More and more often, officers are asked to use de-escalation techniques to bring standoffs to a peaceful conclusion without unnecessary harm and without requiring any kind of violence.
It’s critical to remember that de-escalation is a philosophy, not a technique. Certain de-escalation techniques, however, can be beneficial. De-escalation training teaches officers to slow down, make space, ask open-ended questions, establish rapport with subjects, and refrain from reaching for their guns.
According to a 2020 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), one type of de-escalation training provided by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) helped the Louisville Metro Police Department reduce use-of-force incidents.
It also revealed that officers who received eight hours of police de-escalation training received 26% fewer citizen complaints. There were also 28% fewer incidents of use of force and 36% fewer officer injuries.
De-escalation techniques can help an officer not only diffuse an encounter, but also reduce his or her stress level.
Effective dialogue naturally de-escalates a situation, lowering the level or intensity of the encounter. This benefits both the citizen and the officer because it results in a natural physiological stress reduction.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening entails paying close attention to what another person is saying while remaining judgment-free. It includes nonverbal and verbal components that serve as signals to the other person that you are listening.
In essence, active listening entails paying attention to what the other person is saying rather than planning your response. Don’t argue, interrupt, or try to persuade them that they’re wrong. Often, angry people simply want to be heard and taken seriously.
Ensure that your citizen contact procedures are legal and respectful
Here’s a scenario: A police officer pulls over a vehicle for a minor infraction (a turn without signal, for example). The officer approaches the driver and requests ID and registration. The driver asks the officer why he was stopped, but the officer refuses to answer, instead requesting the paperwork once more. The situation has now deteriorated, with both parties refusing to budge, and the officer is forced to remove the operator from the car.
Who is in the right, and who escalated? While, in most states, the officer has a right to request paperwork before explaining why the stop was made, in this case it might be preferable to de-escalate the situation by explaining why the driver was contacted.
Ensure you control your nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication includes everything other than words – gestures, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, volume, and inflections.
Body language and movement are examples of nonverbal communication. Are you standing guard, your hand hovering over your firearm? Or do your hands at your sides make you appear more relaxed? Are you approaching a subject aggressively, or are you backing away and keeping a safe distance between you and the subject?
Your nonverbal communication also indicates that you are actively listening because you are making eye contact, nodding and leaning forward slightly, sitting or standing still, and not interrupting or rushing to fill gaps in the conversation.
Ensure you control your verbal Communication
Verbal communication includes everything we actually say, rather than how we say it.
Paraphrasing what a subject is saying is an example of verbal communication during de-escalation. You’re repeating what they said, but slightly changing the wording. You could paraphrase a subject who says, “No one listens to me!” and say, “It must be difficult to feel like no one is listening to you.” This increases your trust and rapport with the subject, allows for clarification, and forces them to listen as well.
Asking open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions is another helpful verbal communication de-escalation technique
Finally, of course, using non-threatening language and statements, unless necessary, is helpful.
Fortunately, more law enforcement organizations are incorporating de-escalation techniques into their policies. This encourages officers to use de-escalation techniques because it helps them stay policy-compliant while also mitigating stressful situations and maintaining a high level of job performance.