Recently, all of our commissioned personnel completed an eight hour in-service dedicated exclusively to the topic of de-escalation. This was both a reaffirmation of fundamental training precepts that have been taught for decades as well as an opportunity to codify and share these methods with constituents by crafting a standard operational procedure (SOP) that can be viewed from our website.
(Our Code of Conduct reflects basic core values and expectations that are universally understood as tenets of our MPD culture and the way we do business (i.e., "truthfulness" or acknowledging the fact that officer's exercise discretion in the normal course of their duties). SOP's, on the other hand, should be viewed as ever-evolving procedures that may be subject to change because they are time-sensitive, affected by changing legal standards, or incorporate "better" or "best" practices. "De-escalation" is covered in the context of an SOP).
From the most progressive departments to those agencies subject to the directives of a Department of Justice consent decree, de-escalation tactics are under heightened scrutiny--and deservedly so.
While the term may take on different forms, there are some common denominators that comprise the foundation for effective de-escalation:
1. Slowing down a dynamic situation can yield our most precious ally---"time." More time can potentially create more options and use of other/additional resources.
2. Professional communication, coupled with critical incident defusing techniques are essential.
3. Decreasing exposures to potential threats to officers and community members may be mitigated through:
A. Use of back up officers
B. Creating distance (and thereby increasing time)
C. Use of cover or concealment
Central to all of these strategies is the necessity of placing particular emphasis on consistently training in these techniques and researching new and/or developing practices emerging in our profession (i.e., implicit biases, mental illness diagnostics, understanding occupational stress(es) through the prism of health and wellness models, etc.,).
A Madison police officer gets a thorough grounding of de-escalation techniques from the outset of their career by attending our own, in-house, pre-service academy where instruction is a multi-faceted approach--table talks by subject matter experts, panel discussions by consumers of services who offer valuable insights on how police can approach/intervene for people who are in episodic crisis, practical scenario-based training, and a cultural competency curriculum that is offered by a diverse constituency in places and spaces that are rooted in our community.
If the pre-service academy serves as the baseline of our training, annual in-service(s) (a minimum of 24 hours per year/per officer to meet the State of Wisconsin's ongoing certification requirements) are the "booster" shots that provide us with the ability to reinforce and expand our repertoire . . .whether it be in the area of domestic violence investigations, mental illness interventions, or de-escalation methods.
It is my hope that by briefly describing our training emphasis and in providing an example of our SOP on the topic, our citizens can be more assured of our ongoing commitment to utilizing de-escalation techniques in striving for positive resolutions.