Calling for De-escalation Training

WESTBOROUGH, MA  August 22, 2015 The call for police training in de-escalation for persons who are menacing with guns, knives, or bombs is patently unattainable and wantonly dangerous to everyone. Those who call for “more training in mental health counseling and less training in the use of firearms” or use of force continuum have never been faced with the life or death conundrum – kill or be killed. The split second it takes to respond to a threat in defense of oneself or another person will not permit time to introduce strategies for de-escalation.  In the time it takes to find ‘just the right words’ to engage the subject who is waving a firearm and shouting that “anyone who comes close will be shot,” people will die – including members of the police who are trained and responsible for calls like this. That being said, the use of force continuum serves as a template upon which police officers first judge their response to calls for service.  Officers are trained to give clear commands that are geared toward de-escalating the scenario with a goal of compliance.  If the subjects complies with officer commands there will be no force utilized or needed to end a high risk call such as the one described.

A witness talks with police at a Manhattan crime scene, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in New York, after a man apparently wielding a hammer was shot and wounded by police. The shooting took place shortly after 10 a.m., blocks from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
PHOTO (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

People are asking for added training for law enforcement personnel in mental health awareness. Those individuals wrongly believe that having better “people” skills will reduce the number of officer involved shootings. It is incumbent on society – not the police service to provide care for those who are mentally ill.  Unfortunately, there are too few options for those suffering with emotional affliction.  It does not matter that Mr. Jones is depressed over an impending divorce if he is engaged in lethal violence toward his wife and children. Once the threat of armed violence is reduced or eliminated when Jones is taken into custody than police officers can offer a sympathetic ear and refer him for psychotherapy – something he surely needs.

The essential element in officer involved shootings is noncompliance to police commands by the subject of police scrutiny. It is the actions of the subject that direct officer behavior. If those actions are coupled with the threat of imminent, life threatening harm only then is a law enforcement officer justified in using lethal force. As long as that threat exists, no one is safe and police officers must adhere to the established use of force continuum that allows for the use of lethal force when an officer is met with the threat of lethal violence.

The incidence of violence against the police is far greater than police acting violently against a citizen.  Ask any police officer and they will tell you that police encounter menacing and violent citizens on a daily basis and rarely are required to use lethal violence. Why?  Most officers are already highly skilled at using their verbal skills to de-escalate a violent perpetrator without using lethal force – even when a higher level of force may have been warranted. Excessive alcohol and drug use coupled with the lack of clinical infrastructure to provide treatment are the underpinnings of violence – especially in the setting of unemployment and abject poverty.