COOLING THE ROOM

Po­lice demon­strate de-es­ca­la­tion tech­niques used in field

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY LISA MAKSON

The Fair­fax County Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy this week­end opened its doors to re­porters to show them what it’s like to serve as a po­lice of­fi­cer in a va­ri­ety of sce­nar­ios, such as a traf­fic stop or a bar room dis­pute.

“[O]ne of the big­gest fac­tors in get­ting pub­lic trust is get­ting pub­lic un­der­stand­ing,” Fair­fax County Po­lice 2nd Lt. Daniel Pang told the jour­nal­ists at the academy in Chan­tilly. “If they un­der­stand why we’re do­ing what we’re do­ing, it will make sense to them, and they will trust that we did the right thing.”

Po­lice Pfc. Mon­ica Meeks noted that many driv­ers likely worry about be­ing pulled over by po­lice, but she said that of­fi­cers are just as con­cerned about traf­fic stops.

Af­ter traf­fic ac­ci­dents and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence calls, “traf­fic stops are the thirdlead­ing cause of po­lice fa­tal­i­ties,” Pfc. Meeks said.

Be­fore go­ing out to the academy’s back lot to carry out a mock traf­fic stop, re­porters learned how to safely con­duct one, such as know­ing when and where to pull the car over and how to po­si­tion the po­lice cruiser so it won’t kill you if it’s struck by a pass­ing car.

“Of­fi­cers never know who or what they’re go­ing to en­counter dur­ing a traf­fic stop,” Lt. Pang said. “When you start treat­ing a traf­fic stop as some­thing rou­tine, rou­tine kills.”

WTOP Ra­dio re­porter Kathy Ste­wart said she felt “un­easy” and “on edge” dur­ing her traf­fic stop be­cause “there’s too much stuff go­ing on. I had no con­trol.”

“You need to have 360-de­gree aware­ness,” said WTOP an­chor John Aaron. “You’re wor­ried that the driver in the stopped car could be dan­ger­ous, but you can’t for­get that there would be traf­fic zip­ping by too. It’s a lot to jug­gle.”

Lt. Pang said of­fi­cers usu­ally en­counter rude and ar­gu­men­ta­tive driv­ers who un­leash a ver­bal bar­rage be­cause they have been stopped.

Every re­porter failed to no­tice weapons — a loaded semi-au­to­matic hand­gun or a knife — in plain view dur­ing their mock traf­fic stops.

“The pub­lic of­ten thinks we’re be­ing too ag­gres­sive,” mo­tor­cy­cle pa­trol Pfc. Mark Pol­lard said. “We just want to go home safely to our fam­i­lies at the end of the day.”

Re­porters also learned how of­fi­cers use de-es­ca­la­tion tech­niques to help “an armed sub­ject in cri­sis” to pre­vent in­jury to any­one. Of­fi­cers em­ploy “soft” skills, like em­pa­thy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, to dif­fuse a po­ten­tially vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tion.

The key, Pfc. Tawny Wright said, is be­ing “em­pa­thetic” and “try­ing to fig­ure out what brought [them] to this point.” If no crime has been com­mit­ted, of­fi­cers can re­fer the in­di­vid­ual to com­mu­nity ser­vices such as coun­sel­ing for as­sis­tance.

Pfc. Wright noted that mil­len­nial re­cruits have a steep learn­ing curve be­cause they lack face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills, hav­ing been “glued to their cell­phones” and com­mu­ni­cat­ing via text or so­cial me­dia apps.

For the de-es­ca­la­tion ex­er­cise, re­porters went to “Prac­ti­cal Way,” a Hol­ly­wood-like set with a pizze­ria, deli, bar, bar­ber­shop and apart­ments, where vol­un­teer ac­tors who have at­tended the po­lice depart­ment’s 10-week Ci­ti­zen’s Po­lice Academy go full-throt­tle in test­ing re­cruits’ de-es­ca­la­tion tech­niques and self-de­fense skills.

Dur­ing his de-es­ca­la­tion ex­er­cise, Sun Gazette re­porter Brian Trompeter said he was “scared” and had dif­fi­culty con­vers­ing with a drunk (Michael Per­sico) in Leo’s Bar who was armed with a ham­mer and re­fused to leave.

Pfc. Wright took over the ex­er­cise and demon­strated how to de-es­ca­late.

“Do you know you scared off all of the cus­tomers and the owner called us?” she said in a friendly tone to the drunken ham­mer-holder. “Are you OK? Is some­thing both­er­ing you?”

Some­times it doesn’t work. WTOP’s Mr. Aaron noted how “just our pres­ence as ‘of­fi­cers’ could es­ca­late things. You’re not your­self, you’re just the ‘po­lice.’ I was sur­prised at how hes­i­tant I was to pull my ‘weapon.’ It would not have ended well for me in the real world.”

When this hap­pens, an of­fi­cer must quickly de­cide the ap­pro­pri­ate level of force nec­es­sary to get “armed sub­ject in cri­sis” to com­ply, po­lice in­struc­tors said.

“If an of­fi­cer’s life, his part­ner’s life or the pub­lic is in dan­ger, then we must act,” Lt. Pang said.

LISA MAKSON/SPECIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Sun Gazette Re­porter Brian Trompeter, in the role of an of­fi­cer, en­coun­ters ac­tor Michael Per­sico, in the role of a po­ten­tial an­tag­o­nist, in a de-es­ca­la­tion sce­nario at the Fair­fax County Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Academy in Chan­tilly this past week­end.

FAIR­FAX COUNTY PO­LICE DEPART­MENT

Po­lice staged sev­eral sce­nar­ios with jour­nal­ists to help them bet­ter un­der­stand the dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions of­fi­cers some­times face out in pub­lic.

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