Imagine you are training in an immersive law enforcement simulator. The screens darken, then light up with a desert scene as the dispatch relays information on the call you are responding to. Pedestrians give you further information about the event, then point you towards a man sitting on a ledge. It becomes clear: this is a suicide call and you need to carefully persuade the man to seek help, not jump.
This is a difficult situation, but a necessary one to train for, as any officer can be called to prevent suicide. But as important as the training topic is, the method of training is just as important. For officers who train with VirTra’s systems, the scenario will unfold based on the officer’s actions and words, creating real-life training designed to benefit both officers and their communities. Officers can train in the same scenario multiple times, trying new de-escalation tactics or certain phrases, then see how the situation plays out. Does an action cause the man to comply, lash out or jump? Which verbiage best comes into play here? Instructors watch over the trainees and, depending on the officer’s choices, they choose the applicable branch in the situation and thus create a new ending.
The simulator itself is an incredible training tool, but what about combining the classroom and the simulator? VirTra created the V-VICTA® program, which is a series of nationally-certified curriculum that is first taught in the classroom then practiced in the simulator. This all-in-one training solution instills proper training and knowledge transfer, thus helping officers remember their training in the field and utilize it to help those around them.
For example, one V-VICTA curriculum is “Autism Awareness.” This material teaches officers how to identify possible autistic behaviors and the best ways to interact with the subject. Officers who aren’t taught how to recognize and react accordingly to these behaviors could put the subject or themselves at risk. And, according to data from the CDC, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism, making it extremely likely that every field officer will interact with someone on the spectrum. To improve safety for officers and every member of their community, they must first know how to best interact with every member of the community.
Officer training is complex, but it is always centered around safety—for subjects, bystanders, partners and oneself. To learn more about VirTra’s V-VICTA training curriculum, or to try a training simulator at an upcoming trade show, contact a VirTra specialist.
If we pooled law enforcement officers, we would find many different definitions regarding de-escalation. Is it a tactic? A tool? A goal? An outcome? A process? A buzzword in check the box training to placate the public, the media, or even management?
A second question…who is de-escalation for? A person with mental illness? In crisis? Someone exhibiting bizarre behavior? For yourself?
De-escalation is not a ‘result’ or an ‘outcome’ but a process. It is a strategic approach to problem solving. It is part of an effective strategy to reduce the intensity of volatile situations balanced with reducing the necessity or level of force required for a positive outcome. De-escalation mirrors chess. It is strategic. Methodical. Systematic. It takes time to make the decisions needed for a win in chess. In our case, the win is a successful resolution. However, chess players have an abundance of what law enforcement does not always have…time.
Policing is a profession of emotions; the emotions of the person we interact with and our own emotions. We have a responsibility and obligation to remain calm and in control of ourselves. In that sense, the de-escalation process applies to officers as well. In essence, policing is a profession of managing emotions, ours included.
Should we abandon a sound tactical response in the de-escalation process? No. People in a crisis like state or who exhibit bizarre behavior are unpredictable and volatile. That brings with it the potential for violence. Perception drives behavior. Distance, space, and time are critical tools. We know we don’t always have those, but don’t overlook the potential to create them.
Can officers truly de-escalate people? No. The best negotiator in the world doesn’t de-escalate anyone. We can build rapport and relationships, but what that provides is time for emotions to change and evolve. What we truly do is allow the space for individuals to de-escalate themselves if de-escalation is possible at all.
De-escalation is not always possible. There is no magic phrase or magic wand that guarantees it can or will happen. If we cannot connect with someone, we cannot allow the space for de-escalation through verbal techniques and conversation.
Does de-escalation mean force is never required? No. A person’s behavior dictates the use of force. What doesn’t dictate use of force is a crisis state or whether someone has a mental illness. The crisis state doesn’t attempt to kill or harm people. Mental illness doesn’t attempt to kill or harm people. What creates the potential for violence is contaminated thinking, hallucinations, delusions…whatever it is that distorts a person’s perception of reality and their interaction with it.
The opposite end of that spectrum is choice. There are people in this world that want to harm and kill others. It is deliberate, it is purposeful, and it is almost impossible to de-escalate that through verbal techniques. Where is that conversation among law enforcement “leaders” when discussions of mandated de-escalation occur?
De-escalation can be a complex process. It requires critical thinking skills. It requires an understanding of human behavior. It requires tactical skills. It requires reading the situation correctly and implementing what is best in that moment…if there is time. IF there is time.
VirTra recognizes that it is critical to create the proper environment to develop the skills necessary to help facilitate the de-escalation process.
