Ariel Jenkins (Director – Risk Control, Safety National), Randy Jacoby (Senior Risk Management Consultant, Midlands), and Dax Salmon (Litigation Case Manager, OSS Law Enforcement Advisors) presented this session on confronting the reality of police-resident contacts, clarifying responsibility, and highlighting best practices regarding safety and risk management for all involved at the 2019 PRIMA Annual Conference.
There is a long list of stakeholders in these seemingly small interactions which elevates the visibility and ultimately impact to communities and the national conversation on this topic.
Ariel shared that as law-abiding citizens, we have an obligation to make sure law enforcement does not perceive us as an imminent threat. It’s common that we all want to be safe but not common that we all know how to keep safe.
Dax talked through the question of is de-escalation common sense? About 90% of all crisis situations are emotionally driven. 10% are president aged and are intended to create a confrontation, commit succeed, or take another’s life. Officers have no real way of knowing what they are coming in to, the context of the situation, or what the outcome will be.
The panel shared a video of an interaction of a single officer responding to a vehicle accident that seemed to be routine but escalated into an attacking posture from a civilian, weapon draw from the officer, and arrival of backup with deployment of taser. The audience talked with Dax about the perception of the situation, whether the officer was the cause of the escalation, the response and aggression of the civilian and other differing impressions of the interaction. Considered by the audience after review of the video were:
- Could you determine what the subject was suffering from? Drugs, alcohol, mental illness, etc.
- Was the victim helpful in providing information?
- Why was he asking to get shot, and showing aggression to the officer?
- Were the officers using good de-escalation techniques?
Law Enforcement Policies & Procedures: Have you had an objective review or assessment? Make sure your departments are trained on updated best practices as the legal standards change with court decisions. Dax explained the importance of having a documented policy that is constitutional and deploying training on that policy.
Dax mentioned that civilian contact with police offers are on the decline, about 20% reduction since 2015, but the cost of liability has skyrocketed. The 10 largest cities paid out $248.7 million in settlements last year.
Graham v Connor is the controlling standard for use of force, de-escalation of force in the United States. Specifically the Supreme Court set a standard of objective reasonableness, essentially what any reasonable officer (not civilian) would do in similar circumstances. Scott v Harris is a related decision that sets a standard regarding threat to the general public. Any current use of force policy or de-escalation technique training should align with these decisions.
What is appropriate use of force? When do officers typically get themselves in trouble? Randy discussed that the key is training: under pressure you do not sink to the level of the occasion, you sink to the level of training. Highest level of force will meet the highest level of resistance.
Dax talked through some tips on how Risk Managers can evaluate and discuss to help engage officers on de-escalation which include:
- Remove your ego
- Improve verbal skills and be positive
- Think ahead of the curve
- Communicate respectfully
- Do not assume or pre-judge
- Pay attention to your body language
- Keep plenty of distance
- Recognize your limits
- recognize your mood
- Work at remaining calm
- Don’t get to comfortable
- Practice your skills
There are resources for the general public including civilian interaction training. Texas has what they call the Community Safety Education Act which combines civilian and officer training on civilian/officer interactions. Programs for high school combined with driver education include behavioral training on conducting themselves when stopped by the police and their rights during that interaction. Officers have a compatible required training program. TSP made 2.2 million traffic stops in 2018 and 1.5 million ended in a simple warning.
Session takeaways for Risk Managers:
- Officers are carrying a heavy load with demands they enforce the law, assess and respond to medical and mental needs
- Force actions and defense strategy must be rooted in Graham & Scott court decisions
- Force models used in training are reasonable officer at the scene driven
- Officer skills in verbal, body language, and better use of time is the key to de-escalation
- Policies should be current and trained on
- Advocate for more civilian education on traffic stops and police interactions in your local communities