Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rethinking use of force: De-escalation

It's called different things – "de-escalation," "tactical disengagement," or "preservation of life" – but the message is the same: police departments across the country are retraining officers on the appropriate use of force.

Texas' basic peace officer course was last revised in 2014 and will be overhauled sooner than later. Currently, DPD deputy chief Jeff Cotner is leading a TCLE committee undertaking a yearlong review of the 643-hour course, flack Gretchen Grisby said. Your correspondent emailed Cotner to inquire as to whether de-escalation tactics are being considered in that review but didn't immediately hear back.

An August 2015 PERF report recommends the "overhaul of police training, policy, supervision and culture on use of force." While many high-profile shootings may have been legally justified, the report said, "there were missed opportunities" to calm things down before shots were fired. Instead of training officers on what they can legally do, PERF suggests officers receive training on what they should do. 

PERF surveyed 281 police agencies, which spent about 58 hours training on firearms, 49 hours on defensive tactics and eight hours on de-escalation and crisis intervention. Traditionally, officers are taught to use deadly force when it's justified, not necessarily to slow things down. Critics say the tactics are time-consuming when time is particularly of the essence.

Still, police in Dallas, New York City, Kansas City, Seattle and Los Angeles have recently added training on the subject. Excessive force complaints against DPD officers are on track to be the lowest this year in 20 years, a drop Chief David Brown attributes to de-escalation training.

Will Texas join them? Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic at UT's law school, hopes so.

"Police departments still have a ways to go in terms of training officers to use only the amount of force necessary and not use force at all when it's not necessary," she said. "We have to go on improving use of force." 

Ed. note: Eva Ruth Moravec, the latest addition to Grits' mighty cadre of contributing writers, covered crime, courts and government for the San Antonio Express-News for six years, where she repeatedly impressed Grits with the quality and professionalism of her work.  She covered the 2015 Texas legislative session for the Associated Press. Her freelance writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, and other outlets. She is currently attending grad school at UT Austin studying data-based journalism. Eva's a super-talented young gun who Grits feels blessed to add to the roster, which has grown damn impressive over the last couple of months, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

When the city of Houston initiated a major upgrade in their crisis management process, eventually requiring all new cadets to pass the week long class and then require seasoned veterans on their department to take a modified course, people scoffed at the expense. Use of force complaints for Houston were already well below those of Dallas and other cities, as were the number of unjustified shootings, but the city pressed onward to even train officers from other agencies. One of the biggest issues raised was the increase of time in handling encounters with people in crisis, the other being the idea that even though an officer would be legally safe to use deadly or less than lethal force, they would not be expected to do so if more time might help resolve a matter. Not everyone in law enforcement agrees with this approach, much like calling a SWAT unit greatly adds to the expense and time to resolve a conflict, but I have to hand it to them that despite the Monday morning quarterbacks out there, the city makes it work much more than most expected.

Anonymous said...

Memphis was the first jurisdiction in the nation to tackle increased use of force with better training particularly with mental subjects. Ironic because that's the origin of Tennessee v Garner which laid the groundwork use of deadly force.

The courts have since ruled that an officer is not only responsible for their actions in the heat of the moment but also those prior to the heat of the moment. So while it's rare indeed for an officer to be held criminally responsible (at either th state or fed level) it is fairly common for municipalities to lose civil cases. They lose precisely for failure to incorporate the insights of these training programs.

The problem of course is that civil rulings don't typically include anyone's hide since the citizens end up footing the bill (and or insurance?)

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Yes, very impressive roster. Welcome aboard Eva Ruth Moravec. Write on.

Unknown said...

What is known in the Tallahassee FL area as CIT or Crisis Intervention training has bee implemented in the police departments Sheriff's Office and jail personnel. Corrections officers in Doc are beginning to be trained. I encourage more to embrace the concept.