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How simulation training can lead to better contact outcomes

Virtual simulators with de-escalation scenarios where officers must “talk down” a potentially violent suspect can greatly enhance new recruits’ verbal de-escalation skills


Before most new police officers are set free to take calls on their own, they’ll be assigned to a Field Training Officer (FTO). The assumption is that graduating from the police academy means that officers have learned the basic skills needed to safely do their jobs protecting the community and themselves, so the FTO should be able to watch and offer post-contact advice.

By the time an FTO is assigned, an officer has passed a psych test, understands the application of the law, has powers of arrest, and knows the proper use of force order including the escalating use of non-lethal devices such as a baton, tear gas, Pepperball or TASER if possible before moving to their firearm.

If an interaction starts going south, the FTO can interject themselves. But some situations, like domestic disturbance response, can go south too quickly for an FTO to save the day. And that’s why successful simulator-based de-escalation training during or after the police academy, and throughout a cop’s career, is so important.

Several stories in the news have pointed out that newly minted officers may not have been given de-escalation training, or if they were, they didn’t have the “gift of gab” so essential to talk down a suspect using the lessons presented. And with an increasing public desire to reduce risks for officers and citizens alike, the ability to de-escalate a situation truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

How important is de-escalation training? A survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum makes it apparent that most command staff haven’t gotten the memo. The survey shows that use of force averages eight hours while the more important de-escalation training gets one. In fact, one officer charged with fatally restraining a suspect behaved so bizarrely during multiple virtual training exercises that the state’s police academy warned the hiring department about him but was ignored.

Watching some of the officer contact videos on the Internet has got to make you wonder what the cop was thinking. Sure, the suspect was getting in their face, but this is where our man or woman in blue needs to back away, check their ego at the door and use the right words, spoken in the right manner, to calm the situation – or at least earn compliance. Unfortunately, not all of them are equipped with the ability to articulate their thoughts effectively and confidently.

So how do we help cops under stress stay calm, and use the right words with the right tone of voice and the right body language? You’re probably a step ahead of me here thinking, “Don’t we have a simulator somewhere in the agency?” Yeah, you probably do, and it probably has a handful of realistic scenarios, with branching outcomes – from offices to schools, jails, traffic stops and domestics.

Virtual simulators with de-escalation scenarios where officers must “talk down” a potentially violent suspect can greatly enhance new recruits’ verbal de-escalation skills. The best simulators have wrap-around screens, support virtual weapons and have scenarios that can branch into different follow-ups based on what the trainee says and does. The idea is to place your trainees into this immersive environment and give them realistic training that can heighten their awareness and proper use of force responses.

When a trainee watches a recording of their responses the first time through, it is something like a child hearing their voice on a recorder for the first time. “Did I really do that!?” Yes, you really did.

Simply going through the motions is not acceptable. Trainees need to be run through varied situations multiple times – and if they are not saying the right words and going through the necessary steps, repeat the training until they are.

If an officer either cannot take objective feedback on their performance or doesn’t accept that they are doing something wrong, you might put a cop on the street who will bring you grief (and perhaps a lawsuit) later.

But with the right attitude and successful training, your cops will be more prepared to deal with extremely stressful scenarios in the future. And that’s like money in the bank.

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Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.