Lately I’ve noticed ivory tower critics of police have latched onto the phrase “de-escalation” as a means to demonize officers every time they use force to subdue a resisting suspect. This article will hopefully educate people as to what police are actually trained to do, as it’s clear that most of the people using this phrase as a rhetorical weapon haven’t the foggiest clue what they’re talking about.
To begin, the phrase itself is a problematic misnomer. It implies that police have the ability to simply make angry people less angry or to make resisting suspects compliant, all through some kind of jedi mind trick or something.
As much as we would all love to have that ability, we don’t. Here’s the reality about police work. It’s almost entirely reactionary, especially as it pertains to making arrests. The police don’t decide whether a suspect will resist arrest or not, the arrestee does.
For example, if you comply and put your hands behind your back, I put the handcuffs on and all is well. If you refuse to do that and simply make your arms rigid or sit down on the ground, now I have to react to that and try to force your arm behind your back or pick you up off the ground. If you then take a swing at me, I swing back, or I might use pepper spray or a taser. If you pull a knife, I pull a gun. If you pull a gun, I pull a gun and I shoot. Everything I do is in response to your decisions to either comply or ignore lawful orders. I can try to talk you into making different decisions and complying with lawful commands but the decision still rests with the arrestee, we can’t control their decisions.
The law allows officers to use enough force to effect an arrest. So if the force required to effect that arrest includes taking you off your feet, striking you in the face, hitting you with a baton, using the Taser, etc. then that’s what we’ll do. We love it when people simply comply and put their hands behind their back. Makes our jobs so much easier, eliminates the possibility of either party being injured or killed, and saves us a bunch of extra paperwork.
As I mentioned, de-escalation is a misnomer. All it really means is that we are trained not to make a bad situation worse by being unnecessarily antagonistic or immediately going “hands on” before giving someone the opportunity for compliance.
Look, I’m as big of a fan of verbal Judo as you’ll find. I’d always rather talk a man into cuffs than have to fight him into cuffs. But that decision isn’t up to us, it’s up to the arrestee. Make no mistake though, we will make that arrest and we will use whatever force is necessary to do so. We are duty bound to do it with most offenses.
Here’s another misconception about de-escalation. Ivory tower critics have this idea in their mind that officers are supposed to be passive, limp wristed counselors who never raise their voice, who allow the arrestee to dictate the terms of their arrest, who will only use force if force is first used on them, etc. This is nonsense. It’s not taught in police academies.
We are law enforcement officers. We enforce law. We are peace keepers. We keep the peace, if that means using force to make a situation peaceful then we do it. Are there situations where officers should take a little more time to talk someone into cuffs instead of fighting them into cuffs? Sure, but we are not obligated by law to do so, and the fact remains that a resisting suspect’s decision to resist arrest is still on them. We are not required to sit and chat for hours on end in the hopes that someone will comply.
In fact at times the lack of decisive action can make a situation worse. Watch this video and note that the first officers that show up are attempting what ivory tower critics would praise as a good attempt at de-escalation. They aren’t really using much if any force other than the poor female officer who was powerless to control a group of women fighting. They aren’t raising their voices, they aren’t giving orders, they’re basically passive observers. They can’t even get the people to stop talking and getting in each other’s faces long enough to try to figure out what happened. And the situation is still chaotic. The situation is escalated, if you will. People are still on the verge of fighting, people are still in danger, weapons could be pulled at a moment’s notice and people could be killed.
Then watch what happens when the supervisor arrives does the opposite of what critics suggest. He has a commanding presence, he has loud, clear commands, and he demonstrates that he is ready to use force if necessary by brandishing a Taser. And look at the result. The situation is de-escalated. All of the chaos and fighting stops. People are no longer in danger of being punched, stabbed or shot. Yes, they are on the ground when they might prefer not to be, but they are safe and so are the officers. De-escalation doesn’t always mean being soft and trying to be understanding, sometimes it’s letting people know you mean business. (language warning)
Now that one had a peaceful ending, but this next video has a much more tragic ending. I never want to bring disrespect to a fallen officer, but I do want to use his situation as a learning experience. (language warning)
Deputy Dinkheller did what most ivory tower critics would praise today as good attempts at de-escalation. He’s dealing with a Vietnam veteran who has PTSD. Critics would say he’s not a hardened criminal but someone who has mental illness and just needs some help.
Dinkheller asked and pleaded with the man to obey lawful commands. When the man went back to his truck and began loading a rifle Dinkheller still did not shoot. He continued to try to de-escalate and told the man multiple times to drop the gun even after the man said “No!” and continued to get the rifle ready. The noises you hear in the final seconds of the video are Deputy Dinkheller’s final breaths as he tries to breathe through lungs filling with blood. Situations like this are the inevitable result of the push to de-escalate that which cannot be de-escalated.
Please, if you have no experience as an officer, refrain from using phrases like “he should have de-escalated.” I understand that you don’t want to see force used against citizens, and as I said I don’t know of an officer yet who would rather fight a guy or shoot a guy than talk him into handcuffs, but you speak from a place of ignorance and your naive assumptions don’t do anything but make officers second guess themselves which puts everyone in more danger.