Following the controversial shootings and deaths of several unarmed African-Americans earlier in 2020, the conversation around police brutality and the need for deescalation training have received ample attention. In fact, republicans in Congress presented a police reform bill this summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. At the local level, this issue also inspired statewide reform measures in states like Minnesota, which moved $10 million toward deescalation and crisis response training.
While this looks like progress, deescalation training is more complicated than most people think, especially in crises.
Here are some ways police officers can deescalate a crisis.
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Police officers should go into every crisis with as much information they can get from dispatch. If officers fail to understand the specific issue taking place, it can open the door to more potential problems when they arrive on the scene. Police officers should be as detailed as possible when asking for more information to decide how they want to approach the matter. From the suspect or victim’s location to asking if there are other officers en route, knowing how to arrive and what to expect is the first step to being prepared and implementing the appropriate response.
Put More Focus on the Outcome
Police officers should approach each call with everyone’s safety in mind. By focusing on the outcome more than the cause, police officers can avoid implementing the same crisis response failures in the past. Understanding the root cause of the issue, such as someone’s mental illness, a drunk driving incident, or the role of recreational drug use, is essential, especially when trying to prepare for how you’ll approach the subject(s) in question. But remaining calm and minimizing tension should be the ultimate goal.
Remember, Deescalation Starts with Police
It’s no surprise that a belligerent suspect shouldn’t be the one who starts the deescalation process. After all, tempers are high, as are emotions and other potential crisis items, such as weapons and drugs. So, it’s up to the police officer responding to the call to prevent themselves from losing mental control and only antagonizing the potentially dangerous individual(s) they are approaching. Instead, officers should respond rationally and professionally while also understanding that any scene could get out of hand. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst can go a long way.
Understand That Not Everything Goes According to Plan
Even with all the pertinent information needed and the best mindset in tow, not every situation ends the way officers want. The goal should be to calm everyone down, understand all sides, and move on from the scene with everyone unharmed, including the officer. But dealing with people, especially those who pose a threat of some kind, can be unpredictable, especially with mental illness, drugs, and/or alcohol are involved.
During a call, it’s not uncommon for officers to experience situations that are beyond their control. However, the only thing officers can control in those scenarios are their responses and actions. Like any skills, officers can improve deescalation techniques through practice, training, education, and understanding.
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