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What Is De-Escalation?
Anytime an officer shows up at an incident or performs a traffic stop, they are at risk of becoming involved in a heated situation. Many calls go smoothly, but there are times when a situation can escalate out of control, putting the officer and others at risk. During their training, officers are taught conflict resolution skills to help them maintain a safe environment. When tempers flare, these skills are needed to help de-escalate the situation. De-escalation tactics involve minimizing conflict and helping people achieve a more positive state of mind. The situation may still be tense, but it is much easier to control when the parties can think clearly.
We all handle confrontation in different ways. Some believe that aggressive, in-your-face, confrontation is acceptable. It’s not and only makes you look like an angry bully. Police officers have training that allows them to maintain control of themselves in these uncomfortable situations. No one likes to be pulled over or called on to answer questions. Becoming angry and belligerent will only make matters worse. Even though you may not like the situation, the police officer is doing their job. Your compliance will prevent tempers from flaring and the situation will resolve itself quickly.
Understanding Fight or Flight
As human beings, we all have the fight-or-flight instinct. As soon as you are faced with an uncomfortable situation, you have the option to run to safety (flight) or defend yourself (fight). Your brain may jump to the fight scenario, preventing logical thought and preparing you for physical confrontation. As a police officer, it is your job to maintain a calm demeanor at all times to prevent both fight-or-flight responses from taking over.
Be an Active Listener
Being an active listener raises your awareness and helps you to maintain your emotional balance. It gives you insight into the person you are dealing with. Ask questions. Don’t just make statements about what you need from them. Create a dialogue and let them know that you are trying to understand their frustration. As an active listener, you will be able to learn potential clues as to how you can resolve the conflict and de-escalate a situation from becoming violent.
Learn to Control Your Body
Body language speaks volumes. A strong, solid stance that shows you aren’t afraid and will accept no disrespect is essential. Muscle control relates to emotional control. As you tighten your muscles, you focus on maintaining control of your body instead of playing into the negative emotions that often surface during a conflict. Controlling your body and emotions allows you to maintain a level head and will give you a chance to think of a positive and peaceful solution.
Request Not Demand
Not everyone has the same perception of police officers. Some see them as heroes. Others may see them as bullies with badges. Most of these views are not from personal experiences. They may be experiences others have told you. Many come from media stories that target the actions of a select few officers who may have acted inappropriately.
As a law enforcement officer, it is up to you to not simply set an example. You are the example. Your actions don’t speak; they scream. You are under a microscope. How you interact with the people you are dealing with says a lot. Requesting that a person comply is the key. Maintain respect for as long as possible. Some situations indeed escalate to the point where demands are required. It is still essential that you are in absolute control of yourself in the heat of the moment.
When you are talking to a person, explain yourself. Answer their questions and be as informative as possible. Barking orders and demanding results will not turn the tables in your favor. It may escalate the situation into a heated event where the person you are talking to feels threatened. You may feel threatened as well. If the situation becomes physical, it’s up to you to take control of the situation to protect yourself and others from harm.
5 Steps to De-escalating a Volatile Situation
There are five steps you can use to de-escalate a volatile situation. De-escalation techniques are invaluable, especially when you face dangerous situations that start to spiral out of control. Using the following five steps is a good start when taking control of the situation.
- Give undivided attention – Give your undivided attention to the person you are talking to. Let them know you are listening.
- Don’t judge – Don’t be judgmental or condescending. The person you are talking to is trying to be understood, not just controlled. No matter what the situation, they deserve the same respect and chance at dignity as you do.
- Address their feelings – Address their feelings and let them know you hear what they are saying. Paraphrase what you hear them say, and keep the dialogue open so you can continue to gain information about why they feel the way they do.
- Silence is golden – It’s okay to allow silence for a short time. Take a few deep breaths and let the other person gather their thoughts.
- Be clear with communication – A person may not speak clearly or are too upset to think about what they are saying. Continue to ask questions and keep the lines of communication open.
Your de-escalation strategy will say a lot about who you are as a police officer as well as a person.
Dealing with Insults
Insults are an attempt to weaken another person. Remaining in control of yourself is essential. In domestic violence situations, insults are often tossed back and forth between the participants. Some may be aimed at you as if you are interfering. Words hurt, but as an officer of the law, the insults are not aimed at you. They are directed at what you represent. In any situation where you must go on the defensive, it’s up to you to maintain perspective. Staying strong in the face of adversity is the best way to maintain control and find a positive solution.
It’s All About Respect and Dignity
At the end of every situation, it all comes down to respect and dignity. Heated situations can be resolved without violence if both parties are willing to listen and acknowledge one another. Respect and trust are earned. Dignity, on the other hand, is something you offer to someone who may not be thinking as clearly as they should be. Allow them to compose themselves.
It’s true that there will continue to be situations that cannot be de-escalated and that violence is the only option a person is willing to choose. Letting emotion and anger overrule logic can be destructive. It can damage both of you to the point where it leaves a lasting scar. Unthinkable things may happen, but staying true to yourself is important.
Don’t Judge Yourself or Others
Your ability to de-escalate conflict is an essential part of your job as a law enforcement police officer. When a situation doesn’t go as planned, it’s important to remember that you were not the only person involved. Two or more people created the situation. Remember your truth and try not to judge yourself and others too harshly.
Understanding how to maintain control in any situation is part of your job as a police officer. Whether you are dealing with a young person, workplace violence, domestic violence, or a drug-related incident, your ability to ensure public safety and act accordingly will determine the outcome. Staying calm through any crisis is a must when it comes to de-escalating an event that could possibly turn violent.