De-Escalation as a Noun
I, however, believe thinking of de-escalation as verb is a mistake. I believe “de-escalation” is more like a noun. It is something that I can offer a suspect but not something I can do to a suspect. Certainly, there are actions an officer can perform to try to defuse a crisis, but those actions usually can be summed up as the officer controlling his or her own behavior (e.g. speaking calmly). If de-escalation were a verb, that would mean that in a crisis situation, the police either did or did not perform the act of de-escalation. But recognizing that de-escalation is more like a noun, the true test is whether or not I offered de-escalation and whether or not a suspect accepted my offer.
The Suspect Must Agree and Participate
In a crisis situation, offering de-escalation is a viable tactic that is sometimes appropriate in the same way that using force is at other times appropriate. Consider a suspect barricaded in his home refusing to exit and submit to arrest. A crisis negotiator can call the suspect and offer de-escalation by saying, “We’d like you to walk out the front door. When you do, I need you to lay down so we can handcuff you. As long as you follow our directions and don’t resist, we are not going to use any type of force on you.” That is an offer of de-escalation. But for that de-escalation to be successful it requires two things from the suspect, their agreement and their participation. The suspect must first accept our offer and agree to the de-escalation. Secondly, the suspect must actively participate in the process. If the suspect were to agree but then for whatever reason refuse to submit to arrest or drop his weapon, the offer of de-escalation is voided due to the suspect’s lack of participation.
A Diminished Capacity to Accept the Offer
Consider a mentally ill man, armed with a metal pole, roaming through a downtown neighborhood while threatening passersby. Perhaps because of his illness or concurrent substance use, he is suffering from what is known as diminished capacity. His capacity to both agree and participate with the responding officer’s offer of de-escalation is diminished. Regardless of the negotiation and tactical skills of the responding officers, if the suspect is completely unable to agree and participate, then the offer of de-escalation is likely not a viable tactic. Instead, the use of decisive and reasonable force may become necessary.
The Superhuman Power to Control Others
I am all for law enforcement officers handling incidents with the utmost skill and professionalism. As a matter of fact, I have devoted the better part of my police career to helping officers do just that. De-escalation is an important tactic to understand but it requires an accurate understanding. If law enforcement officers possessed the super human power to control suspects behavior through simply choosing to de-escalate them, the world would be a safer place for suspects and officers alike. In reality though, officers can only offer de-escalation and in order for that offer to be successful, the suspect must first agree and then participate in the process.
Thank you Matt. If I were to change the article I would perhaps point out that the only person a police officer can truly de-escalate is his or herself. Police officers don’t possess the super-human power to control others but, with the right training and mindset, can de-escalate their own behavior. But, for deescalation to be successful, we need the suspect’s agreement and cooperation.
The comparison to a man barricaded in him home is way different than someone selling cigarettes or giving a fake $20.00 bill. Or a black woman refusing to put out a cigarette. None of those people deserved to die. George Floyd is another terrible example of disregard for the person and another example of a policeman exerting control over another human being for what? Something very minor. I’m this day and age why does every minor infraction a black person do have to be dealt with immediately? Film, video, ouctures, license plate numbers, witnesses and so on. The police cant just back off and use the day a to address the issue with the person as a summons? Or send out a dispassionate person of the police later? Maybe a black police office? Did any of these infractions deserve the immediate response as if the person has a machete in a crowd and slashing away? Come on! This is pure macho control and that is it. It is based on a bias to teach a lesson and we all know it and that is why we are so angry. I am disgusted with these idiots being police officers.
Richard, thank you for reading this article. If I were to re-write it, I might change the title to Why Police Officers Can’t De-Escalate Anyone But Themselves or The Myth That Officers Can De-escalate Everyone. You point out several important lessons that police officers must learn if we hope to move our profession forward. Unfortunately, conventional police training often trains officers to seek immediate resolution to a conflict instead of disengaging. I explored that subject in this article:
Scott, please update article with how your opinions, viewpoints, and recommendations have changed since you published originally. It would be productive to show that we can learn and grow over time or with new information. Is it possible that police are not the best people to de escalate an unarmed person? Asking with sincerity.
Scott, I hold an opinion somewhere in between yours and Richard’s. However, your response to Richard’s comment was thoughtful and showed class. You deserve credit for that. It’s so important to keep an open mind and show respect for people’s opinions — even when we disagree with them.
“De-escalation” should be thought of as the officer himself toning down his own behavior.
Spot on Ray. Officers might not be able to control the behavior of others but with the right training and mindset, they can strive to control their own behavior.
De-escalation sounds so good. Hey, let’s de-escalate this scene.
Joe calm down over there. Joe: kiss my a**.
Police responsed to armed robbery. Once on scene, let’s get together and de-escalate.
Interesting, it won’t work!
Joe, thank you for reading this article. I know you are trying to illustrate how difficult de-escalation is and you’re right, it can be difficult especially in the situations you are describing (a belligerent or armed suspect.) Like most any tactic, certain factors have to be in place for them to be successful. I pointed out a few in the article but others would include containment and control. De-escalation will always have its place just as sometimes the situation will call for a decisive and reasonable use of force.
How the police use force, especially on those with mentally illness and people of color will continue to be an important debate in our society. Hopefully, by presenting high-quality training, we at the Savage Training Group can play a small piece in helping to move our country forward and in saving lives.
BETTER SCREEN Applicants before accepting candidates… Individuals should be screened by people with knowledge to ferret OUT people who are on power, uniform, trips, with hang ups, to have there ego massaged, by a uniform & weapons. In other words , normal adjusted persons who do not have low self esteem..and the NEED for a POWER TRIP….ONLY Then, evaluate their suitability to be trained to ever be an officer… I would estimate at least 10 to 20 % of candidates, are NOT SUITED, to ever have the power of being given a gun.. They could be security guards without a gun in a prison, if they wish to serve society in that capacity..That job requires a REAL PERSON wanting to help better our communities…Power control & attitude & good judgement should be the main strengths, of a police officer.
De-escalation training for law enforcement is certainly a “hot topic” but how can de-escalation techniques be applied in the tense, uncertain and rapidly unfolding circumstances that law enforcement officers in? We’ll be discussing that on September 8th, 2020 in our live webinar called Practical De-escalation and Tactical Conduct. To register go to https://savagetraininggroup.com/webinars/practical-de-escalation-tactical-conduct/