More than any other profession, police officers put their health and safety on the line every day in service of public safety. However, while a police officer has a duty to protect and serve, it’s easy for situations to quickly spiral out of control.
Fortunately, de-escalation training for police officers can vastly improve interactions with the public and lead to better results for cities and municipalities. In fact, according to research from the Department of Justice, de-escalation can lead to fewer officer injuries and incidents between officers and civilians.
Peaceful Leaders Academy focuses on comprehensive de-escalation training for law enforcement agencies and police departments across the country. Our methods can lead to better satisfaction from both officers and the communities they serve.
What is De-Escalation Training for Police Workers?
The primary purpose of a de-escalation training program is to teach police officers how to calm a situation so it can end peacefully, not with violence. In recent years, police violence has been on the rise, leading to calls for police reform and other sweeping changes throughout police departments.
While officers must face adverse or demanding circumstances regularly, de-escalation training can help them approach these situations in a more calm and positive manner. While this type of training program won’t “fix” the criminal justice system, it can go a long way toward strengthening the relationship between civilians and police officers.
It’s also important to note that proper de-escalation techniques require ongoing training. It’s not enough to teach a police officer how to calm a situation one time. Instead, it’s best to reinforce de-escalation techniques over the long term. This way, officers are as prepared as possible for any situation or circumstance.
What’s crucial to understand is that police officers have to act and react in split-second timing. Without comprehensive ongoing training, it’s virtually impossible for an officer to remember proper de-escalation techniques in a life-or-death moment. Without constant reinforcement and police training, any exercises will be forgotten and discarded.
What is Included in De-Escalation Training for Police Officers?
Because each situation can be unique, it’s imperative for de-escalation training to focus on the fundamentals of the process. This way, police officers can react accordingly depending on the situation.
For example, it’s important to approach someone experiencing a mental health crisis differently than someone who may be acting maliciously or under the influence of drugs.
With that in mind, here are some fundamental de-escalation techniques that officers may experience during training.
In some cases, the presence of a police officer can be enough to escalate a situation. So, officers must know how to approach individuals and listen to what they’re saying in a non-threatening manner.
Because there’s a tendency to believe that an officer means someone is getting arrested, individuals may react more negatively than they would if confronted by an EMT or social worker. Overall, police workers must recognize the connotation they bring to different circumstances and work hard to overcome it to de-escalate the situation.
Active listening involves more than just hearing what someone is saying. It’s also conveying that you understand what’s being told through your responses and body language. For example, if an officer keeps their hand over their gun, it’s a sign of aggression and potential violence. However, if their hands are folded or in the air, that action can help build trust and compassion.
While police officers tend to be blunt and to the point when interacting with civilians, de-escalation training can help them soften their language. One of the best de-escalation techniques is to use positive reinforcement and uplifting words.
For example, instead of letting someone know they’re in trouble or about to go to jail, officers can try discussing the problem and find solutions. It’s also important for officers to relay that they understand where the individual is coming from and what they’re experiencing.
Although officers still have a duty to uphold the law, de-escalation training can help them do so in a way that leads to more positive outcomes. For example, let’s say a suspect or perpetrator comes willingly after having a conversation. That kind of interaction can save a lot of time and hassle and prevent potential injuries to everyone involved.
Typically, verbal de-escalation training is the primary option for all trainees, including those in law enforcement. This training can involve talking to an individual to explain what is happening and why.
Again, using positive language can ensure a better outcome, so verbal de-escalation training incorporates a variety of techniques. In many cases, talking through the situation and explaining it clearly and succinctly can go a long way toward de-escalating matters.
Also, it can be beneficial for officers to avoid blame or antagonizing language. When an officer assumes an individual is guilty or shows no remorse, they can escalate the situation by treating the person as a criminal. However, since the criminal justice system works on the mantra of “innocent until proven guilty,” officers must reflect that whenever possible.
Verbal vs. Physical De-Escalation Techniques
Ideally, verbal de-escalation training will be all that’s required for police officers on calls. However, the reality is that officers will often have to use physical force to restrain or arrest an individual. Because officer safety is crucial, police workers must use their expertise to determine when physical restraint is necessary.
That said, officers can also undergo physical de-escalation training. In most cases, using a mixture of verbal and physical tools to engage with civilians can lead to more positive outcomes.
Examples of physical de-escalation training can include:
- Non-Violent Restraint – Instead of using handcuffs or zip ties, officers can use less threatening methods to restrain individuals.
- Positive Physical Touch – If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or is stressed out, a calming touch to the shoulder or arm can help alleviate tension and illustrate that the officer is not there to harm unless necessary.
