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

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.

De-Escalation 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.

Crisis De-Escalation Curriculum

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.

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.

Building These Skills

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.

Perfecting These Skills

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.

Factors in 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.

Training De-Escalation Tactics

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.

To learn more about VirTra’s de-escalation scenarios, or the training simulator as a whole, contact a VirTra Specialist.

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?

Classroom & Simulator Curriculum

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.

Certified Curriculum

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.

Why De-Escalation Training

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.

VirTra’s Certified De-Escalation Training

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.

Importance of NCP Certification in Training Materials

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.

 

Every law enforcement officer has heard of de-escalation. It is always involved in police training and is what the public expects police to use whenever possible. Although it is not a guaranteed solution, it is something that officers are constantly reminded of and expected to be proficient in.

What is Police De-Escalation?

De-escalation involves diffusing a situation, particularly if a subject(s) is agitated. Sometimes a person or situation may need to be de-escalated as soon as the interaction begins, but there are times where escalation can be prevented altogether. This is referred to as “non-escalation” – taking control of a situation before it escalates.

VirTra has partnered with Vistelar, a company dedicated to conflict management training across the workplace spectrum – from the office to the front lines. This partnership helped form the V-VICTA™ De-Escalation training curriculum, which provides contact professionals with tips and tricks as well as practice within a VirTra simulator.

VirTra’s Re al Life Training Scenarios

A large portion of VirTra’s scenarios can be entirely verbal and based around de-escalation with no need to even reach for a firearm or less-lethal. Sometimes non-escalation is used as well, meaning a subject may appear calm, but the wrong words trigger a violent reaction. This helps law enforcement professionals recognize how to approach a situation for the best outcome.

Vistelar teaches several tactics that contribute to non-escalation. Although no non- or de-escalation techniques are guaranteed to work in every situation, these are designed to help officers show respect when it is deserved.

• Treat with Dignity – Use empathy, listen and anticipate their needs. (Remember: Respect must be earned!)
• Respond, Don’t React – Thoughtfully respond rather than impulsively react; take verbal or physical action only when necessary.
• Showtime Mindset – Align all elements of your communication with the situation at hand.
• Proxemics – Keep in mind your distance between yourself and the person you are interacting with. Be non-threatening and remember to stay back if you feel unsafe.
• Universal Greeting – To let a person know who you are and why you are there, introduce yourself and your affiliation, then give the reason for contact.
• Beyond Active Listening – In the presence of conflict, active listening isn’t enough. Go beyond that by clarifying, reflecting, advocating and other techniques that will allow for better empathy.

It is important to reiterate that these are not foolproof solutions and neither are de-escalation tools. Although it would be wonderful if they worked each time, every situation is unique and may require different strategies. Vistelar’s guidelines and suggestions should assist officers in their communication and empathy skills, therefore leading to a higher chance of successful interaction closures.

For more information on de-escalation and other V-VICTA curriculum, contact a product specialist.

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.

Containment

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.

Control

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.

Contact

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.

Communication

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.