Body cameras are becoming more common, and have been shown to drastically reduce complaints, partially because they reduce the frequency of false reports. De-escalation training is a valuable program to run in tandem with the addition of body cams. By using these two resources together, you can not only reduce false complaints, but also reduce violent incidents. Think of de-escalation training as a healthy preventative measure.
The Training Gap
A recent study done by the Police Executive Research Forum found that officers in training receive up to ten times more training in offensive and defensive tactics than in de-escalation techniques. More and more agencies are seeking to address this gap. In fact, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles have all implemented de-escalation trainings recently.
Officers are often concerned when they hear the term de-escalation. They feel, understandably, that holding back may provide an opportunity for a suspect to commit a violent act. However, successful de-escalation can prevent violent confrontation altogether, because it gives law enforcement officers space to assess a situation further before acting.
De-escalation decreases conflicts that are based on misunderstandings. This is particularly valuable when it comes to identifying and dealing with the mentally ill, who often require treatment rather than arrest. Keep in mind as well that some subjects, such as people with disabilities like autism, may actually have difficulty communicating, or respond differently to stimuli than the average person. What can look like a lack of cooperation can actually have very specific causes. De-escalation can help officers get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
Techniques That Work
De-escalation techniques can be easier than they sound. For example, you can begin simply by finding out the name of the person you’re talking to, and using it when you speak to them.
Another useful skill is active listening. The most obvious example of this method is the phrase, “What I hear you saying is…” You then go on to paraphrase what the subject just told you. Because you’re saying things the subject is trying to express, this technique has the added advantage of giving them the opportunity to say yes.
Finding things to agree about is an effective way to build rapport. But even simply slowing down and calling for a supervisor can help to reduce the severity of a situation.
Body Cams as Corroboration
All of these techniques help prevent the commission of what some law enforcement officials refer to as “lawful, but awful” events– in other words, poor outcomes based on a rush to judgement and action. “Lawful, but awful” events reflect poorly on agencies, and breed mistrust among local citizens. Good training and body cams work together to ensure positive outcomes.
Give officers opportunities to learn and practice de-escalation skills. Then, when they’re out in the field, their body cameras will document the good work they’re doing, and provide important corroboration.