Whenever possible, law enforcement is encouraged to de-escalate volatile situations. For officers, de-escalation increases their safety while allowing them to gain control of the situation. As for the subject, complying and allowing the situation to descend increases their personal safety, as officers will not have to resort to utilizing less lethal tools.
While de-escalation is always the preferred solution, some instances do not permit de-escalation as a reasonable option. However, officers are encouraged to increase the conditions for effective de-escalation for as long as possible, before the situation is diffused or officers must use force.
The level of containment depends on the subject(s). If there is a large group of people, law enforcement may have to create and enforce boundaries to limit their movements to inside the designated area. This aids the officer’s ability to prevent sudden attacks, snap decision making or other quick threats.
As for a small group or a single suspect, containment will be smaller and more controlled, providing control to the officers.
How much control an officer will exercise will depend on the situation. For example, if the contained persons are still actively engaged in assaults or evidence destruction, officers are expected to establish control before beginning verbal de-escalation.
Note: the officer’s decision to talk or control is tied to the agency and community’s policies and willingness to support that decision. Officers should be well trained in department policies to know what tactics to engage in at the appropriate times.
In the context of de-escalation, contact means both the officer and suspect are willing to engage and comply in verbal de-escalation—hence a lack of physical contact.
This is where communication becomes critical. Officers must catch and understand subtle changes in voice, pitch and tone; interpret facial expressions; and analyze body language in order to determine if the suspect is willing to de-escalate.
However, this extends farther into communication, where an officer must recognize psychological, emotional or neurological impairments and understand how to best communicate with each.
In order to better prepare officers for these interactions, VirTra created the V-VICTA™ — VirTra Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy—curriculum: Autism Awareness and Mental Illness. While these courses do not certify officers to diagnose conditions, they teach law enforcement what to look for and how to best communicate with these individuals. After all, one must know the best forms of communicating in order to successfully de-escalate the situation.
As discussed in the previous section, effective de-escalation requires personal communication. Taking it one step further, de-escalation—or persuasive communication—requires emotional intelligence, a good amount of patience and honed skill. Officers must understand the subject, have a set goal in mind and work towards that goal of de-escalation using the skills taught in training.
Instructors can use actors, role players or simulators in teaching effective de-escalation. For example, VirTra’s high-tech simulators immerse officers in a real-life scenario. The officer must quickly analyze the situation and engage in verbal de-escalation tactics while the instructor controls how the scenario unfolds, based on the officer’s actions and choice of words.
To learn more about implementing a de-escalation, judgmental use of force simulator in your department, please contact a VirTra specialist.
This article was inspired by content produced by the Force Science Institute. More information can be found on their website.