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Thread: Instead of shooting suspects, Utah police are training to de-escalate violence

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    Default Instead of shooting suspects, Utah police are training to de-escalate violence

    ...Community confidence • Across the country, deaths of unarmed civilians by law-enforcement officers have sparked controversy and changes in how at least some police deal with civilians.

    The primary buzzwords in the shift? "Police de-escalation training." The new approach seeks to build community confidence in police — something that also demands two-way communication and transparency.

    At the heart of de-escalation is slowing things down, Brown said. Buying time gives police more options to keep an encounter from igniting into violence.

    Some aspects of tactical training that fall under de-escalation are not new. For years, police have been instructed to keep a safe distance and stay close to cover when approaching potential danger. Those tactics are aimed at providing time for them to seek nonviolent outcomes, rather than forcing a self-defense scenario that could end badly.

    Newer techniques in de-escalation involve verbal communications that are not commands but are intended to open dialogue with a potential suspect. Politeness and empathy are emphasized, Brown said.

    De-escalation should also take into account the demeanor of suspects: Are they nervous, frightened, drunk, unstable?

    "We teach our officers to read a situation and communicate," Brown said. "That provides all kinds of options."

    Salt Lake City police also receive disengagement training — to take stock and determine when it is advisable for an officer to back away from a dicey dispute, particularly when groups of people are involved.

    Not least among the new strategies is training in bias. Officers should recognize that people of different cultures and races may react differently to police presence.

    Some veteran patrol officers pooh-pooh the new approach. Nonetheless, police training is evolving toward a softer approach that fosters cooperation rather than ultimatums and violent arrests.

    "It's a two-way street," Brown said. "When you give respect, you get respect."

    Residents speak up • Barker's January 2015 death spawned a grass-roots movement of Salt Lake City residents who sought change in police procedures. Members of the Community Coalition for Police Reform — including activists from other community groups — approached the administration of then-Mayor Ralph Becker and former Police Chief Chris Burbank with little success, said Heidi Keilbaugh, Barker's partner.

    Only after a protest she helped organize in the wake of the shooting of Mohamed did the administration of new Mayor Jackie Biskupski invite group members to meet with police, she said. They now hold regular discussions with Brown and other officers.

    "The main driving force behind this is that no one should have to experience the death of a loved one who died needlessly," Keilbaugh said. "We can do better."

    She sees the group playing the role of "common-sense consultants" with the aim of helping cut through red tape at the police department and City Hall.

    Another member of the group, Deeda Seed, a former Salt Lake City councilwoman who also served as chief of staff to former Mayor Rocky Anderson, said the new access to the police department is unprecedented.

    "We have never had this kind of openness with the police — ever," Seed said.

    Brown and his officers have listened, she noted, and the department is making progress.

    "We have a real opportunity to do this the right way. But we have to better understand each other," Seed said of interaction between residents and police. "We're very concerned about understanding what our police officers do and why they do it."

    The Barker, Taylor and Mohamed shootings show more must be done, Seed explained.

    In the Barker case, the officer did not appear to take into consideration the demeanor of the man who was seeking work shoveling walkways. He was clearly under stress before he hit the officer, Seed said.

    The officer was responding to a call of a "suspicious person" who may have been a burglar.

    "What the officer should have done was back away and call someone else [for backup]," she said. "Instead, he pushed and pushed and it led to a horrible tragedy."

    The video of the Taylor shooting is equally disturbing, Seed said. An officer approached Taylor, who was walking away from a convenience store. The officer, who had responded to a "man with a gun" call, commanded Taylor to turn around and show his hands, which were tucked into his sweatpants. When Taylor turned and raised his shirt, he was shot dead.

    In neither the Barker nor the Taylor shootings did officers follow the time-honored training of leaving space and obtaining cover.

    Other de-escalation techniques also appear to be missing...
    Full article at:
    Nullius in verba

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    Default Canadian Police efforts

    VPD's mental health strategy signals policing 'sea change,' says critic
    'We [in the past] — to put it quite crudely — winged it'
    After the shooting of Paul Boyd, captured on video, was watched around the world, the Vancouver Police Department endured scrutiny for its handling of mentally ill people in crisis.

    Now the VPD has a new strategy that's being described as a 'sea change' in police culture.

    Boyd's death was one in a series of high-profile police-involved deaths —including Abdi Hirsi and Tony Du — that raised questions among the public and sparked a police review of practices and training.

