Research shows ‘de-escalation’ policies place officers at higher risk for injury, death

Image credit: Miami Dade Police Department.

The chair of the criminal justice department of Madison College says the research he conducted for his master’s thesis shows de-escalation policies are a valuable tool in an officer’s toolbox, but argues they’re not the best tool.

De-escalation policies require officers to slow things down and attempt to lessen or avoid force on all calls.

“The agencies without de-escalation policies, the number of officers killed and assaulted were dramatically lower than the agencies with de-escalation policies in place,” Brian Landers, author of the study tells WISC-TV.

Landers’ study looked at metropolitan law enforcement agencies around the country; some have de-escalation policies while others do not.  It used data from more than 75,000 officers over a five-year period.

“I’ve had officers tell me that they are forced with decisions out on the street that go against every facet of training and instinct of officer safety from fear they are going to be disciplined because the policy is telling them that they should not use force,” Landers tells WISC-TV.

Landers, a former police officer, says de-escalation techniques have always been used in the past, but says the current trend to make them the No. 1 consideration is not the best way to go.

“They are dealing with people that are high on heroin and fentanyl.  They are dealing with a wide variety of other types of mental illness and alcoholism where people are raging, violent and uncontrollable,” Landers tells WISC-TV.

Although studies conducted by police in the past make claims these policies increase officer safety, Landers argues to the contrary.

“Overall an officer working in a de-escalation agency, by my study, was twice as likely to be killed in the line of duty and 10 times more likely to be injured in the line of duty,” Landers tells WISC-TV.

“Hopefully my research is going to be a call for policymakers to strongly look at any type of policy that they have and make sure that their policies are not threatening their own officers.”

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One comment

  1. There is no evidence that de-escalation policies place officers at higher risk for injury or death. There is no published, peer-reviewed research showing any causal connection or correlation between the existence of de-escalation policies and officer injuries and death. Mr. Landers report presents data that shows only that an increase in officer injuries and deaths occurred around the same time their agencies changed use of force polices to require use of de-escalation techniques. The data shows the two things occurred at the same time and nothing more. There is no statistical analysis or proof that the policy change caused or is related to the increase in injuries and death and the report clearly states that other factors which might influenced the conclusions were not examined. The report’s conclusions, therefore, lack the rigor of a robust analysis and are erroneous in finding that one and only one factor, de-escalation policies, caused an increase in officer injuries and deaths.

    We should all agree that there is no sense in policies that mandate officers to employ de-escalation techniques in all situations. PERF’s desire for a national policy on de-escalation is highly unlikely to occur. Clear and present dangers require officers to take necessary actions which may or may not include de-escalation techniques and there should never be a commandment to attempt to de-escalate a person pointing a gun at an officer. The choice to do so should always remain with the officer who can evaluate the totality of circumstances.

    An interview with Mr. Landers, found at http://www.channel3000.com/news/research-shows-de-escalation-policies-put-officer-safety-at-risk/605278919 clearly shows that he believes de-escalation is a very valuable tool but he also believes that requiring all officers to use it as the first tool on every call is inappropriate. As a law enforcement de-escalation trainer, attorney and criminal justice professor of 20 years, I concur. Mr. Landers is an accomplished officer and instructor (not the chair of the CJ Dept as stated in the article) at Madison Technical College. His report is a project required for a master’s degree and is not, as stated, a thesis that would have been much more rigorously researched and vetted to reveal its significant issues in both methodology and conclusions.

    Peer-reviewed published articles from criminal justice researchers are the gold standard for drawing evidence based conclusions. Two such articles, each examining how changes in policy relating to use of force impacted officers and departments, could be seen to contradict Mr. Landers’ report. A 2016 study published in Police Quarterly titled “Do Changes in TASER Use Policy Affect Police Officer Injury Rates?” found policy changes restricting the use of TASERS resulted in slightly increased officer injuries in some districts as well as a decrease in officer injuries in other districts within the same major department. The authors concluded “[p]erhaps the most important revelation in these results is that if the change in DPD TASER policy did influence officer injuries, the effect appears to vary between patrol divisions.” Womak, Morris & Bishopp, p.429. Policy does matter in lowering injury rates to both officers and the public. Terrill and Paoline showed in “Police Use of Less Lethal Force: Does Administrative Policy Matter?” Justice Quarterly (2016) that policies can make a significant difference in use of force and that strong policies backed by training can result in less use of force and injuries and better police-public relations.

    There is a real policy issue that needs to be researched here: how can departments improve policies, training and officer interactions with angry individuals and avoid use of force? Toward that end, sound research and evidence based de-escalation training that fits with existing use of force models is essential. Law enforcement agencies should invest in validated, research-based de-escalation training with proven results and acceptance. See http://www.de-escalate.org for law enforcement de-escalation training that is research and evidence based and supported by independent university evaluation.

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