Training and deescalation: What every officer needs to know (without the media spin)


Virtual scenario training has been around law enforcement for many years. One of the first scenario training simulators was known as FATS— Firearms Training Simulator. The machine was similar to an arcade game; officers would stand in front of the screen with a fake gun and were presented with scenarios in which officers had to decide, quickly, on whether to use lethal force or not.

Many, if not all, of these scenarios did not provide a way to deescalate: it was either commands or fire the gun.

A common name for this type of training was “shoot/don’t shoot.”

While these simulators were good at the time, and while sometimes a shoot/don’t shoot is good training, technology has advanced over time and officers found themselves with more options for training.

Many agencies went to paint ball guns and role players, or simunitions training. This, of course, produced better responses to training because people were yelling, screaming, and engaging during the course of the scenario, thus creating high physical and psychological fidelity. Also, officers knew by getting shot with a paint ball or firing, how they were more likely to act in those types of situations.

However, this type of training had its own issues, like ensuring there were no live weapons in the training area to bulky safety equipment that had many hiccups. These types of issues created a problem with the quality of training.

In police training, there is an old saying: train like you fight.

In other words, the training has to be real enough in order to create realistic responses, so that when the officer is under stress, they can fully rely on their training to take over and not have to “think” so much on small details.

Rather, an officer “remembers” what to do in certain stressful situations, as it has become a training habit.

In addition, there has been an increasing push on law enforcement to work harder at deescalating situations with little to no force, when able.

Agencies recognize the importance in continuing to train officers on a routine basis in areas such as use of force, defensive tactics, emergency vehicle operations, first aid/CPR, and legal updates. These trainings are often required yearly.

However, there has never been continued training on deescalating situations, other than maybe a PowerPoint presentation or lecture.

One company, VirTra, has found a way to bring better annual training to officers in this very important topic with it’s simulation training.

Deescalating -the ability to calm a volatile situation- is not as easy as it sounds, nor as easy as the media leads people to believe. 

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In heated situations, arguments, or armed encounters, many times the subjects are irrational. Therefore, talking to them in a normal manner may not work. 

However, developing some type of connection and dialogue is key if there will be any success in calming a situation before it gets worse.  For me, I find it helps to introduce myself informally right off the bat  informally. For instance, I do not lead off with “I am Officer so and so,” but rather, I say: “Hi, I’m Chris.”

It’s important to get the person to realize that they are speaking to another human being, not just an officer.  Once a dialogue is started, gain a connection, find out what the person may be thinking or feeling.  I know it sounds a little touchy-feely coming from a cop, but, in these situations, it sometimes helps. If the person I am talking to is wild about pink bunnies, well, I am too for this conversation.

Officers have to engage in active listening during encounters such as this.  I have seen a subject  close to engaging with an officer suddenly notice them talking on the radio or looking away, which ended the successful outcome of the situation. 

Being able to calm someone, make them feel important, and not be rash to jump to a conclusion helps a lot of the time. 

These types of situations should be trained more often in order to allow for proficiency.  Training can be done through scenarios were mental health professionals or those who have been adequately trained in deescalation can teach the programs. 

In these situations, officers would gather for their annual training and enact responding to a call for service involving someone in mental crisis.  The actor would have a series of responses planned out for any response the officer does.  If the officer does well, the situation ends without violence.  If the officer does not do well, the situation can escalate.

It also helps to incorporate different training programs like VirTra has can assist officers in learning different styles and hone their craft in deescalating situations. 

VirTra is a private company who has developed a virtual training simulator in which to run anyone through different situations that range anywhere from a verbal disturbance to an active shooter at a school. 

One benefit to this type of program is sound: Officers are in a virtual setting, with people screaming, yelling, crying, alarms going off, etc.  Based upon how the officer reacts to what is presented, the training officer can select a range of responses that are built into the scenario. 

What is even better is that there’s a laser built into the firearms that are used for the program that are able to show the officer’s shot placement while under stress.

After the Parkland school shooting, I had the opportunity to watch school administrators go through active shooting event simulations.  The mindset for providing this to them was to give them an idea of what a real situation would be like, God forbid, it happens in our area. 

Everyone that went through the training commented on how realistic it was and how they never expected it to happen as quickly.  Two of the administrators were brought to tears.

While it’s impossible to determine all possible outcomes a person will have when confronted with the possibility of being arrested or some other negative contact with law enforcement, this type of training certainly offers many potential reactions.

This is exceptionally good training, and a great tool for officers. Requiring annual de-escalation training would be preferred in order to keep officer’s skills up. Remember, these are perishable skills, and we are talking about officers making decisions under stress.


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