Tempe Police, ASU To Develop De-Escalation Training

Published: Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 7:28am

The Tempe Police Department and Arizona State University are teaming up to research tactics that could lead to more-peaceful interactions with the community.

“De-escalation, I think, in its simplest form is a way we interact with people that gets them to reconsider any kind of violent response to the lawful interaction and lawful order of a police officer,” said Sylvia Moir, Tempe Police Chief. 

The Department of Justice is funding the three year development and study of a de-escalation training program with a $700,000 grant.

Police departments around the country have increasingly been the target of community outcry after officer-involved shootings and use of force. For example, the mother of an unarmed teen shot and killed by Tempe Police in 2016 is suing the department and city.

“Often we interact with folks when they are in crisis,” Moir said of policing in general. “They resist the efforts of the police to take them into custody, to hold them accountable for behaviors and quite often that interaction has some tension and some violence around it.”

Moir said the department already teaches some forms of de-escalation in its officer training. This grant allows the department to do a focused evaluation of de-escalation alone.

“We have an idea that our training will produce a measurable decrease in use of force, in complaints and we have an idea that citizen perception of how they were treated will increase,” Moir said.

The department will start by asking officers to nominate peers who they believe defuse tension well. Researchers will analyze body camera footage and best practices to help develop the training. Exercises like mindfulness could also be a part the regimen.

Then the department will conduct randomized trials, training some officers on the de-escalation tactics and not others.

“We’ll find out what’s worked and what hasn’t worked out well,” said Brenda Buren, Assistant Police Chief. The final training will be submitted to the Department of Justice and could be used in other departments.

There have been some in the law enforcement community who believe de-escalation training is unnecessary and could lead officers to be less decisive.

“I think it's based on a false premise. The false premise is that officers are prone to excessive force,” said Mike Sherlock,  who runs the Police Officers Standards and Training Board in Nevada. He was featured in a Reveal podcast on de-escalation training.

Moir, in Tempe, said she rejects that idea and she believes the training is another tool for officers.

“I think when we slow down and we breathe and we are more expansive in the way that we approach people, it actually strengthens what we do,” Moir said.

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