The NYPD has added new training on how to de-escalate encounters with mentally ill individuals who are unarmed or armed with a weapon that is not a firearm.
The 35,000-strong NYPD will incorporate a new curriculum into their training: Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT). The program will emphasize de-escalation tactics, critical thinking skills and ways to identify people in a mental health or emotional crisis in order to reduce violent encounters.
First and foremost, the ICAT training rejects the tactic of meeting force with greater force (although it doesn’t apply in situations where someone has a gun).
The ICAT approach advises officers to move cautiously upon arrival and communicate more with dispatchers to obtain additional information before encountering the subject face-to-face. The training encourages communication and conversation with a subject rather than confronting them combatively, while advising officers to maintain a safe distance from the subject and wait for more resources instead of immediately attempting to arrest and detain. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit that advises on policing issues and which helped develop the training, also added modules to address “suicide by cop” with similar tactics, as well as methods to intervene when other officers are using inappropriate force.
Chuck Wexler, head of PERF, believes the new training “is going to change policing in the country.”
Wexler hopes the ICAT will reduce fatal police shootings against unarmed individuals. He noted that since 2015, 40% of fatal police shootings involved people who did not have a gun, and is hopeful that the training will reduce fatalities within the 40% of cases.
The training is designed specifically for these encounters so that officers can be calm and create a rapport with the person instead of resorting to deadly force.
Wexler believes that reforming police means changing the way they go about using force.
Wexler told the Washington Post, “If you want to get at the heart of police reform, it’s the use-of-force issue. It’s not about the homeless, or the schools or qualified immunity. It’s about all these ‘lawful but awful’ shootings, that 40 percent of people who don’t have guns. Cops are doing what they’re trained to do. And for New York, that’s a department that wants to be at the forefront.”
After the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, the NYPD changed its use-of-force training. It has also introduced a pilot program for a mental health expert response team to be used in certain 911 calls.
The NYPD said that while most encounters with the mentally ill do not result in the use of deadly force, the training will also provide tools to deal with more common and less intense situations.
NYPD Chief of Training and Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Corey said that the de-escalation tactics used in the training will be useful in all kinds of circumstances.
“While the main focus is on people in crisis, it’s also these same skills that apply to somebody who is argumentative perhaps on a traffic stop — now that traffic stop doesn’t escalate into a use of force,” he said. “These officers are able to apply these same communication skills, these same techniques … and lower the temperature.”
Corey also noted that while many officers operate under the assumption that not using force will get them killed, he noted that the opposite was true, and that avoiding force was a safer option for both parties involved.
“If we can reduce incidents in which we have to use force, it keeps everyone safer, not just the citizens but the officer. We’re not taking any tools out of the toolbox. We’re adding tools to it,” he said.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the country, raised their own concerns about the training and its effect on officer safety.
The FOP’s executive director Jim Pasco said, “We strongly support the concept of de-escalation, but the draconian degree to which PERF would have officers de-escalate poses a problem not just for officer safety but for public safety. It requires officers, rather than to minimize the threat, to prolong it in the hope the threat can be minimized. While that is sometimes true, there will always be circumstances where action needs to be taken. And that’s not necessarily the outcome PERF wants.”