Wanted: Patient Police Trained in De-Escalation Techniques

This nation has faced some tough law enforcement dilemmas in recent years. An increase in murders and drug and gang violence in several major cities, a breakdown in citizen’s respect for authority, police overreaction to situations – ignited either by a macho officer or by one who, honestly, fears for their safety – and, of course, the growing number of police involved shootings which have left civilians, many of them unarmed, dead.

In 2014, A teenager in Ferguson, Missouri lost his life. As did a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio. Then a mentally ill homeless man camping in the mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico died after a swat team opened fire. In 2015, a 50-year-old South Carolina man who owed considerable back child support fled a routine traffic stop and was shot in the back multiple times.  There are plenty of other cases I could cite but those are just a few headline making incidents in which routine police business somehow escalated to a deadly level.

The federal government hasn’t kept track of officer involved shootings but two media outlets have.

Databases maintained by the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper conclude there were about 1,000 fatal encounters between police and civilians in 2016. So far this year, the Post reports more than 350 people have died at the hands of a duly sworn officer of the law. And, I think it’s important to note that the mental health of the civilian played a part in 1 in 5 of those fatal cases.

So, what have we learned and what’s being done about deadly police involved shootings? Police officials are surely looking at ways to de-escalate tense situations, right? No, a majority of department across the country are not.

For all the on-going training police officers are required to undergo – from firearm proficiency and marijuana investigations to vehicle stops and courtroom demeanor and testimony – only a handful of states now require officers be trained in de-escalation techniques. According to a recent American Public Media analysis 34 states do not offer or require officers to take courses on the best ways to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

Most of the powers that be cited budgetary concerns for not adding de-escalation training to the continuing training requirements.  I would think they might want to look at the bigger picture and rethink that position.

U.S. Cities have paid out, collectively, hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements involving wrongful death, police brutality/excessive force, civil rights violations and other types of officer misconduct over the last decade.

It’s not the officer or their department that pays those settlements, it is you and me, the taxpayers who foot the bill because no one in city government thinks it’s important enough to fund updated training to help fix an obvious problem. Some cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have agreed to pay out an inordinate amount to settle police misconduct cases.

No matter how hard police unions fight against change it is pretty clear time has expired on the old ways. The mentally ill are no longer closeted away in private homes and institutions. Given the statistics on fatal police shootings teaching officers how to best to approach and speak to someone suffering from mental illness seems so important. Training those with a badge how best to talk to a gang member dealing drugs on a street corner could help save lives, including the officer’s life.

Teaching law enforcement recruits to demand immediate and total compliance from a citizen or that they should always “shoot to kill” are outdated strategies. It is way past time to inaugurate new approaches to 21st century law enforcement challenges. Experts know – and teach – more psychologically-based techniques that don’t require an officer to draw his or her gun or resort to manhandling a suspect.

Are those actions still valid in some instances? You bet they are. First and foremost, an officer of the law must feel in control of the situation before them and they must think of their own personal safety. But if we train our law enforcement officers to anticipate civilian behaviors, to defuse potentially violent situations, I can’t help but think everyone would be better off.  The officers, the citizens and us – the taxpayers.






  1. Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Inez Ross writes:

    really hits the big problem! We all need de-escalation training, and it should be a required part of the school curriculum! I was a lit teacher for many years, but feel that the lessons taught by our school counselors with “action dramas” were the most important part of the curriculum!
    Mom’s admonition to “count to ten before replying” was good advice!
    Your column deserves front-page notice!

    Inez Ross
    Los Alamos

  2. Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Mary Smith writes:

    As usual — an excellent article, and how I do hope enough “right people” will read it and follow through with the sensible solution you offer. I’m sure most of Albuquerque agrees with you.
    Keep up the good work.

    Mary K Smith

  3. Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Katherine Friedman writes:

    Thank you for the column on the need for de-escalation training for the police. It is hard for me to forget the horror of the police attack on the mentally ill man camping illegally on the mountain. The police are supposed to protect those who are disabled, not kill them.
    I was the RN manager of an inpatient substance abuse facility for 7 years and dealt with people who were intoxicated, hallucinating in withdrawal and/or sometimes paranoid. One man walked up to me shortly after admission and said he wanted to kill me. Another swung a metal floor lamp at the staff. Those in DTs were often violent. But the staff was all trained in de-escalation and patients were never hurt. I am a 5’1″ female and I was never hurt although I was always in the center of the fray and in officially in charge of the situation . The only time staff was hurt was minor injuries from the man with the metal lamp (and they were able to continue to work to finish the shift).

    I know that police face repeated dangerous situations and I empathize with them. I also know that some drugged and mentally ill people can’t be reasoned with or calmed. But so many incidents, certainly the Boyd case, could have turned out so differently if the police had handled it appropriately. I don’t believe that administrations can afford not to have training in de-escalation.

    Thanks again for saying what I have been wanting to say to the police for a long time.

    Kathy Friedman

  4. Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Noozhawk Reader hobo moe writes:

    “A mentally ill homeless man camping in the mountains in Albuquerque,
    N.M., died after a SWAT team opened fire.” Not true. He was shot by on
    duty patrol officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez while advancing on
    the officers with knives in both hands after being told repeatedly to
    drop the weapons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

    • Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      I’m going to disagree with your wikipedia source, Mr. Moe. The dead man was shot in the back. I followed that case pretty closely and here’s a quote from the pretrial hearing:

      >> Special prosecutor Randi McGinn said during the hearing that Boyd suffered from schizophrenia and argued that Boyd was following officers’ orders because he was shot in the back, NBC affiliate KOB reported. “Reasonable people” do not shoot others in the back, McGinn argued.

      The officers’ defense team said the men acted in order to protect a K9 officer, who was unarmed, and that police are often placed into positions where they must make split-second decisions.>> source: http://www.nbcnews.com/news

  5. Diane Dimond on May 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Noozhawk Reader PigStateNews writes:

    At least 457 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2017.
    At least 1,156 were killed in 2016.
    At least 1,213 were killed in 2015.
    At least 1,112 were killed in 2014.
    At least 4,716 have been killed since May 1, 2013, the day this list was created: killedbypolice [dot] net
    More than three times as many have been shot and survived, initially.
    Thousands more have died due to use of force and neglect in U.S. jails and prisons.
    An untold number have been tortured, brutalized, raped and molested.

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