WESTBOROUGH, MA October 28, 2015 “To say that it is because they lack training in techniques of crisis de-escalation that some deaths may have been prevented is unfair and short sighted.” This quote was first published in the summer 2015 when people (perhaps in the media) first started calling for police officer training in mental health awareness and de-escalation training for police officers. One source actually suggested providing more training in mental health de-escalation and less training in the use of force – including firearms. Some wrongly believe that this “sensitivity training” will reduce the number of officer involved shootings with those who are known to be mentally ill. Unfortunately police shootings of mentally ill suspects has been on the rise in the past 12-18 months. Yet the use of force in police work continues to enter the collective consciousness when images of police officers acting aggressively toward defiant high school student go viral on social media.
Arguably, when the police are called to keep the peace or investigate a violent person call they are required to meet this threat with heightened vigilance for personal and citizen safety. When a violent person is encountered the use of force continuum comes into play. In the case of the Columbia, SC high school student who was aggressively choked and slammed to the floor while seated at her desk, the school resource officer was rightfully fired. The student posed no immediate threat such that hands on tactics were required to control a menacing suspect. In this case, the student was angry at being told she needed to put away her cell phone and was defiant to teacher direction. The police were called to the classroom as a show of force when neither the teacher nor the administrator could redirect her behavior.
If the violent person is actively aggressive or menacing with threat of lethal injury to the police or others than there is unlikely going to be any successful de-escalation until the threat of lethal force is eliminated. If the violent person responds to officer directives to cease and desist all violent action and submit to being taken into protective custody or arrest – only then can mental health assessment be initiated. At the moment of crisis the need for public safety in all violent situations supersedes the individual need for care of a mentally ill person. In the case of the South Carolina high school student no such threat existed but non-physical tactics were ineffectively deployed. The officer may have been able to diffuse the situation with empathy, understanding, and firm authority. The arrest could not be made without a higher degree of force for an actively resistant student that first punched the police officer.
Sefton, M. (2015) Blog post taken 10-28-2015 https://msefton.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/calling-for-de-escalation-training/