This article was written by Nicole Florisi, VirTra’s Law Enforcement Subject Matter Expert
Suicide by cop, often abbreviated to SBC, is an event that has two victims: the suicidal subject and the officer. These calls are incredibly difficult for everyone involved and officers must be prepared to handle any outcome. At the end of the day, law enforcement are forced with two major situations: maintaining safety and trying to de-escalate the subject.
SBC occurs when a suicidal individual engages in criminal behavior in an attempt to elicit lethal use of force from law enforcement. A 2019 article by The Washington Post estimates that about 100 fatal police shootings per year are SBC events. While occasionally some SBC subjects are armed with a firearm, many times they possess a knife or feign weapon possession.
There are different strategies used by individuals attempting SBC. Some of them plan ahead and orchestrate the situation while others occur due to a minor event that became escalated. For an integrated response, officers must take each call seriously and secure the scene appropriately. Only after can they determine the main problem and assess the risk of suicidality.
There are ways to talk a subject down and possibly prevent escalation:
While it may seem like common knowledge, it must be remembered that a person attempting SBC is suffering from a mental illness or experiencing some type of crisis. De-escalation and crisis de-escalation training can be of great assistance during SBC calls.
VirTra offers multiple scenarios as well as V-VICTA™ NCP-certified curriculum to help officers prepare for harrowing calls. These are designed by VirTra’s subject matter experts and certified by IADLEST to ensure knowledge takeaway. Some courses that focus on SBC and related situations include De-Escalation, Crisis De-Escalation and Mental Illness.
To allow your agency to experience a higher standard in training, contact a product specialist.
In the year 2020, there were 1,021 police-related fatalities across the United States. This is a number that has been steadily rising for years. It is a difficult situation for officers to be in, as use of force can be required to save the lives of civilians and the officers themselves—though in today’s world, it is often met with a media firestorm.
So what is a department to do? At times, it can feel like a no-win situation, since officers are following department protocol in dealing with a dangerous, non-compliant subject. Yet, the number of deaths continue to rise and so does pressure on departments.
One option to reduce the number of police-related fatalities and prevent media attacks is having a heavier focus on use of force training. Ideally, this would focus on increasing tactical skills, de-escalation techniques and weapon transitions between firearm and less lethal, and vice versa:
In order to maintain control over a situation, law enforcement officers must be able to maintain the tactical advantage—always be one step ahead of the subjects. This type of experience is difficult to recreate in a training environment, unless instructors utilize a real-life training simulator. Immersing officers in high-resolution video and the surround sound of high-stress situations is one of the best ways for trainees to practice gaining and keeping control of the situation. Skills learned in the simulator are easier to transfer to the field, making this form of training incredibly valuable.
The first step to gaining control of the situation is attempting to de-escalate before less lethal or lethal force is required. However, not all interactions are simple, and therefore officers must know a variety of de-escalation tactics. VirTra partnered with Vistelar, a company specializing in conflict resolution, to create nationally-certified de-escalation training for officers. Departments who implement this training teach their officers how to work through conflicts verbally while recognizing important facial and body cues.
Depending if the subject chooses to escalate the situation or become compliant to de-escalation tactics, officers need to know how to quickly transition between lethal and less lethal devices. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity; it is critical officers understand the tactical considerations of moving from one weapon to another, know how to improve speed and transition quality, and recognize time constraints with each. VirTra also offers nationally-certified training curriculum on this topic, which is paired with real-life scenarios. This allows trainees to learn the concept in the classroom before putting it into practice in the simulator.
The more departments push use of force and de-escalation training, the more ready their officers will be for the unforeseeable events in the field. Experience and knowledge go hand-in-hand in gaining control of a situation, which is why VirTra creates real-life scenarios for officers to practice in. Learn more by contacting a VirTra specialist.
When used properly, de-escalation can reduce police use of force.
And while not every situation permits de-escalation—as some subjects are noncompliant no matter the calming tactic used—there are certainly other times when the proper tone of voice or phase can reduce the chance of a subject becoming out of control.
Recently, many agencies have updated their training to heavily focus on de-escalation and thus lower the frequency of force used by their officers. To help further this training, VirTra has produced two different nationally-certified de-escalation curricula that is free for all law enforcement customers.
This training—De-Escalation and Crisis De-Escalation—has a total of 6 training hours which encompasses vigorous coursework, educational presentations and real-life training video scenarios. As nationally-certified materials, they fall under the V-VICTA—Virtual Interactive Coursework Academy— program, along with other modern, skill-building critical curriculum.
Born from a partnership between VirTra and the conflict experts at VISTELAR, this 4-hour course breaks down interactions and allows officers to train on their simulator how to de-escalate situations before they become detrimental.
This 2-hour course is designed to help officers better identify crisis behaviors and use their VirTra simulator’s real-world scenarios to practice their skills. Like “De-Escalation” and other V-VICTA courses, Crisis De-Escalation provides ample time for training in lifelike scenarios.
With a wide variety of environments, situations and subjects, instructors have an extensive choice of training options for their officers. Everything from unruly bystanders to emotionally disturbed persons – VirTra aims to cover as much territory as possible to prepare law enforcement men and women for the unpredictable situations that may happen in the field.
For more information on V-VICTA and how it can provide effective training for your agency, please contact a VirTra specialist.
According to the CDC, 1 in 53 people in the United States are diagnosed with autism. As such, law enforcement officers, who interact with countless individuals, are certain to come into contact with a person on the autism spectrum at some point during their career. Unfortunately, there are instances that prove not every agency is equipped and educated in terms of communicating efficiently with people on the spectrum.
Officers are not doctors, and therefore, they should never be expected to diagnose any subject. However, there are signs to be aware of that may signal that the officer is interacting with an autistic person. Failure to recognize these signs has led to officers mistaking autistic behaviors for criminal ones, including resistance or even drug use. Unfortunate cases have happened where autistic individuals have been unnecessarily traumatized and left with minor injuries because an officer was unable to tell the difference between their autism and misleading behaviors.
Due to an apparent lack of knowledge about the condition, partnered with the fact that autism is prevalent in society, VirTra and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) worked together to create a certified virtual Autism Awareness course for law enforcement. Within a simulator displaying cutting-edge technology and graphics, officers can verbally interact with an on-screen subject who displays signs of autism in these autism awareness scenarios. With numerous branching options to resolution and a thorough virtual walkthrough of what autism is, officers will enhance their skills and help keep the autism community safer.
Now, a year since the course has made its debut in VirTra’s V-VICTA™ lineup, the course has been installed on simulators around the country and has attracted praise from experts. Just recently, Holly Blanc Moses, host of The Autism ADHD Podcast, graciously invited Lon Bartel and Daniel Openden to guest on a recent episode. Bartel, VirTra’s Director of Training & Curriculum, along with Openden, CEO of SARRC, were the creators and masterminds behind the Autism Awareness curriculum project and are always eager to further educate law enforcement as well as the public.
Just a few of the many tips shared by all three experts during the discussion include:
• If possible, find out if there are specific communication needs and challenges before the encounter. This could be communicated to the officer by a parent, sibling, friend, etc.
• Turn off the lights on the patrol car and turning down the volume on your radio, as they might cause a sensory overload.
• Try to find an area to communicate where it is quiet and there are less people.
• Build rapport with community members with autism, including their parents and guardians.
To learn more about Autism Awareness and how to obtain this course and various other certified curriculum, click here.
As discussed in a previous article, verbal de-escalation is an incredibly complex tactic. There are a wide variety of factors at play, ranging from the subject’s state of mind, their ability to be persuaded and any immediate dangers in the environment. Do note: these factors only encompass those officers cannot necessarily control.
In regards to factors officers can control in de-escalation, these include issuing different de-escalating phrases, attempting to build a connection with the subject, using calmer tones and engaging in softer body language. After all, an officer must choose peaceful tones and body language to match the words they are issuing. Speaking calmly, but holding a threatening stance will not persuade a subject.
Fortunately, mastering verbal de-escalation and pairing it with appropriate body language is a skill that can be developed before an officer’s feet hit the pavement—and before they are in a potentially life-and-death situation.
It all begins in the classroom. Trainees are taught about de-escalation: the various tactics, its importance in the field, examples from case studies and so forth. Building this understanding is critical. After, trainees must practice de-escalation in length in real-life situations.
This is where VirTra’s immersive simulators come into play. Trainees step into the simulator and are surrounded by a real-life scenario chosen by the instructor. From there, the student officer must analyze the situation and respond to the subject, putting into practice the de-escalation skills taught in the classroom.
Depending on the words and body language issued by the trainee, the instructor can choose for the scenario to branch off into a different ending. For example, if the officer is successful in demonstrating correct verbal de-escalation, the instructor can program the subject to comply and the scenario to end.
But in instances where a student is not employing techniques properly, instructors can make the scenario escalate and become notionally dangerous—thus showing officers the real-life consequences of their actions. Due to the nature of simulation training, officers are able to try de-escalating scenarios repeatedly, making for consistent, reliable training.
Start practicing these critical skills in a safe, controlled environment.
To learn more or to request a demonstration, contact a VirTra representative.
Training should be challenging. Period.
Easy training does not teach individuals, it does not force them to learn, grow, mess up and learn from mistakes. Instead, training needs to be as challenging as it is encompassing of many different topics. For police, this includes a wider variety of topics and the important nature of these subjects.
One critical lesson is verbal de-escalation.
Verbal de-escalation is more complex than the public may imagine, as it is considerably more than simply asking subjects if they are okay, how they can help or if they are willing to remain calm. Instead, the correct dialogue depends on the situation, subject, the subject’s state of mind and even the tone the officer uses.
Tone is an important part of verbal de-escalation, though it isn’t discussed much. Imagine a situation where a subject is debating whether or not to end their life by jumping off a bridge. As the first responder, it is your job to talk them down—literally and figuratively.
What an officer chooses to say is magnified by the tone they use. In this situation, if an officer injected heavy amounts of false sympathy in their voice, the suicidal subject might see this as mistrust or mockery. Or if an officer used the proper phrases with little to no feeling, the subject could interpret it as sarcasm or lack of concern. Tone can greatly improve a situation or cause it to devolve—fast.
This is where VirTra’s training simulators make a difference in the classroom. Instructors can program the simulator to run scenarios ranging from high-stake situations to mental illness interactions. Trainees can engage the subjects and attempt to defuse the situation using known de-escalation techniques, or opt for less lethal or lethal options as a last resort.
If an officer is attempting to build a rapport with the subject, instructors can choose to reward the student’s behavior and de-escalate the scenario. However, if an officer’s words or tone are too aggressive, the instructor can choose an escalating branch built within the scenario to show the trainee the consequences.
An officer’s verbal ability is another tool on their toolbelt and can mean the difference between having to fight a subject or talking him into a set of handcuffs peacefully. By training your department in proper de-escalation techniques with VirTra you can potentially decrease police use of force incidents.
If you have any questions or would like a demonstration, contact a VirTra representative.
Throughout the years, headlines and lawsuits have revolved around police officers and their subject’s pets, with some even drawing national attention. Unfortunately, many of these stories stem from situations where a pet dies by the officer’s actions while an investigation occurred.
The reason these headlines continue into today is that, oftentimes, officers do not understand the cues a dog is giving and react poorly. If you think about it, this makes sense; it can be difficult to tell if an animal is acting aggressive or simply reacting to the situation without specific, proper training.
To best prepare officers for these kinds of situations, and to protect lives—including the four-legged ones—VirTra partnered with experts at Law Enforcement Dog Encounter Training (LEDET) to produce dog-based training scenarios. These scenarios come with corresponding curriculum, teaching officers how to recognize various dog cues and how to react appropriately.
In regards to this training, Jim Crosby, certified dog behavior training expert, stated, “the partnership between VirTra and LEDET enables, for the first time, officers to learn safe interactions in real time combining real behavior and live signaling with dogs. With these skills learned and practiced in the VirTra immersive environment, allow officers to interact with dogs safely.”
One of these powerful training scenarios can be found below. Here, the officer is responding to a property alarm when he encounters an aggressive dog. Watch as the officer engages with the dog before responding to the animal’s hostile behavior in the video below!
“Bridge Baby” is one of VirTra’s most difficult scenarios, as a simple mistake performed by an officer could quickly result in the death of a child or the subject.
The premise of the scenario is simple. Officers are dispatched to a bridge where a distraught father is threatening to throw his baby over the side. However, getting the upset father to set down his child, to calm down and listen to officer instructions is the difficult part. Depending on the officer’s actions, the father will comply with the officer, throw the child over the edge, commit suicide or shoot at the officer.
A difficult situation, yes, but an excellent one in teaching the power of verbal de-escalation.
For Sgt. Nick Shephard, Volusia County PD, he speaks calmly and gently to the subject in the scenario, “Absolutely, I care. Nothing more I care about right now than you, trust me.” As a result, the scenario branches and the man sets his child safely on the ground, then submits to being arrested.
What is remarkable about this story is how an increase in de-escalation training, as Sheriff Mike Chitwood credits, has produced a decline in police use of force incidents within their county. Sheriff Chitwood requires all new officers to engage in 40 hours of crisis intervention classes, which heavily promotes de-escalation while reducing “warrior mentality”. This program includes running officers through the VirTra system, practicing de-escalating each scenario by engaging in various tactics.
Another remarkable element of the story is how this change was inspired by Sheriff Chitwood’s trip to Scotland in 2015, where he saw and has since implemented new strategies to minimize the need for less lethal and lethal force in Tulliallan Castle, Police Scotland’s training center and headquarters. Now, years later with national cries for increased de-escalation training, Sheriff Chitwood’s officers are already armed with this increased knowledge.
Since implementing these changes, as this article states, “from 2017 to 2019, as the number of calls to authorities remained steady…the recorded frequency of Volusia deputies’ using force fell by nearly half, from 122 annual incidents to 65.”
De-escalation training must be a critical component to any department’s training regimen. VirTra understands this and has created training simulators and curriculum that teach not only de-escalation, but also marksmanship, less lethal, skill drills and other critical skills—thus rounding out any officer’s training.