Study Suggests Police Officers Unable To Consistently Spot Concealed Weapons, Bombs

Aug 16, 2017

The ability of a police officer to spot someone carrying a concealed weapon or bomb is only slightly better than chance, according to a new study from Iowa State University.

Lead author Dawn Sweet directs ISU’s Body Language and Facial Expressions Lab. She says the study's findings don't show that police officers are bad at their jobs, rather it's that they lack the right training or tools to spot people who are concealing potential threats.

Researchers believe people betray thoughts and feelings through their facial movements, gaits or postures. But reading these nonverbal cues is context dependent.

"There's any number of reasons, right, why somebody might be walking a particular way," explains Sweet. "So [spotting a threat] is an inherently difficult task, and we’re not giving it enough attention,"

Sweet says she hopes her research will help develop evidence-based training for law enforcement.

"Ultimately, it’s not just the law enforcement officers who are going to benefit from that," she says, "it’s us as a society." 

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal of Law and Human Behavior.