Conflict de-escalation and cop-to-cop intervention

Two important issues come up over and over again in cases of police misconduct or police brutality: the methods cops use, or don’t use, to manage incidents that start well but end in tragedy; and the frequent failure of cops to intervene on behalf of citizens they’re supposed to be protecting.

Conflict de-escalation and cop-to-cop intervention are two kinds of training that can help resolve these recurring problems.

Here in central Oregon, both the Bend Police Department and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office have been investing in these training programs. So let’s take a closer look at them.

Conflict de-escalation training focuses on methods cops can use in the field to try to “de-fuse” volatile situations before they turn violent. These methods can sometimes be very effective. I’ve observed them used successfully by DCSO deputies on a ride-along in South County, and I’m really impressed by how well our deputies handled that situation.

Cop-to-cop intervention will, hopefully, help cops learn how to de-escalate the conduct of their own fellow officers during potentially volatile incidents.

Why do cops need intervention training just to do the right thing?

Cop-to-cop intervention training is needed because the real-life complexities of law enforcement often make “standing up” to your colleagues both difficult and risky.

Here are a few examples of real-life problems that sometimes prevent cops from intervening in misconduct by their own colleagues.

  • Ambivalence or prejudice toward the “worth” of citizens at risk (suspects, known criminals, etc.)
  • Racial prejudices
  • Differences in rank
  • Command Structure
  • Trainee status
  • Conflicting policies or standard operating procedures
  • Prior training or experience
  • Friendship
  • Respect
  • Fear of retribution
  • Union issues
  • Fear that colleagues may not “back you up” in the future, possibly when your life depends on it
  • …and a host of other factors.

In the heat of the moment, these kinds of issues can cross the minds of good cops, new cops, burnt-out cops, cops determined to advance their careers, cops near retirement, and cops in many other situations.

Too often, the result is that cops hesitate or fail to intervene when their colleagues violate policy, engage in misconduct or criminal activity, or threaten citizens’ lives during crucial situations.

Essentially, cops can find themselves in situations where they feel forced to choose between their personal welfare or the welfare of citizens. Somehow, cops need to be able to cut through these issues and do the right thing at the right time.

The goal of cop-to-cop intervention training, such as the Active Bystanders in Law Enforcement (ABLE) training program, is to enable more cops to act appropriately, protect citizens, and protect their colleagues in critical situations. In other words, to do the right thing, at the right time.

Will the training make any difference?

I think it can, and I’m very pleased that Bend PD and DCSO are investing in it.

Here at The Tumalo Lookout, my essays on cop culture return again and again to three intractable problems: indifference, complicity, and collusion. Two of these recurring problems can be addressed, in part, through better training. I think that de-escalation training and cop-to-cop intervention training can help.

Most of the cop misconduct I write about here at The Tumalo Lookout involves incidents where de-escalation or cop-to-cop intervention might have saved lives, as well as careers. Among the most heinous recent examples: the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daniel Prude in Rochester.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is npr-2020-mug-shots-george-floyds-four-murderers-capture.png
Derek Chauvin, left, killed George Floyd while Lane, Kueng and Thao — two new trainee cops — all looked on without intervening.

Prude’s case, of course, also appears to involve significant collusion and cover-up. But it began with poor management of the incident by the cops who responded on-scene. Either de-escalation or cop-to-cop intervention might have saved Prude’s life.

Here in central Oregon, we’re fortunate to have good law enforcement agencies. But no agency is perfect, and these training programs will make our cops and deputies even better.

Perhaps the training will even save someone’s career, or a life, someday.

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