Excessive Force Prevention Training Not Mandatory For Most Police

Excessive Force Prevention Training Not Mandatory For Most Police

12:34pm May 16, 2017
Officer Jennifer Lazarchic at a police training session in March 2016. Credit: Courtney Perry for MPR News/APM Reports

A new report shows that not all police are getting trained in how to minimize use of force. An investigative team from American Public Media found that 34 states do not have mandatory de-escalation training.

De-escalation training teaches officers techniques like keeping their distance from suspects, improving communication, and learning how to buy time to slow down a confrontation.

Curtis Gilbert was lead reporter on the story. During his research he became interested in a case involving an unarmed man who was causing a disturbance at a store in Arlington, Georgia. Once police arrived on the scene, it took 35 seconds from first contact before the man was shot. His name was Darry Touchtone. You can read the full account here.

Curtis Gilbert spoke with WFDD’s Eddie Garcia about the case, and what is and isn't being done to avoid deadly shootings by officers. "One of the things that we learned through the course of our reporting is that traditional, old school police training was that officers were taught: you ask someone to do something, you tell them to do something, and then you make them. And ‘make them’ means use physical force."

Interview Highlights

What do the experts say?

What people who teach de-escalation training say though is that everyone could benefit from some formal instruction in this. And if you think about it, officers spend so much time training in how to shoot their weapons, and they spend relatively little time in learning techniques to avoid shooting their weapons. And perhaps the experts would argue there's an imbalance there.

Does North Carolina have de-escalation training?

We did run into problems with trying to see how individual officers there were trained. [North Carolina’s] open records laws are not very favorable when it comes to looking at personnel records. You’re not alone - there are many states that shield the records of public employees from ‘sunshine laws.’ So we weren’t able to get a lot of detail on individual officer training. What we were able to get is the state requirements, and in North Carolina, they do not require officers to train in de-escalation. There’s also not a statewide database that tracks all the training that officers do. So those records are stored individually at every sheriff’s office and police department in the state.

On charting success:

There hasn’t been a great deal of research into the effectiveness of de-escalation training. Before The Washington Post and The Guardian started collecting data on police shootings in 2015, we really didn’t know how many people were shot by police every year. Turns out it’s 1,000 people a year. One thing that experts said to us was that if you see the number of unarmed people shot by police going down, that would be an indication that this de-escalation training is having an impact. But we just don’t have enough data to know that right now.

You can hear more from Curtis Gilbert on de-escalation training on a recent episode of Reveal, called “What Cops Aren’t Learning.”


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