Police Reporter Learns De-Escalation’s Challenges

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Washington Post police reporter Peter Hermann writes about his experience testing in a police training exercise whether he can successfully de-escalate a confrontation. As Hermann describes it, “The man wore a maroon bath robe and sunglasses. He stumbled about in the middle of an intersection, hunched over, yelling something I couldn’t understand. I’m a reporter who writes about D.C. police, but at this moment I was playing the part of a police officer, and I was responding to a call. I approached the man and got too close, as I quickly figured out, before I saw he was holding a knife to the right side of his face … (he) started acting as if he were cutting his wrists and head as I backed away and put my hand on my holstered sidearm.”

In police parlance, the man was a “consumer” of Washington, D.C.’s mental-health system. It was Hermann’s job to get him out of the way of traffic, get him help and keep everyone else in the area safe. Hermann writes, “I had all the tools I needed — a plastic baton, “pepper spray” (actually water) and a fake gun … but the key … was ‘voluntary compliance.’ ” As the training continued, he says, “A man to my left started to record on his phone while urging I shoot. A stuck motorist pestered to be allowed through the intersection. Another tried to coax the disturbed man to the sidewalk. They all talked at once. I saw them, urged them to back up and dismissed them as threats. But I failed to process what they were doing or saying. I didn’t ‘shoot’ the man — didn’t even draw my gun. Though I did “pepper-spray” the disturbed subject …into submission.” Hermann says he got a passing grade and some kudos from police officer actors “though my missteps were many.”

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