Overall, physical de-escalation depends heavily on the situation and the individuals involved. As long as an officer doesn’t put themselves in immediate danger, they can use verbal and physical communication skills to interact with the public.
Benefits of De-Escalation Training for Law Enforcement Officers
Thankfully, de-escalation is quickly becoming common in police departments across the country. ICAT is a program designed by the Police Executive Research Forum, but training from third-party organizations like Peaceful Leaders Academy can help a lot, too.
If a police department is unsure whether or not to invest in de-escalation training, here are some tangible benefits it can provide:
Better Officer Safety
De-escalation can make it safer for police officers in the line of duty in a couple of different ways.
First, knowing how to de-escalate a situation means an officer is less likely to use force, including their firearm.
Second, de-escalation can work better for some incidents, particularly those involving mental illness. By calming the situation, individuals are less likely to be aggressive or standoffish.
Finally, if an officer can successfully de-escalate a dangerous situation, they don’t have to put themselves or anyone else in harm’s way to come to a peaceful resolution.
Overall, teaching officers to de-escalate can make it safer for them and any civilians involved. It’s also beneficial to start this training in police academies so officers learn the proper de-escalation techniques from the beginning.
Improved Public Relations
Due in part to a rise in officer-involved shootings, the relationship between civilians and law enforcement has been strained in recent years. De-escalation shows a commitment to public safety, which can go a long way toward improving a police department’s image.
That said, it’s important for law enforcement agencies to promote their training programs and show the public how well they’re working. Because the average civilian won’t engage with a police officer directly, their only knowledge of such programs would be because of PR campaigns.
Improved Job Performance
Overall, de-escalation training can lead to less stress on the job, meaning that officers can be happier and healthier, both mentally and physically. By developing their communication skills and learning how to de-escalate an incident, officers can do their jobs better.
Again, the primary goal of a police officer is to protect and serve, not punish and destroy. De-escalation training is in service of the former, not the latter. When officers are able to view civilians as people in need of protection and service, they’re more likely to have better job satisfaction.
Fewer Use of Force Incidents
The number of law enforcement shootings and other violent incidents has risen steadily in the last few years. Unfortunately, citizen injuries can lead to an overall decrease in public safety, as trust in law enforcement erodes and individuals start taking matters into their own hands.
With the right de-escalation training in place, a police department can reduce violent encounters and save the department from lawsuits and other legal troubles. Plus, engaging in fewer use-of-force incidents is also to the officer’s advantage. They don’t have to worry about reprimands, public outcries, and suspensions.
As you can see, investing in de-escalation, whether it’s online training or in-person, can yield some incredible benefits for law enforcement agencies with no downsides. Therefore, police departments should start boosting their de-escalation training hours as soon as possible to help create a more supportive and safe community environment.
Tips for Law Enforcement Organizations Regarding De-Escalation Training
If de-escalation training has not been prevalent in a department or agency, it can be hard to shift focus. So, here are some tips on how to make de-escalation training happen smoothly and effectively.
Make De-Escalation a Priority
All too often, departments tend to prioritize stat numbers above the health and safety of community members. However, having a certain number of arrests doesn’t guarantee the wellness of the community.
So, instead of focusing solely on statistics and quotas, it’s imperative for departments to make de-escalation a top priority. This way, it’s much easier to measure success and determine whether these investments are paying off.
For example, a department could quantify the benefits of de-escalation training by looking at the reduction of citizen complaints, lawsuits, and use of force encounters. This way, the stats look good and everyone benefits accordingly.
Incentivize Police Training
Another issue with current de-escalation training standards is that they often have voluntary compliance. So, individual officers may or may not engage with the training or continue it after the initial session.
Because the benefits are so valuable, departments could require this training or incentivize officers to take it. For example, those who have regular training hours may get better assignments or a bonus on their check.
Overall, rewarding good behavior can lead to better results, rather than forcing this type of training on officers who may or may not want it.
Make Violence a Last Resort
In some areas, there’s a tendency for officers to “shoot first, ask questions later” (both metaphorically and literally). De-escalation training ensures that violence is not the primary response to a tense situation. If officers aren’t careful, even something as simple as a traffic stop could escalate into a life-or-death scenario.
So, part of this training is reminding officers to focus on de-escalation techniques first and utilizing other techniques and tools to get a situation under control quickly without letting things escalate to violent confrontations. Ideally, a gun would only be used in extreme cases, making it rare for an officer to discharge their firearm.
As you can see, shifting law enforcement’s focus from escalation to de-escalation can take time and perseverance. Fortunately, with Peaceful Leaders Academy, it’s easier for departments to start this training immediately. Contact us today to find out more.