“De-escalation” in the context of law enforcement refers to an officer’s ability to take the initiative to stabilize a situation without the use of force. This includes reducing the immediacy of a situation so that more time, options, and resources are available to resolve a variety of high-risk scenarios. It’s also the focus of a recently introduced U.S. Senate bill that seeks to change law enforcement training.
The proposed Law Enforcement De-Escalation Training Act of 2022 (S.4003) is the next big step forward in de-escalation training for front line officers. The bill passed the Senate in August. It has not moved in the House.
If the bill passes the House and is signed into law by President Biden, it will provide additional training resources for law enforcement agencies. These resources include a virtual reality training course to train officers on how they should leverage de-escalation techniques in the field. Ultimately, the goal is to give officers greater knowledge and improve police de-escalation tactics.
The proposed law specifically calls for de-escalation instruction to include scenario-based training, also commonly referred to as reality-based training. Within these digital scenarios, officers are put into near real-world experiences that include simulated suspects, citizens, injuries, and weapons. Within reality-based training, officers can physically move, give commands, and take action. The intention is that through the training, officers will gain the knowledge and best practices needed for when they encounter a similar situation in real life.
During my 25 years in law enforcement, the idea of implementing scenarios into a training program evolved. While video simulation machines have been around for many years, early versions were clunky and expensive, and they were hard to come by except for the largest agencies. As technology improves, along with the addition of wearable virtual reality hardware, these training tools continue to push the envelope of helping officers and deputies to “experience” dynamic, stress-inducing scenarios in a safe, learning environment. However, perhaps even more important than the improvement of these amazing VR setups is the acceptance that scenario-based training, no matter how elaborate, should become a standard and vital part of any department’s training program. A simple scenario-based training environment, with minimal equipment and one or two role players, can be enough for officers to gain experience going through the decision-making process. So much about de-escalation is about slowing things down when possible and going through a decision-making process with the idea of safety—everyone’s safety—in mind.
The proposed law also calls for the Department of Justice to create grants for law enforcement to fund costs. Additionally, it requires mental health professionals from local organizations to maintain relationships between officers, which will help support departments in their efforts to implement better mental health crisis response. The goal is to better prepare professionals to calmly and safely handle varying types of mental health incidents. This would affect the ways many people who are transient or struggling with addiction are treated when intervention is required for public safety. Overall, this bill prioritizes the mental and physical wellbeing of not only the professionals dispatched to a scene but also potential victims and assailants.
Reporting is another key element of this bill. For example, the results of the training will be reported to ensure the efficacy of training provided. The bill demonstrates the importance of not only funding but also following through on impactful de-escalation training efforts. The importance of implementing effective training cannot be underestimated.
The proposed bill will provide an extra layer of protection, precaution, and safety for both the officers and citizens involved in any scenario. However, the question remains: how will the new law, if passed, impact not only law enforcement agencies but the service providers that bear the responsibility of providing efficient and effective training modules? When a law enforcement agency partners with a training software provider, the overarching goal is to help its officers continuously improve within their roles. Police agencies depend on their technology partners to provide relevant technology solutions, including online training software, for instruction, completion monitoring, and compliance verification.
First responders are known as the experts in serving their communities. For this reason, safety and training service providers must supply officers with tools and educational resources they can rely on. As a result, upon the contingent passage of the bill, digital training software that lacks the resources needed to educate and train law enforcement agencies will have to quickly adapt and update their programs to comply with the latest rules and regulations.
In addition, there are supplementary aspects of this bill that must be addressed along with the primary focus on de-escalation techniques. Legal updates and current court cases that reevaluate the required obligations toward persons of interest, as well as department policies on topics such as lethal weapon usage, are all contributing factors service providers must acknowledge in revised training modules. In an effort to arm their customers with the best-in-class training materials, especially as it relates to de-escalation, it is essential that suppliers stay informed on evolving mandates and that they are then implemented into their products.
The Vector Solutions learning management system (LMS), TargetSolutions edition, guarantees employees are receiving the effective training needed to excel within their jobs and to monitor that departments are in compliance with any federal, state, or local mandates.
Within the LMS, tests are administered in order to determine officers’ knowledge and understanding of current policies and lessons. De-escalation is a growing expectation among communities. Non-physical methods of handling situations will become the norm and it is up to police agency leaders to portray this message internally in an effort to hold their officers accountable.
The de-escalation bill is designed to ensure safety and accountability for all parties. It will push agencies to reevaluate their training practices as a whole and help to reimagine outdated tactics previously used in emergencies. In fact, many agencies across the U.S have already moved toward implementing scenario-based training into their current training plans, taking into account how people experiencing mental health crises, barricaded subjects, or domestic violence suspects can influence de-escalation methods. Training software providers must have a common goal when delivering the instructional content—ensuring that law enforcement officers work safer, smarter, and better, not only for the sake of their agencies but also for the well-being of the communities they serve.
Doug Kazensky is a solutions engineer at Vector Solutions, and a former police sergeant who served for 25-plus years.