The cold blooded killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer using excessive force while three other officers stood by has highlighted once again the need for better policing in which the use of force as a last resort and in a way that is “proportionate” to the circumstances becomes the adhered to standard. While some police departments have made progress in implementing certain elements of de-escalation, the difficulty of changing the culture of police forces, requires that a comprehensive policy of de-escalation be implemented in local police departments throughout the nation.
The Citizens Campaign Comprehensive Police De-escalation Policy is centered around the implementation of the elements required to truly bring about de-escalation, including a specific and clear use of force policy, de-escalation training, tracking and review of use of force incidents and making promotion decisions and salary increases at least partially dependent on performance in this area. These measures are essential to dramatically reducing the number of incidents where force is used excessively, limiting avoidable injuries and deaths and gaining the trust required from residents essential to effectively protecting public safety. They are designed to achieve the goal of de-escalation as defined by the Camden Police Department: “Actions taken by an officer meant to stabilize a situation and reduce the immediacy of a potential threat so that a potentially dangerous situation with voluntary compliance and without resorting to force”.
Taken together, the components of The Citizens Campaign Comprehensive Police De-escalation Policy are designed to bring about the lasting culture changes in police departments required to ensure that all residents are treated fairly and equally and to build trust between residents and the police–to realize the full meaning of “serve and protect.”
As plans are developed for individual cities, they will be tailored to local circumstances. Outlined briefly below are the general plan elements:
Putting In Place Use of Force as a Last Resort Policy: Use of force policies , such as the one put in place by the Camden County police who have primary law enforcement responsibility in Camden, that provide clear and specific guidance on the fact that the use of force is a last resort, must be “proportionate to the circumstances” and to advance a law enforcement objective, contribute to significant reductions in excessive use of force. These policies spell out that the first order of business is to work to “de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving encounters without force.” To have maximum impact, these policies should as they do in Camden include a provision requiring officers on the scene to intervene when needed to prevent escalation as well as to report any incidence of the use of excessive force.
Stepping Up De-Escalation Training: A 2015 study conducted b y the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of 280 law enforcement agencies, showed that there were 8 hours of training on uses of various kinds of force for every one hour of de-escalation training. The result of this imbalance in training, according to law enforcement experts, is that police officers are primed to use force rather than de-escalation techniques, resulting in violence that could have been avoided in at least some cases. Stepped up implementation of de-escalation training, teaches “officers to slow down, create space, and use communication techniques to defuse potentially dangerous situations. It gives officers strategies to more calmly deal with people who are experiencing mental and emotional crises. Police departments who have implemented and expanded de-escalation training show significant reductions in injuries and fatalities for both civilians and police officers and much lower payouts in excessive force legal suits. Tying the training to the specific use of force as a last resort policy will make it even more potent.
Ensuring that Crisis Intervention Team or Other Mental Health Training is incorporated in the De-escalation Training approach: Nearly 1-in-10 of all law enforcement calls and up to 1-in-4 fatalities involve a person with mental illness. Specific training to learn to recognize the signs of mental illness and to develop communication techniques that help defuse crisis situations is highly beneficial and should be incorporated into an over-all regimen of de-escalation training. The Crisis Intervention Team Training, which is being piloted in some NJ cities, is one recommended training module in this area.
Tracking Use of Force Incidents: Mandating the filling out of use of force reports, including the race and ethnicity of suspects, is essential to building the accountability necessary for implementing a comprehensive de-escalation policy. Incidents must be reviewed with the officers involved for both evaluation and lessons learned purposes. Additionally, an over-all use of report for the police department must be regularly produced in order to measure progress on de-escalation and a public annual report must be produced to ensure accountability.
Requiring Body-Worn Cameras: Body-worn cameras mounted on an officer’s eyeglasses or chest area provide a visual record of use of force incidents and other more positive interactions with community members. Their required use provides the transparency that builds trust, creates a deterrent to the inappropriate use of force, and enhances evaluation and on-the-job learning. It is important that keeping the cameras turned-on is strictly enforced with consequences for officers that don’t comply. Experience in the Phoenix Police Department as well as others shows that even if there is a policy in place to do so, it will be often ignored.
Tying De-escalation Success to Promotions: Making success in implementing de-escalation and using only appropriate use of force a major factor in promotions, which nearly always come with salary increases, will speed the culture change needed. In addition to individual officers’ records in this area being a factor, for superior officers who have officers reporting to them, the records of their division or precincts on de-escalation success will be incorporated into their over-all performance evaluations as well.
Use Psychological Testing to assist in identifying police recruits who possess the positive attributes needed. Psychological testing has been used by police departments mainly at the tail-end of the hiring process to rule out someone with obvious red flags, such as a wanting to ‘join the force because they like guns or want to drive fast.”. It is better as some police departments are beginning to do, to use the tests earlier in the hiring process to help identify candidates who have high executive control of impulses and strong interpersonal skills that would make them more likely to be interested in and skilled at de-escalation. This kind of testing includes video of actual situations to get an applications real time reaction to them.
Connect Police to the Schools and Community: Research shows that regular contact with members of the community in non-law enforcement settings reduces implicit bias. Devising programs that bring police officers to high schools and junior high schools on a regular basis to meet with students to discuss their work and also talk about careers in law enforcement can help build mutual respect. Promoting regular contact with a broad-cross section of residents through a community policing approach is also essential.