It’s amazing how much traction “de-escalation” training has received lately. Unfortunately, modern policing is too focused on what we do “at the scene” in dealing with a critical incident.
We all know that true “de-escalation” starts way before we arrive on the scene. “De-escalation” for police must begin in the locker room, as we dress out, in the briefing room, loading up in our cars, and driving out of the station. De-escalation transcends every moment of a critical incident, from the first radio call, into that first field observation, and through to the last mop-up at a crime scene.
Ultimately, de-escalation needs to be part of all of the functions, responsibilities, assignments, and workload that modern policing demands. It is a new outlook, a new mindset, that brings new respect for the people, community, and cultures that we serve.
But we’re trying to get there by changing rules on paper, tempered by lawyers, rather than by training ourselves to employ proper reason and good judgment from the ground up.
Changing only the rules is only going to complicate and compromise officers, departments, and the public.
Modern Policing Relies on Mental Mastery
Most police officers won’t admit that, internally, they often feel superior to the criminal aspect of their communities. But in the most important ways, we frequently aren’t: In both cases, trouble starts when a situation escalates and they escalate along with it.
We’re as human as anyone else, just as subject to “human error,” but as public servants, we have so much farther to fall.
Our job, the role of being a “public servant” within some cases–ultimate power over the “public” is a dichotomy that requires great handling skills, great self-assurance, and an outlook of quiet invincibly, along with some humility.
“Courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule!” Oh yes, we heard it and said in the basic academy, but maybe haven’t thought about it much since. Instead, we are influenced more by self-important “locker room” leaders–who treat law enforcement is an “us” and “them” game–than by seasoned “team leaders.”
But the seasoned athlete can be a good model for us. Think about the sort of mental mastery we associate with a true martial artist, a true professional athlete, or a true professional leader. (Not the ones who abuse the power or take advantage of the knowledge; the ones who are actually in control of their minds as much as they are in control of their physiques.) That’s the ideal portrait of a professional law enforcement officer: calm when the pressure is on, making the right moves as though by intuition alone.
In professional sports, we get there by practicing 6-days a week for one game on Sunday. In professional policing, we practically do the opposite: 1,920 hours a year of game days with just 24 hours of training and prep. It’s no wonder we make mistakes.
Step One: Find the De-escalation in Your Training
Truly effective change requires truly effective training. Start by calling down for all of your training outlines that your officers participate in. Ask your trainers to show you these three elements in each lesson:
- Proper reasoning
- Good judgment
If they can’t show you, send them away and tell them to find them and add them. All training should include the de-escalation thread, taught through proper reasoning and judgment. That should be woven through the entire fabric of policing, including the field, administrative, supervisory, and management layers.
The ultimate goal is a “controlled response to all crisis situations”. But professional poling, holistic change, and long-term change will require new environments for training; environments that support the most effective learning accomplished in the least amount of time.
For me, I will continue to preach immersive simulation and driver training. I’ve seen firsthand that the highest level of learning retention is accomplished through practical application in a repeatable environment where students can experience the consequences of their actions without harm. So I know that this sort of training is the most likely to change our mindset for the better.
As law enforcement leaders, let’s return to leading. Let’s practice “trust but verify” and be a part of the holistic change of policing. This is what will save officers’ lives and careers and futures, and better serve our entire communities.
Stay professional, stay safe, and stay alive.
by Chuck Deakins
Chuck Deakins is a lieutenant commander (retired) with 28 years of service. Today he serves as lead subject matter specialist with FAAC’s and heads their Customer Training Group.