Baltimore police hope that training recruits with de-escalation techniques will help regain the community’s trust after a difficult year.
In the wake of the George Floyd killing and other shootings, police departments across the nation are looking for ways to reform. According to a report from Business Insider, the BPD has implemented a new training protocol for recruits that mandates 16 hours of de-escalation training.
“De-escalation” refers to the use of nonviolent measures by police to defuse conflict before resorting to force. Before the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, which sparked massive protests, BPD recruits received 80 hours of defensive tactics training and 16 hours of baton training, but no special de-escalation training.
Following an investigation by the Department of Justice, BPD issued a “consent decree” for police to respect individuals’ constitutional rights, and mandated that officers learn de-escalation training. The decree read, “The purpose of this Agreement is to ensure that the City and BPD protect individuals’ statutory and constitutional rights, treat individuals with dignity and respect, and promote public safety in a manner that is fiscally responsible and responsive to community priorities.
According to Business Insider, BPD’s de-escalation training begins with watching a video of George Floyd’s death and discussing how as officers they would have handled the situation differently. Other sessions consist of roleplay scenarios featuring violent or suicidal subjects wielding a knife. The goal of the exercise is to calm the subject down while keeping an appropriate and safe distance, and if necessary, using non-deadly force like a taser to defuse the situation.
Former BPD police officer Angela Villaronga said, “At the end of the day, I do have a uniform. I do have a job to do. But killing you? That’s not a part of my job.”
To ensure that the consent decree is being upheld, community organizer Ray Kelly founded the Citizens Policing Project to ensure that Baltimore’s policing is at the appropriate standards, which includes minimizing the use of force. Referring to the old way of policing, he said, “That’s the American way — to use force. That’s how America became America.”
The article also referenced a recent survey from the Institute of Urban Research, which showed that more than 60% of respondents were not satisfied with their police department, and more than half had witnessed police use excessive force.
To what extent de-escalation training may be helpful is up for debate. A recent University of Cincinnati study found that de-escalation training helped Louisville police reduce use-of-force incidents by 28%, but there is still a lot of research to be done.
In any case, de-escalation training is a step in the right direction, and could be the beginning of a new relationship between BPD and residents.