US law enforcement calls for de-escalation training

CESO, Maine – Angry at being fired, a former employee punctured the tires on his boss’s vehicle and was still holding the knife when police arrived.

Three officers positioned themselves at a safe distance as the man screamed and fumed. One officer had a stun gun, another a handgun.

The third used the most important tool – a willingness to speak.

Here in the parking lot of a school in Maine, the urgency was false, but the strategies were very real. Police officers were attending a training course offered by the Police Executive Research Forum that thousands of police officers across the country are receiving this year. Officers are taught: keep a safe distance, slow things down.

The Washington, DC-based organization is the nation’s premier policing think tank. His two-day training now has a long waiting list.

“The most common mistake is to rush a situation that you don’t need to rush,” said Steven Stefanakos of the New York City Police Department, who has been called in to help train officers. “When you compress time and space, it usually doesn’t turn out the way we want it to.”

Demands for police departments to train on how to better deal with the public have exploded since the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, especially as calls for police funding increase and cities adopt policies. reforms aimed at suppressing police brutality.

The Police Executive Research Forum’s training effort began five years ago after the murder of unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and has since been updated with new techniques. The idea originated in the UK, where most officers do not carry handguns, forum director Chuck Wexler said. It’s a mix of classroom training and scenarios performed with actors to give agents time to work on what they’ve learned.

The goal is to provide training to as many of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies as possible.

New York City has announced that all 36,500 officers will undergo training and that all 35,000 New Jersey police officers are also undergoing training. Small departments are reaching out and the agency is holding regional sessions. The first regional session was held in late July for officers from 90 New England police departments, who would then take what they learned back to their departments and train other officers. There was also a session in Colorado. The last practice ended Friday in Tampa.

We ask a lot of the police. They are asked to be roadside psychologists, family counselors, mental health workers – and even soldiers in an active shooting event, said Saco Police Chief Jack Clements, whose agency hosted the event in New England.

This is why it is important to repeat.

“Rather than rush off and find yourself in a deadly encounter, let’s back up, slow down, talk, let’s make a plan. Then let’s engage. If it takes an hour to defuse this guy, that’s fine. Take it. time, ”says the chef.

Some officers say the training is already saving lives.

In Texas, a police officer responded to a call from a suicidal woman with a knife weeks after receiving the training in Harris County. The woman had crashed into a vehicle her boyfriend was sitting in and nearly collided with a deputy before escaping and locking herself in an apartment.

The first deputies on the scene kicked in the door, but Sgt. Pete Smith slowed things down and struck up a conversation when he arrived. Assured that he was there to help, the woman dropped her knife.

Instead of a violent arrest, or worse, she was taken in for a mental health assessment, the sergeant said. Jose Gomez, a member of the department’s behavioral health training unit, who was responsible for securing the training.

In Saco, officers spent the first day in class before working on role-playing exercises on the second day. Scenarios focused on the vast majority of audience encounters where no weapon is present, but may involve knives or weapons.

In the tire puncture scenario, the three officers stood away from the man pointing to a knife. The man was a threat, they said, but not imminent as long as he stayed at a safe distance. The three of them quickly designated the officer who would speak.

Long minutes passed as the officer and the attacker spoke and sympathized, allowing the conversation to drift away from the boss. They ended up talking about car customization. The man put down his knife.

After the exercise, a New Haven, Connecticut, police officer said during the debriefing that he kept the “21-foot rule” in mind.

The distance of 21 feet is sometimes referred to as the “kill zone”. Officers have learned that at this distance, a person armed with a knife, baseball bat or other weapon can quickly reduce the distance and inflict fatal injuries.

Officers who want to protect themselves and survive to get home at the end of the shift are more likely to use deadly force simply because that’s what they’ve been trained to do once that distance limit is crossed. .

After listening to the conversation after the training, Wexler said he was troubled by the results he saw of what appears to be an arbitrary rule taught in police training.

“These are what you would call the legal but horrific types of shootings,” Wexler said.

Sometimes, he said, winning means going back to keep a distance, instead of rushing into a situation or holding on. It means taking the time to assess and communicate, he said.

Raphael Thornton, who played the role of the knife-wielding assailant, said officers are not always convinced by the training of the manuals. But, he says, that changes with role-playing.

“That’s when we really get buy-in,” said Thornton, who works for the Camden County Police Department in New Jersey. “If we have naysayers when they leave the classroom, they really buy in when they leave. They can put into practice what they have learned.

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