How De-Escalation Training Can Cut Police Use of Force

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For many years, police have been trained to meet force with more force, drawing their weapon and ordering the subject to drop weapons. Now, in training academies around the U.S. more officers are being taught about de-escalation. The training teaches police to create space, slow things down, ask open-ended questions and hold off reaching for their guns to avoid ramping up confrontation, reports the Washington Post. After frustrations over police violence ignited protests and calls for reform nationwide, de-escalation is gaining new prominence among law enforcement and winning over once-skeptical cops who thought such training would get them killed. The San Francisco Police Department created a training program that resulted in a 24 percent decrease in 2019 uses of force compared to 2018. The California legislature last year passed a law requiring de-escalation training for police, which departments in Berkeley and San Diego have already begun implementing. A study shows one form of de-escalation training run by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) dramatically cut use-of-force incidents by officers and injuries to citizens and officers for one big city department.

Every year since 2015 in the U.S., police officers kill about 1,000 people. In 60 percent of those cases, the subject had a gun and aren’t candidates for de-escalation, said PERF’s Chuck Wexler. PERF’s program addresses about 200 of the remaining cases, in which people are in mental crisis and often intent on committing “suicide by cop” — cases Wexler calls “lawful but awful.” At a recent training session in Montgomery County, Md., PERF instructor Tom Wilson showed police trainers how to teach de-escalation to officers and recruits. The session mixed theory with 17 real-world case studies presented through videos captured by officers’ body-worn cameras, citizen cellphones and security cameras.

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