WA Trains Police To De-Escalate, Some Criticize It As “Hug A Thug”


Most police academies still use a militaristic style of training that emphasizes battle. For the past three years, every police recruit in Washington state has undergone a different style of training emphasizing that officers should be “guardians of democracy” who serve and protect instead of “warriors” who conquer and control. The Washington Post, which observed the training, says, “Gone is the military-boot-camp atmosphere. Gone are the field exercises focused on using fists and weapons to batter suspects into submission. Gone, too, is a classroom poster that once warned recruits that ‘officers killed in the line of duty use less force than their peers.’ “

“If your overarching identity is 'I'm a warrior,' then you will approach every situation like you must conquer and win,” said Sue Rahr of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. “You may have a conflict where it is necessary for an officer to puff up and quickly take control. But in most situations, it's better if officers know how to de-escalate, calm things down, slow down the action.” Some accuse Rahr of promoting a “hug-a-thug” mentality that risks getting officers killed. About 20 percent of her staff quit or was fired in the first year after rebelling against her reforms. Today, Rahr estimates that two-thirds of the state's 285 police chiefs are either skeptical of her training philosophy or “think this is just dangerous.” Training is at the heart of the national debate over police use of force. So far this year, police have shot and killed more than 900 people, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings — more than twice the number recorded in any previous year by federal officials. Anti-brutality activists and some law enforcement leaders argue that if police were better trained to de-escalate conflict, some of those people might still be alive.

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