    In 2013 VPD declared a crisis, citing the overwhelming number of calls involving mental health or addiction issues. Last year, they generated 30 per cent of all calls.

    On July 8, the police service released a 41-page outline of its new Mental Health Strategy which sets the tone for the service and encourages officers to get people in crisis into safe care and step back or "de-escalate" incidents whenever possible.

    "There has also been a number of high-profile incidences of violent crime associated with an apparent mental health factor, highlighting gaps in the continuum of care and in the system generally," said Superintendent Daryl Wiebe in the draft report which commits the VPD to a culture of "respect and compassion" for people with mental illness and or addiction issues.

    Experts laud strategy

    "It's only the second one in Canada. This is something that we have been advocating for for years ... and Vancouver should be very proud they now have one," said Terry Coleman an expert and long-time co-chair on the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police's committee on policing and mental health issues.

    Ontario Provincial Police were first to come out with a strategy for mental health issues. Coleman said the document helps change internal police culture.

    "It spells out that it's OK to not engage somebody or to disengage or to delay taking into custody," said Coleman, adding that police forces have seen vast improvements with use of force in Canada.

    Pages 18 to 19 of the document urge officers to consider every response, including "disengagement" and "delay," stepping back from an incident and reassessing.

    "We — to put it quite crudely — [in the past] winged it. We didn't have any preparation at all," said Coleman who was a Calgary police officer for almost 30 years before serving as police chief in Moose Jaw...


    More on the new policy:

    Vancouver police unveil ‘very important’ mental health shift
    New policy and procedures could significantly reduce killings and arrests of people in psychiatric distress, say advocates
    The difference between the words “may” and “will” might seem insignificant. But when police are dealing with people in psychiatric distress, it could save a life.

    According to a new Vancouver Police Department mental health policy released Thursday, the force is instructing its officers to de-escalate — or even avoid — confrontations with people in psychiatric distress, even though the Mental Health Act and other laws still state cops “may” take a more aggressive tack.

    Instead, VPD members “are expected to recognize behaviours that are indicative of a person affected by mental illness or in a crisis,” the policy states. “When a member determines that police engagement in the first instance will result in undue safety concerns for the individual, the public and/or the members involved, it may be acceptable to not engage with the individual at all.”

    The policy also requires ongoing training of all officers in de-escalating conflict with distressed people, and involving mental health professionals and specialized members of the force.

    That could potentially have saved the life of Tony Du on Nov. 22, 2014. The 51-year-old was shouting and hitting a fence with a wooden plank near Knight Street and 41st Avenue, but was fatally shot seconds after officers arrived on scene as a perceived threat.

    It was just one of a string of fatal encounters which represent a “dramatic increase in police interactions with persons living with mental illness,” the VPD said in a statement Thursday.

    “History has shown that police interactions with persons living with mental illness, and who are in crisis, sometimes have the potential for violence,” the policy states. “Occasionally, the mere presence of the police can elevate the tenor of the interactions and complicate communication further.”

    That’s a shift the Canadian Mental Health Association Vancouver Fraser lauded as “really progressive” and “an example to other police departments across the country,” said executive director Michael Anhorn in a phone interview.

    “Having ongoing training to deal with people with mental illness, especially for de-escalation and avoiding the criminal justice system, will help officers implement it,” he said. “When there isn’t imminent harm to the public, we can then try to get mental health professionals to get in there and de-escalate the person.”

    Authored by VPD Superintendent Daryl Wiebe, the new Mental Health Strategy is based on months of consultations with health authorities, University of British Columbia psychiatrists, and mental health advocates, including CMHA B.C.’s Senior Director of Policy, Research, and Planning, Jonny Morris.

    “Police are often the first on the scene,” he told Metro. “But police aren’t always the most appropriate response.

    “Living with a mental illness should not be a driving factor for ensnarement in the criminal justice system. We have a real obligation for people living with mental illness that their primary resource is the health system.”
    Nullius in verba

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    Fort Worth police mandate de-escalation training for every officer
    Not one of more than 1600 Fort Worth officers will be able to skip what the chief is calling a welcome training session that advocates alternative strategies to high-stress situations.

    The ICAT, or Integration Communications, Assessment and Tactics, training started this week for every single officer at the department's headquarter on Felix Street.

    Put in groups of 100 men and women, the sessions are eight hours of intensive, hands-on work with trainers from the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF.

    "'Drop that knife! Drop the knife!' When that doesn't work, what other tools can we work, what other things can we say to help," is the approach that teachers such as Tom Wilson are trying to get across in the classes.

