20 Nov 2018
November 20, 2018

Word Of The Year – De-escalation

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For many in the world of law enforcement, the word of the year is “de-escalation”. This word has been thrown around so much this year that every time I hear it the words of Yogi Berra – “It’s déjà vu all over again.”


Photo credit to NY Daily Times

Entities like the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) have doubled down on the concept of de-escalation and many law enforcement officers are either angry, bewildered or not exactly sure what to make of it. So what’s to be done? Well, I’d like to take a stab at this. First let’s take a look at the actual word De-escalation. The Merriam Webster’s definition this word is as follows:

Definition of de-escalate:

intransitive verb

: to decrease in extent, volume, or scope violence began to de-escalate, Tried to de-escalate the tension

So let’s take that definition and talk about what it means to law enforcement on the street. Do you see anywhere in the definition it can only be verbal or “spoken” de-escalation? Me neither, so I am going to move forward with the idea there must be a physical component to it as well. Sure there is a verbal de-escalation process, systems and methods but what about the physical ones?                           

Let us say, for instance, a police officer responds to a domestic violence call at a residential location. Upon arrival at that location the officer exits his/her vehicle and notices a male subject walking out of the house, toward the officer, with a large knife in their hand. This person appears very agitated, tense and is screaming at the officer to leave. Let’s say the officer draws their weapon, points it at the subject, and orders the subject to drop the knife. The subject is overwhelmed with the professionalism and tactical prowess of the officer and in a move of self-preservation drops the knife. Did this officer just de-escalate the situation through verbal commands and show of force? I would argue yes. Now, let’s say this time a female, presumably the subject’s wife, comes out of the house behind him and, instead of dropping the knife, the male subject turns and runs at her screaming “I’m going to kill you!”. The officer shoots the subject and performs their proper after actions. Did the officer “de-escalate” the situation? I argue yes, they did. They stopped the threat with the appropriate use of force for that situation at that time.

 Physical use of force can be a form of de-escalation. Would stopping an active shooter in a school by shooting them not be a form of de-escalation? How much carnage would there might have been if you had not? If by NOT using that appropriate use of force – at the appropriate time, the situation gets worse or potentially harms even more people than that use of force would have, then that use of force IS a form a de-escalation. Following?

Photo credit to NY Daily Times

De-escalation is a dangerous word and place to operate from, in my opinion. Law enforcement has had the use of force continuum and now the objectively reasonableness standard, it seems like, forever now. Verbal commands have always been a part of that and still are. While I am still in law enforcement and in the field, I am not “on the street” and for that I am very grateful. I am also extremely grateful for every officer/deputy/trooper and highway patrolman that is! As days, months and years go by it seems law enforcement is becoming more and more of a no-win situation than it ever was.  I believe it is also getting deadlier and deadlier by the day.

Be safe out there and make sure you have good training and legal representation!!