The Truth About De-escalation

The Truth About De-escalation

De-escalation.  Now more than ever, It’s one of the most frequently used terms when discussing officer/citizen encounters. Over the last several years, politicians, activists, the media, and maybe even your grandmother have been using the term.  There have been increased demands nationally to train officers on de-escalation, but what is it they are really asking for?  Many believe de-escalation training will effectively end the need for police to use force.  Many believe that all people can be “de-escalated” and many believe that if people are not “de-escalated”, the police officer somehow must have failed. Many people are simply wrong.

There are three fundamental truths about de-escalation that should guide any discussion on the topic.  Unfortunately, these “truths” are not readily accepted by those who have never had to personally deal with violent people in crisis.  Their worldview simply doesn’t align with reality.

Truth #1:

De-escalation is an outcome; it’s a result.  It’s not a specific technique or tactic.  De-escalation cannot be measured solely on whether an officer used force or not.  There are times when the application of reasonable force is the only way to “de-escalate”  a situation.  Consider the example of an active shooter.  Officers enter an active shooter situation where a gunman is actively in the process of taking innocent lives.  The only way to “de-escalate” that situation might be through the use of deadly force.

Truth #2:

When uninformed people talk about de-escalation, they often ask “why didn’t the officer de-escalate” that person?  The simple answer is because people cannot be “de-escalated”.  It’s not a verb; it’s not something you can DO to someone.  What we CAN do in many circumstances is create enough discretionary time to have people calm themselves down and help them get the services they need.  The most important part of these types of encounters is to determine “what do they need” and use tools, tactics, and timing to help them get the needed resources.

Truth #3:

De-escalation cannot be guaranteed.  All officers can do is utilize de-escalation strategies to achieve the best possible outcome.  However, the reality is that some people will not de-escalate themselves, regardless of how much we communicate with them and provide them options.  Anyone who claims that their de-escalation strategies work in ALL circumstances are selling a load of crap.

We created De-escalation: Strategies for Best Possible Outcomes, with these truths in mind.  Our program recognizes the realities of dealing with people in crisis in the field and not in a clinical environment.  Our approach strives to increase both officer safety and public safety at the same time.  To learn more about our 8 hour end user course or our 24 hour Train-The-Trainer Course, please contact our Training Coordinator Anne Bostain at or at 1-833-LE-TRAIN (833-538-7246).

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