    Wilson says the main goal is to provide officers with a different approach in high stress situations, especially in the wake of more public scrutiny of an officer's every move.

    "Cops have historically said 'At some point, I have to draw a line in the sand. I'm not going to back up anymore.' Are your feet in lead? Can you back up? Can you reposition yourself? If that threat steps two feet at you, can you step two feet back," said Wilson.

    The training comes after several high-profile, racial incidents have impacted the department.

    The case involving Ofc. William Martin and his controversial arrest of an African-American family continues to drag on, despite that he has served his suspension.

    And earlier this week, Chief Joel Fitzgerald fired an officer who says he accidentally shot a mentally ill man holding a BBQ fork in 2015. Courtney Johnson was criminally charged in the incident, but his case recently ended in a mistrial.

    "We all have growth, and we have a lot of work to do to repair some of the relationships we have here," Chief Fitzgerald said on Thursday.

    The chief stressed that he wanted to do PERF training even before the recent negative publicity, but that the timing of it now could be beneficial.

    Instructors focused on a wide range of techniques to help officers de-escalate a situation, rather than intensify it.

    Although mostly targeted toward mentally-ill persons, the training also focused on ways to approach people who might be in a temporary behavioral crisis, either by drugs or a sudden emotional or life change.
    Nullius in verba

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    This takes note of how volatile such confrontations can be, including the number of people who are intentionally attempting to get the police to shoot them.

    Missing in all of the discussion of de-escalation is how the ability to remain calm, speaking in even tones, and assessing the mental state of the subjects being dealt with must come from a place of confidence in one's ability to defend oneself if the need arises.

    That only comes from having high levels of skill with firearms, less lethal tools, and defensive tactics. While organizations like PERF make great hay about the fact that "recruits get 60 hours of training in firearms, and only 8 in de-escalation," there are some huge gaps in logic that come with asserting this without any background information.

    For instance:

    That most officers now do not come from a firearms culture, are not experienced with firearms, and need a greater level of training just to meet basic standards with their firearms. Twenty years ago, I was included in this group.

    Basic standards are just that - literally in many cases simply qualifying. In some cases recruits cannot even pass the basic qualifications (BTW this is woefully low shooting standard) after that 60 hours. In a few cases agencies are LOATHE to dismiss some of those recruits, and so they cycle through over and over. Some do so throughout their entire careers.

    After this concentrated time at the academy, most officers get fewer than ten or twelve hours of training a year in any kind of firearms, defensive tactics, less lethal tools (like Taser). etc. Some next to none, only having to meet a department qualification (remember that low standard?) once a year. For some, this means literally only ever firing their weapon once a year, maybe 20-50 rounds.

    This is with no stress (though some find the stress of quals very tough.) Forget about the stress of thinking someone is capable of killing you, and is about to attempt to do so.

    Now with that lack of higher competence comes a lack of confidence. Confidence breeds calm. Calm is contagious. But so is fear, so is reactionary screaming, etc. etc. that comes from low levels of training and confidence. Imagine I told you as a budoka that with 20-50 reps of a kick, or a strike, or a throw, per year, that you were skilled. That I told you that you were skilled enough to instruct others. Skilled enough to go out onto the street and deal with every potential threat you could possible face from an out of control mental patient to a violent white supremacist or terrorist committed to your murder.

    PERF, interestingly enough, does not go into this even though they MUST know this is the case, and most of the officers involved in the shootings they review are not recruits fresh out of the academy but tenured officers. This is a blind spot that needs to be addressed.

    Hopefully this will be realized and along with more training in de-escalation (which is a good thing I am all for), comes more training in shooting, in tactics, in fighting, etc. so that there be fewer over-reactions to low level threats, and under-reactions to high level threats.

    Then there is the issue of no reaction at all. Another aspect of de-escalation is disengagement. We are increasingly simply walking away from some incidents (those confined to in the home), or not even going at all. This is giving mental health crisis workers, EMS personnel, and concerned family members fits when we show up and tell them we aren't going to do anything about it. If Uncle Joe is off his meds, he's in a house full of his own guns, and he's expressed anti-government sentiments, or the eighty year old Alzheimer's patient in the care facility that "threatened people with a butter knife" (and believe me people that run care facilities do call the police to handle things like that.....) we are now saying "sorry, not going to risk us shooting him to death in order to save him from himself, or use force to take him from one care facility only to put him into a different care facility."

    This makes some people very, very, frustrated.

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