De-Escalation - Not Just a Buzzword


If you watch some of the coverage I have seen in the media, you will think that no police officers know how to de-escalate a situation. Further, it’s suggested that we are all in need of “de-escalation training”.


If you ask me, I will argue that most police in this country are skilled in de-escalating volatile situations. I would also argue that most police need de-escalation training. Confused? Let me explain.


There is not a cop working today, or in the past, who has not successfully calmed down a volatile situation. From a minor traffic crash where tempers are flaring to a domestic situation involving weapons, most situations are handled without any escalation whatsoever. But we can do better.


In the world of law enforcement, there should be no mindset of us vs. them. We are members of the community we serve and need the same sense of safety as the people who call us for help. We, along with the communities we serve, are a team. The first step in de-escalation is viewing the public as we view ourselves. We are the group that chose to put on a uniform and protect the rest of the team. Regardless of who you encounter and how they treat you, they are one of us and part of our team.


The second step in de-escalation is to police with empathy. One of the greatest things about America is our freedom and as police we are given the ability to take away that freedom. We should use that ability sparingly, and make our decisions using empathy.


One example that I often use is a situation where I stopped a single mother with three kids, a fake temporary tag, and suspended driver’s license. None of the kids were properly restrained and the driver was facing around $1500 in new traffic tickets. I would have been well within my rights to write those tickets, tow the car, and go about the rest of my day. But I chose a different option because I used empathy when making my decisions.


I have never known what it was like to be a single mother of three kids, but I can imagine it is not an easy situation. I have also never had a suspended license with thousands in outstanding fines, but I can imagine what a difficult hole that is to climb out of. So, I decided on the side of the road to handle things differently.


Instead of citations, I chose education. It turned out she had been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous car dealer. He charged an exorbitant price for the car and didn’t provide help with registering the vehicle. He is the one who gave her the fake tag and refused to help. I educated her on how to register her car and fix her driver’s license. I was also fortunate that the local EMS service offers a free car seat for those in need. I am not naïve enough to think that it’s a guarantee she listened and fixed her outstanding traffic issues. But making it more difficult by writing a bunch of new tickets would assuredly have made her situation worse.


Policing with empathy is not some revolutionary new technique that requires a lot of training. It is simply having compassion for others. Police encounter so many difficult and traumatic situations throughout their career that they can suffer from compassion fatigue. This can lead to that lack of empathy and us vs. them mentality we are trying to avoid. So, what else can we do?


One concept that can improve your interactions with the public, your career, and your personal life, is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and control your own emotions which helps you understand and respond to the emotions of others. Learning about emotional intelligence will help you better understand how to respond in difficult situations. Learning where you have gaps in your own emotional intelligence can help you learn skills to mitigate those gaps and make you more successful.


At Juliet Lima Solutions we help introduce police to the concept of emotional intelligence as well as teach skills to de-escalate volatile situations. We combine tried and true crisis negotiation tactics with academic research and knowledge to teach officers how to succeed and survive a career in law enforcement. Let us develop a custom plan to train your agency today.


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