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 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 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 on 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-escalating and 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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
It’s one thing to talk about de-escalation and another to show de-escalation in action.
The West Valley City Police Department has eagerly been showing off their de-escalation training in the Utah Attorney Generals Office’s VirTra simulator, showing the public and other departments what this training has done for them.
“Over the course of the last five years, West Valley Police Officers, within our agency, have received over approximately 3,000 hours of de-escalation training in various forms. De-escalation is at the forefront of all of our training programs.” —Lt. Mike Fossmo, West Valley City Police Department.
By training with VirTra, officers engage in difficult situations and practice ways to verbally de-escalate a situation. Depending on their actions and words, the scenario will branch numerous times to corollate for more realistic outcomes. This allows law enforcement officers to see how to best engage with a subject, gain control of a situation, communicate properly and diffuse any problems before a drastic outcome occurs—all in a safe, controlled de-escalated environment.
Watch their experience here:
De-escalation: one of the biggest buzzwords in the media and departments across the nation.
While de-escalation is the ideal outcome, it is a constant challenge gaining the compliance of an irate, non-compiling subject without physical force, especially as current tensions between law enforcement and some communities rise.
Knowing how difficult it is to constantly and properly train in de-escalation, how does your department ensure all officers are up-to-date on the latest de-escalation strategies?
VirTra partnered with Vistelar to create nationally-certified de-escalation curriculum for departments to utilize in both the classroom setting and simulator. Together, VirTra and Vistelar scripted out a well-rounded list of scenarios equipped with a multitude of branching options to allow for scenarios to realistically end in de-escalation—or if the officer messes up, then less lethal force. Vistelar has made a online training module available specifically for agency VirTra instructors.
The goal is to teach officers the correct way of diffusing and controlling a situation in the safety of a controlled environment. VirTra is maximizing this training by adding it to V-VICTA™’s other training, allowing officers to learn in the classroom before practicing in the simulator before transferring those skills to the field.
By training after this curriculum in both the classroom and judgmental use of force simulator, officers learn how to work through conflicts verbally while recognizing and adapting to facial, body and micro-expressions. VirTra’s de-escalation curriculum includes:
• 4 hours of curriculum
• 5 information-rich chapters
• 6 scenarios with extensive branching options
• A 38-page lesson plan
• A 35-slide presentation
VirTra is the ONLY simulation company with de-escalation training curriculum that’s been nationally certified by an independent third party.
As with all V-VICTA curriculum, VirTra’s de-escalation curriculum has been certified through the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) for their National Certification Program (NCP) review for POST accreditation. All four hours of de-escalation curriculum are certified through this program, providing training officers a powerful training tool.
By receiving NCP certification, VirTra’s de-escalation curriculum was critically reviewed by an approval body specifically aiming to raise the quality standards of ongoing law enforcement officer training across the nation. As such, instructors can be confident in teaching these materials, while saving time and money from creating their own coursework.
Departments can better prepare their officers with VirTra’s powerful, all-inclusive certified de-escalation training. Learn more about our partnership with Vistelar, V-VICTA curriculum or NCP certifications by contacting a VirTra specialist.
Law enforcement officers have had the term “de-escalation” drilled into their minds by academies, training instructors and now the demand from society. As much as it is discussed, only officers know that de-escalation is not easily defined, nor is it as simple as it is made out to be.
This is because not every situation is created equal. As such, there are certain situations no officer would be able to resolve through de-escalation alone. Though whenever possible, de-escalation strategies should be utilized to reduce or eliminate the chances of force being used.
Just as defining the term “de-escalation” is complicated, so are the many forms of de-escalation. There is no one-size-fits-all de-escalation action that will improve every situation. Rather, the best type of de-escalation depends on the situation—one interaction may require giving the individual more space or time, while other situations are better resolved with a softer, more personable approach.
When incorporated correctly, de-escalation tactics may prevent escalation while potentially reducing harm for both the subject and officer. However, an officer needs extensive de-escalation lessons and training to build these skills before transferring them to the field. This is why VirTra created nationally-certified de-escalation training to help both academies and departments.
As with many V-VICTA™ curricula, VirTra partnered with a nationally-recognized expert in creating the coursework. For the de-escalation curriculum, VirTra partnered with Vistelar—a conflict management institute that focuses on the entire spectrum of human conflict—to apply their insight to create the most beneficial, up-to-date training materials.
After finalizing the curriculum, it was submitted for NCP—Nationally Certified Program—certification, allowing officers to receive credited training hours. Now, instructors who implement this specific curriculum gain: 4 certified training hours, 5 information-rich chapters, 6 extensive branching scenarios, a 38-page lesson plan and a 35-slide presentation. Department and academies can utilize this information to teach officers how to work through conflicts verbally while focusing on the importance of facial, body and micro-expressions.
As mentioned above, the de-escalation curriculum was certified through IADLEST’s NCP program, which serves as the higher standard for police training. The NCP certification standards meet and often exceed individual State certification requirements, ensuring training is accepted by all participating POST organizations for training credit.
Because of this, VirTra has submitted all curriculum for NCP certification, ensuring customers are provided with only the best quality education and training content.
VirTra is currently the only simulator company that offers certified curriculum for officers, which is uploaded for free on each law enforcement simulator. Instructors can train well, knowing all content is up-to-date, certified and designed for maximum skill transfer. While there is no one-size-fits-all de-escalation action, officers can enter the field equipped with a variety of de-escalation tactics to improve each unique situation.