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Integrating De-Escalation Techniques into Policing

Police officer approaches stopped suspect with "non-lethal" batton but is ready to escalate use of force, if necessary.

Police officer approaches stopped suspect with "non-lethal" batton but is ready to escalate use of force, if necessary.

September 11, 2017 | Source: In Public Safety, inpublicsafeth.com, 20 July 2017, Christopher L. McFarlin, J.D.

When many police officers hear the term “de-escalation techniques” they often initially react with skepticism or even aversion. In recent years, policing has been inundated with public criticism, political posturing, and “expert” dissection of police tactics. While some of the commentary has been less than useful, there have been certain aspects of the systemic critiquing that has positively benefited policing. De-escalation is one such area.

In an article I wrote on body-worn cameras (BWCs), I emphasized the positive points about BWCs and the many benefits they provide. De-escalation should be looked at much the same way. Officers should consider the many benefits and uses for de-escalation techniques.

De-escalation is defined as a “reduction of the level or intensity.” During every single citizen encounter, officers are working to de-escalate adverse or demanding circumstances. Whether they are issuing a traffic citation or calming down a frantic parent who has lost their child, officers are constantly engaging in de-escalation.

Some examples of de-escalation techniques include:

  • Slowing down an encounter by “backing off” from immediate intervention or action. Not every situation requires immediate action. This has historically been a significant lesson in the field training of new officers.
  • Be compassionate but firm, in communicating and “defusing” a tense situation before escalation by either an officer or citizen occurs.
  • Use discretion to the officer’s advantage. Believe it or not, there is no shame in coming back later or decreasing the enforcement action taken to enforce the law.
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