De-escalation and implicit bias in the law
Updated: Oct 20
During the Summer of 2020, the nation saw increased protests and civil unrest throughout the country, which have led some to call it the largest protest in history, with upwards of 26 million people fighting for social justice. These people were marching for the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Brandon Gardner, Desmon Franklin, and many more Black people lost to police violence. Increased protests have paved the way for increased discussion about de-escalation training, implicit bias training, and accountability measures not just in the police force but in all areas of the criminal justice system.
On January 6, 2021, the nation also watched as hundreds of right-winged extremists stormed the United States Capitol. However, this was not an event that occurred instantaneously; it had been planned for months. Reports by the Department of Homeland Security showed a “heightened threat” nearing election season. The FBI reportedly received materials regarding violence towards lawmakers from the New York Police Department, and two days before the attack, a far-right extremist was arrested in D.C. with high-capacity firearm magazines. The FBI also received reports of pipe bombs and weapons outside the Republican National Committee. As the insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, they smashed windows and doors, forcing the House and Senate members to go into hiding. While insurrectionists were entering the Capitol, the National Guard was not called until hours after they were requested.
Throughout the day, the American people saw various de-escalation techniques at play. They saw the calculations police officers made to both keep the peace and prevent people from being injured. Video footage shows police making calculated decisions based on the crowds and the need to keep the peace, allowing the insurgents to march closer to where Congress members were hiding. These videos showed the world that police officers already have the tools they need to prevent unnecessary violence when interacting with unruly civilians.
Recent studies have shown that de-escalation training is one of the most requested training by police departments. Many studies also suggest that de-escalation training works to decrease police violence and deaths. However, these studies are largely dependent on self-reporting rather than observations from the individual police departments. For this reason, it is crucial to understand that de-escalation training is not the solution to our current problems. Why? Because de-escalation has not been standardized or defined in any way by any police department. There are over 18,000 police departments, yet, there have been no efforts to standardize de-escalation or use-of-force training. Without such standardization, there is no clear answer as to what de-escalation is, when to use it, and when not to. Additionally, even in departments that have implemented wide-spread training, there has been no evidence that the training even works.
If the confusing state de-escalation training is not enough, let’s look at some examples. In 2020, footage of various protests throughout the country showed us how Black and Brown bodies were brutalized, beaten, and arrested by the police. Ironically, we also saw groups of white, right-wing people protesting against mask mandates and the election results, which led to the Capitol being stormed—all without those same images of police brutality and violence. The solution is not just de-escalation training but accountability mandates and decreased police duties. Focusing on de-escalation training only allows police departments to continue to request budget increases without any real change. More efforts are needed.
With stricter accountability practices, there would be a new culture in police departments that would value the community over their co-workers. Accountability practices include creating reporting systems, supervisory levels, and disciplinary measures and sanctions. Creating these practices would encourage officers to report inappropriate behavior and allow corrective measures to educate and re-train police officers.
One of the problems with de-escalation training is that it occurs after an incident or after initial police training. De-escalation training is not an integral part of everything police officers learn to become officers but is instead something often taught afterward. De-escalation training as an afterthought does not create a culture where police officers feel comfortable reporting inappropriate behavior to successfully protect their community. It instead promotes a work environment where police officers feel attacked for appropriate behavior and where de-escalation and is viewed as an afterthought.
Additionally, decreased roles for the police department would lead to less overworking of police officers. Former police officer Kyle Kazan once said that “[l]aw enforcement is the dumping ground” when talking about why people call the police. Instead of wasting more resources training police officers on mental health issues, domestic violence, and child services, a better allocation of resources would help create a system where people from the community can more quickly access the resources they need from people other than law enforcement. Creating larger budgets for social workers or outreach workers would help connect the right resources to the appropriate people.
Lack of training is not the sole cause of police brutality. Some police departments require their officers to have mental health training, domestic violence training, de-escalation training, and implicit bias seminars, yet the problems persist. The problem is how police departments are structured and what we expect them to do. Calls for increased training only allow police departments to continue requesting budget increases and more leniency as they implement policies that have proven futile. It is no longer enough. For years, police departments have been given the time to act, and what was seen this year on national television shows that police officers know how to act, know how to de-escalate, and know how to limit the loss of life; just not when it comes to Black life.