in a Force Options Simulator (FOS). Out of 2,070 officers, 1,696 officers completed the endline assessments, and 98% of these assessments were completed in-person at the Academy.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
A subset of police officers from the Chicago Police Department were randomized and placed into two groups:
1. Treatment: received specialized Sit-D training
2. Control: received traditional CPD training

To gauge the causal effect of the Sit-D training, we estimate Intent to Treat (ITT) effects.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The units of assignment typically have four shifts (also known as watches). We stratified the randomization by unit x watch, which resulted in 92 strata. We used random assignment to select approximately half the officers in each stratum for the training group, while the other half served as the control group. In total, 1,059 officers were assigned to the Sit-D training.
Randomization Unit
The randomization unit is at the officer level. Our sample comprises CPD officers on active duty, who completed certain prerequisite courses. Specifically, the sample includes 2,070 active-duty police officers who have been on the job for two or more years, including those who work in one of 22 police districts in Chicago, as well as those who work in more specialized units, such as gang units, tactical teams, and area saturation teams. We refer to districts and specialized units as the units of assignment.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1,059 officer assigned to training
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Chicago Social and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials