Delaying the use of force in favor of de-escalation requires good judgment, situational awareness, and frequently, an assumption of risk. In an article by Von Kliem of Force Science, the decision to de-escalate requires officers to balance immediate public safety against the desire to generate voluntary cooperation and avoid the use of force.
Of course, not all subjects are willing or able to be de-escalated. There are not magic words that guarantee an unruly subject will suddenly become compliant. If someone does not want to comply, they won’t. Officers must not only assess the subject’s willingness to de-escalate, they must consider when it has become too dangerous to keep trying. This is where the four C’s come into play: containment, control, contact, and communication.
Containment refers to limiting the subject to a reasonable area of movement; often while keeping others out. Containment ideally reduces a subject’s chance to access weapons, evidence, or potential victims. Containment also keeps the person close enough for communication, while reducing distractions that can make communication and persuasion difficult.
Even with containment, officers will consider how much “control” they have over the subject. Control simply means the subject in not presenting an imminent threat. The presence of weapons and potential victims can challenge an officer’s ability to use verbal de-escalation and avoid the use of force.
As Von Kliem mentions in the Force Science article referenced earlier, if the only person potentially in harm’s way is the subject themselves, slowing down to set conditions for de-escalation may be the most reasonable approach.
When most people think of de-escalation, they are imagining verbal communication and body language. The words you choose are important, but so is how you say them. A calm tone of voice may encourage a person to de-escalate, where screaming may have the opposite effect.
Sometimes talking isn’t required at all. It may be that listening is more valuable and that a distressed subject needs to vent before calming down. It can help them feel as if their emotions matter and their opinions are heard.
Contact is more than just having the subject see and hear you. Officers must consider whether the subject can even understand the messages they are sending. Contact is necessary for the subject to read facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Physical distance and barriers can impede effective communication, and so can mental impairment that can result from alcohol, drugs, or certain mental health issues.
In police encounters, Kliem mentions that some training recommends that officers create space between themselves and a subject in crisis. When officers choose to create space, they should consider whether that distance might impede communication and de-escalation efforts.
As an officer, you know de-escalation has been a part of policing for decades and that not everyone wants to de-escalate. You know that officers don’t actually de-escalate other people. Instead, they set the conditions that provide the best opportunity and motivation for people to de-escalate themselves. In other words, de-escalation requires cooperation.
VirTra has 2 valuable de-escalation courses that are NCP-certified by IADLEST. They combine classroom learning with hands-on experience in the simulator. The best way to learn a skill is to use it in context – so VirTra allows you to research the topic, then put it into practice in a safe environment. To get started on de-escalation training, contact a specialist.
Kliem, V. (2019, July 25). Containment and de-escalation: The honest debate continues – force science. Force Science – Research | Training | Consulting. https://www.forcescience.com/2019/07/containment-and-de-escalation-the-honest-debate-continues/
Think of how many people a day officers interact with. Being able to effectively communicate, read body language, and calm a situation down are important skills for law enforcement. While not every person can be de-escalated, there are many instances where simple tactics such as using a calm voice and creating distance can make a difference.
Instead of relying on instructors to act as role-players or just learning through bookwork and presentations, simulation of de-escalation in virtual reality training has opened the door for realistic practice engaging with real people.
If a simulated scenario only has a couple of options and pathways to resolution, it can only be done so many times. Users in the simulator would easily learn what they are “supposed” to do, and the element of predictability would be too strong.
Our multi-incident scenarios of de-escalation in virtual reality training have several branching options, allowing officers flexibility in how they respond and for instructors to change things up depending on the actions of the trainee. If the trainee’s de-escalation tactics are not working, the instructor could choose to make the on-screen character react with hostility. On the other hand, if the officer is effectively communicating, the instructor might allow the scenario to end peacefully.
As an officer, you’ve heard the word many times. It has become a buzzword, and not always in the right context. Properly de-escalating by using only verbal communication skills can reduce the chances of force being used if the person wants to be de-escalated. This includes using a calm voice, creating distance, avoiding inflammatory language and swearing, and letting the person safely vent.
It is important to note that not every subject can be de-escalated. Some people are too heavily under the influence of illicit substances, and others are simply not willing to cooperate no matter what. This is known by most officers, but the public tends to think you can wave a wand and calm everyone down. In these situations, the officer must do what is necessary to protect themselves, the public, and the subject as well.
While training for use-of-force incidents is important and should be done, officers rarely fire their weapons. In comparison, officers talk with members of the public many times per shift. In fact, the New York Times reported that 32-37 percent of officers’ shifts involve responding to non-criminal calls. Not only is keeping peace part of their jobs, but they often act as mediators, therapists, and a listening ear. This reality is reflected in the high number of scenarios that involve de-escalation in virtual reality training with VirTra’s simulators.
People can be irate and unruly in many situations, locations, and ways. Maybe it’s during a traffic stop, at a residence, or a public park. In each of these situations, instructors can choose what the subject will say, if they will calm down, or if they will become further enraged. Even in active threat training scenarios, a subject can raise their hands and surrender to officers – not every scenario has to end in lethal force.
VirTra gives instructors and officers alike a flexible way to train for de-escalation in virtual reality. They are able to hone communication skills. Would you like to schedule some time with a representative for more information? Contact a product specialist to learn more.
When used properly, de-escalation can reduce police use of force. While not every situation permits de-escalation—as some subjects are noncompliant no matter what—there are times when the proper tone of voice or choice of words can calm the subject or reduce the chance of them becoming out of control.
Recently, many agencies have heavily focused on maximizing law enforcement de-escalation training to lower the frequency of force used by their officers. To help further this training, VirTra has produced two nationally-certified de-escalation courses that are free for all law enforcement clients.
This training—De-Escalation and Crisis De-Escalation—has a total of 6 training hours which encompasses coursework, presentations, and de-escalation training scenarios. As nationally-certified materials, they fall under the V-VICTA®—Virtual Interactive Coursework Academy—program, along with other skill-building curriculum.
Born from a partnership between VirTra and the conflict experts at VISTELAR, this 4-hour course allows officers to practice de-escalating situations before they become detrimental. In the course, this is referred to by VISTELAR as “non-escalation.” Paired with simulator scenarios that allow the officer to practice verbal de-escalation, this course is dedicated to improving communication.
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.
The video below shows two officers utilizing a popular scenario, “Bridge Baby.” In this scenario, officers confront a man holding an infant over a bridge. Officers in the simulator must use communication skills to calm the man and convince him to put down the baby and surrender.
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 for unpredictable situations.
The best part is that these two courses are already NCP-certified by IADLEST. This saves agencies a lot of time by not having to write and certify their own curriculum. Both courses – as well as other V-VICTA courses – have all the materials needed. From instructor manuals to testing materials, it is all included.
It is important to note that nearly every scenario in VirTra’s library has an option for de-escalation. VirTra goes beyond “shoot-don’t-shoot” by providing various branching options that depend on the training points.
For more information on our de-escalation courses, please contact a VirTra specialist.
De-escalation can be quite a divisive term in the law enforcement community. Not just in principle, but in practice. We cannot agree on a definition. De-escalation techniques in application differ greatly from mandate and policy. The application also differs greatly from expectation; the expectation that you can connect and influence another person no matter what. Expectation is the root of disappointment. Unfortunately, in the case of law enforcement officers, this expectation can potentially result in litigation, job loss, discipline, and in some cases, the loss of the officer’s life. There are times when no amount of talking will resolve a situation and a quick application of force to resolve the situation is what is safest for everyone. No one likes that conversation though, not the public nor weak leaders.
I am going to let you in on a couple of secrets regarding de-escalation that we tip-toe around and do not address:
However de-escalation is defined or framed, at the foundation you provide one thing; time, time for something to change. There is a saying in therapy that no feeling is final. I would encourage you not to say this to anyone, but to think about the implications of that statement. What we provide to someone in crisis is the time for something to change that will ideally result in a reduction in volatility. But we are not the ones doing the hard work. We may be using the best communication style to impact that person and we provide the space and the time, but that individual does the work to de-escalate. What changes with time? Emotions, hormones, neurochemical response, blood flow, thought processes…we provide the framework with what is best to address the person’s needs, the rest is up to the person to work through.
One of the most important tools in law enforcement is checking your own ego. If you think de-escalation is about you, think again. De-escalation is not about you; it is about the possibility of human connection and influence. If you cannot connect with someone, you cannot influence them. De-escalation is a participatory process and the other person must engage in the process. What about the population that cannot engage? Maybe the individual is so contaminated by the overwhelming emotions and crisis that participation is not possible. What if it is a medical emergency? And equally important, what if they choose not to? That is a population we do not talk enough about. The person who willingly chooses not to be part of the process. Individuals who are criminal minded and anti-law enforcement. What policy addresses that?
If we cannot look at human behavior in the realm of both possibilities and limitations, we have set officers up for failure. These are the conversations that need to happen far above my head. The conversations that address what is actually possible and not what looks good through a social justice lens that pits officers against the public based on an unachievable objective.
The change at the top may be infinitesimally slow, but there is an area that significantly impacts outcomes; training. Good training allows for the consideration of these factors. Research-based training methods can help officers choose the best type of communication strategies to allow for de-escalation to occur or recognize if verbal connection with the individual is possible. The ability for officers to recognize human behavior quickly and accurately to employ the most effective strategies leads to positive outcomes.
In de-escalation training for police officers, it is vital for them to prepare for situations that require less-lethal options. CEW devices and OC sprays are both important assets to officer’s belts and practicing utilization of these devices within realistic scenario training is sure to have them prepared for the field.
VirTra developed an un-tethered, true-to-life way for departments to train with their less-lethal options. With our Axon® TASER® and SABRE® compatible technology, officers can train with their own devices within the simulators for maximum realism. VirTra ensures that de-escalation police training is taken to the highest standard.
Part of what makes VirTra training so unique is that we are the only company in the U.S. that is able to provide a laser-based training cartridge used inside simulation for the TASER® line! VirTra offers variety in our TASER compatible products, providing three separate cartridge products that drop into the TASER simulator housings.
V-X26P™ TASER Simulation Cartridges
This TASER simulator cartridge’s probe spread is accurately displayed just like in real life, no matter how far the trainee is away from the screen.
V-TX2™ TASER Simulation Cartridges
This cartridge contains a seven-degree probe spread allowing precise and accurate target engagement.
V-T7™ Simulation Cartridges
VirTra’s newest TASER simulator cartridge contains a 12-degree probe spread that is ideal for close-quarter (CQ) engagement. The other includes a 3.5-degree spread for farther distance targets.
Though unique in their own ways, each model is able to assign unique laser IDs to track and score each probe placement. Upon deployment, the on-screen simulation characters will react accordingly providing trainees a realistic view of their target proficiency and de-escalation skills. Trainees are then able to evaluate their performance, continue to practice and always continue to improve through VirTra’s de-escalation training for police officers.
VirTra also developed a Axon Taser a laser OC device that fits inside of a SABRE® MK3 canister, matching the exact form, function, and weight of the actual OC canister! This provides a way for officers to safely practice deploying their OC spray and, just the same as the CEW cartridges, the simulation characters display a realistic reaction for officers to learn from. Other less-lethal items include batons, gas grenades, bean bags and more.
All of our less-lethal product options benefit officers in receiving true-to-life de-escalation police training while also helping make sure that they return home safely each day.
We are always here to help answer any questions you may have about our less-lethal products, TASER simulator, Axon Taser, and more. Contact us today!
Just as police officers go through intensive training on skills such as firearm manipulation and de-escalation, peace officers must also. Though the positions of certain peace officers may look different than a police officer, they still are protecting the public, enforcing the law and, depending on their position, carrying firearms.
Whether a state trooper, detention officer, border patrol, or even game warden, proper peace officer training is crucial in keeping communities safe and getting people home safely.
VirTra’s training systems provide various scenarios and curriculums to educate and train those who keep us safe.
When protecting the public, there is always the possibility that peace officers will face a situation where they need to use quick decision-making, situational awareness, and other important skills that VirTra training simulators put to the test.
VirTra’s V-VICTA® curriculum contains various de-escalation scenarios dealing with mental illness, emotionally disturbed people, autism awareness, and more that officers may come in contact with when working. Our curriculum provides 60 hours of nationally certified coursework including PowerPoints, manuals, pre-tests and post-tests. Instructors have all the necessary tools to instill proper training and knowledge transfer to its students.
With different branching options for every scenario, officers can explore different ways that their decisions affect people and themselves. With this, they can learn from both their mistakes and successes.
It is necessary for all peace officers to properly train with their firearms in the case that they will need to utilize it on a call. VirTra provides an array of firearms training for peace officers to hone in on their skills.
This peace officer training might include marksmanship, weapon transitions, and even gauging the right times for them to draw their firearm. VirTra’s firearm training is the most accurate in the industry. It even includes structured scenario debriefs for trainers and officers to analyze their skills.
Our curriculum and simulators are an effective and educational addition to any peace officer training. Those who protect us deserve great training that is proven to work and VirTra is just that.
To learn more about the V-VICTA® curriculum and our simulators, contact a VirTra specialist.
In 2015 a Georgia deputy shot and killed an unarmed, mentally unstable man just outside of the local grocery store. The man had been singing scripture inside the store and then telling employees that they were fired and to turn in their keys. After store employees called 911, the off-duty deputy responded to the call and encountered the man in his vehicle. The man ignored the deputy and walked toward him, singing just as he did in the store. The officer unsuccessfully deployed his electronic control device, which angered the subject. He then cocked his fist and charged the officer.
20 minutes after the shooting, the veteran officer of 13 years turned to a fellow officer and said “You know the bad thing about it…? I could’ve fought him.” Not only could he have used defense tactics on this man, but he could have also attempted to de-escalate the situation. But that never occurred to this officer. That may be due to the fact that in his more than 600 hours of ongoing training, he didn’t have a single hour of de-escalation training.
Look at your training records. Go ahead, take a look. Out of all the hours that are being spent on training, how many of them are on use of force? How many of them involve an officer using an electronic control device or a firearm? How about O.C. or some type of defensive tactics? Now look at how much time is spent on communication. Specifically, de-escalation communication. Now, I’m not here to say how many hours of de-escalation training you should see, but there should be quite a few. Why? Because the number one thing that officers do is talk to people. We talk to people a lot more than we use force. And we have the ability to talk some people out of situations where force might otherwise be necessary.
As a law enforcement trainer, and a content creator at VirTra, I know how important it is that we equip our officers with every tool they may need out there. Not training officers in de-escalation is no longer an option. Thankfully, VirTra has you covered!
Our training simulator is not just designed for use of force encounters. It is also an amazing resource for de-escalation training. Currently, there are over 50 scenarios that can be used for training officers in de-escalation.
For example, the scenario “Homeless Contact at Business” can be used for a variety of training events. The training officer can choose how the suspect reacts based on the verbalization techniques of the officer. While the homeless subject can become extremely agitated because he is being kicked out of his “home,” the officer can de-escalate the situation by offering assistance or by having the business manager give the man some time to pack up and leave the area. In just this one scenario, there are multiple options in ways that the man can be de-escalated from an upset state of mind. Conversely, the man can also become more upset if the officer doesn’t adjust their communication.
The great part about using a VirTra simulator for this type of training is that you don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time to get high-quality training. There’s virtually no setup time, no need for actors or complex scripts. VirTra does the heavy lifting for you! These scenarios are perfect for officers to do right after roll-call. They could go through up to 5 scenarios in just 15 minutes before they hit the road. This type of short, yet frequent training is a great way to ingrain these principles.
As trainers, we have the responsibility of putting tools onto our officers “tool belts.” When we train firearms, electronic control devices, O.C. and defensive tactics, each one of those ends up on their tool belts. Officers will only use the tools that were taught to them effectively and frequently. When we fail to properly train them, they will be forced to choose from the tools available. And, much like woodworking, it never turns out good if you don’t have the right tools for the job.
Train hard! Stay safe!
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.
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.