Police shot and killed almost 1,000 people last year, and as many as half of those killed by officers struggle with mental health problems. For people with untreated conditions, the risk of death when stopped by law enforcement runs 16 times above that of other citizens. The public outcry over police brutality has led more agencies and states to embrace de-escalation training for officers. National law enforcement groups emphasize verbal tactics over the use of force when officers encounter emotionally disturbed people, the Christian Science Monitor reports. “Policing has to evolve,” says Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Everything used to be about getting to the call, barking orders, and resolving a situation as quickly as possible without regard for consequences. But if you defuse these situations without force, you’re going to save the lives of civilians and police officers.
A policing ethos that has prevailed nationwide for decades known as “ask, tell, make” dictates that officers take increasingly aggressive action depending on a civilian’s willingness to obey their authority. Sue Rahr of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission has sought to replace “ask, tell, make” with a model rooted in listening, empathy, and emotional restraint. She runs crisis-intervention training that teaches officers to recognize symptoms of mental illness while conditioning them to decelerate their approach to someone in distress. Tactics involve remaining at a distance to avoid startling or riling the person, attempting to persuade instead of demanding compliance, and posing open-ended questions to nurture conversation. A Washington law requires every new police officer and sheriff’s deputy to receive eight hours of crisis-intervention instruction. The state’s 10,000 veteran officers and deputies must complete the course by 2021. “We want individuals who have a variety of skills in dealing with the public,” says Rahr. “They’re going into communities, not war zones.”