Dangerous confrontations drive growth of de-escalation training for police

Uses of force by police, particularly officer-involved shootings, have led to a growing scrutiny of conduct and training. Saturday night’s viral incident involving a Metro Transit police officer illustrates that scrutiny.

And while the expanded use of body-worn cameras has been one response by area police departments, another is increased attention on police training in de-escalation techniques.

Cellphone cameras captured some of the encounter — in which an officer used a stun gun on a man at the U Street station — and at least one video recording was posted on social media.

Police say the man was interfering with officers who had been dealing with juveniles accused of disorderly conduct. On Monday afternoon, however, a spokesperson from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia told WTOP the man was released and not charged.

Without commenting on Saturday’s incident, former Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, a senior associate with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said that some officers have a knack at calming volatile situations but that all officers can be trained in de-escalation.

“I think it definitely is a trainable skill. In recruiting new police officers, one of the things you look at is their ability to communicate effectively with other people,” Manger said.

Manger instituted de-escalation training when he headed the Montgomery County Police Department, and the lessons are integrated into many of the courses at the police academy.

“I think that any police department that is keeping up with current events would know that this is vital training,” Manger said.

De-escalation training aims to lessen the volatility of encounters and reduce the use of force. But Manger points out that de-escalation is a two-way street, requiring the willingness of the other participant in the encounter to reduce tensions.

“De-escalation skills don’t always work no matter how good you are at it,” Manger said, “I think the public needs to understand that there are times that despite best efforts police cannot control the outcome of every single situation,” he said.

The Metro Transit Police Department opened an internal investigation into Saturday’s arrest, it said, because of concerns raised on social media as well as the appropriateness of the use of force. And one D.C. Councilmember, Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1, is asking the Metro Transit Police Department to remove the officer who used the stun gun.

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