How I used cover, space, time and calm to de-escalate a volatile situation
A combination of factors enabled talking down an agitated subject in possession of two knives
As part of Police1’s Institutional Knowledge Project, we asked readers to write about calls where they would have been justified to use deadly force but did not do so.
I responded to an unknown trouble call at a residence. Upon arrival, minimal information was available from the complainant, including denial of any weapons.
I located the subject seated at a kitchen table in possession of two large knives. The subject’s hands were cut and bleeding. The subject was yelling and threatening to kill me.
I remained outside the kitchen, drew my firearm, keeping it close to my chest yet pointed at the subject, and began speaking calmly to him. I did not yell at him, command him to put down the knives or escalate the situation. I just kept calmly speaking with him. I instructed my rookie trainee to call for assistance on the radio including TAC.
The subject tried to escalate the situation, yelling and threatening and calling names but he remained seated. I did advise him to remain where he was and he would not get hurt.
He did note partway through the encounter that my gun was pointed at him. I reassured him that as long as he remained where he was I would not hurt him as I was here to help him.
When TAC arrived and assessed the situation they reassured me and advised me to keep talking with the subject as he looked ready to give up.
When an ambulance arrived the subject recognized we were there to help him and he put down the knives and surrendered. He was taken to the hospital and treated for the cuts to his hands then brought back to the station for the processing of charges. At his sentencing hearing, the presiding judge commented on how fortunate he was that he didn’t get shot as the police were certainly justified in doing so.
How did you handle the situation?
My firearm was out but not prominently displayed, therefore was not the focus of attention. I calmly spoke with the subject while reassuring him that he wouldn’t be hurt as long as he just stayed where he was. No commands or demands were given for the subject to drop the knives. There was no yelling as I knew that would only escalate the situation.
Backup from TAC and other officers and EMS was requested with silent approach. I gained the subject’s trust that he would be helped not harmed. Cover, space, time and calm de-escalated a volatile situation.
Looking back, was there anything you would have done differently?
I have gone over this situation many times and strongly believe that I could not have done anything differently that would have resulted in the same outcome.
What lesson did you identify from this situation?
Read the situation and the person(s) involved and do not do anything to escalate the situation. If you can safely disengage, including protecting others involved, do so. If not, keep calm, emphasize you are here to help, not harm. Do not draw attention to your firearm but definitely have it out and at the ready.
Note: When our jurisdiction moved to a regulation that included shouting commands upon drawing a firearm I was very concerned that this would lead to instances where some situations would be escalated thereby leading to the use of deadly force. There is a time and place to issue commands upon drawing a firearm and there are times when the shouting and giving commands may not be appropriate. I used this calm approach in two more knife calls in my career and was fortunate in talking down the subject and negating harm.