Table Of Contents
Escalation Vs. De-Escalation
Escalation Of Force
Police De-escalation Training
What Is De-escalation?
De-escalation Training For Law Enforcement
What Are Cops Not Allowed To Do
Victim Of Police Excessive Force

Few people would want to live in a city that didn’t have police, and no decent person likes hearing that a police officer was killed in the line of duty. However, we have a nationwide problem of police killing unarmed suspects. While we want our police to be as safe as possible, we don’t want or need police with hair-trigger lethal responses to people who don’t instantly obey their commands.

Police Shooting Los Angeles California


Whenever a cop shoots an unarmed suspect the killing was totally avoidable. Preventing these tragedies which are much too common should begin before the lethal encounter, with police training that emphasizes de-escalation of situations where a suspect cannot or will not obey the officer.


What Does the Police Academy Teach You Regarding Use of Force?

According to Seth Stoughton, a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina and a former cop, police are trained to stay alive themselves, whatever the cost. In an article in The Atlantic, How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths, Stoughton writes that officer safety is emphasized in police training so that cops are taught from the start to view all encounters with civilians as potentially deadly. Police training teaches cops to fear the very people they are supposed to protect and serve. According to Stoughton’s well-researched article, police should be trained to use other skills, including tactical retreat, and only resort to use of force when a suspect is posing a deadly threat.

De-escalation skills are not emphasized in most police academies or departments. Instead, police are shown real life video footage of cops being killed for reacting too slowly or allowing suspects to do things like reach into their car or continue moving. In most cases, when a police officer tells somebody to do something like

  • Turn around slowly
  • Keep your hands out
  • Sit on the curb

that officer is trying to control the suspect to avoid being killed.

Escalation of Force: When a Suspect Doesn’t Immediately Obey Police Commands

Police training emphasizes fear. Police are trained to use escalation of force to control a suspect who doesn’t obey, but escalation of force is not the most reasonable action in many cases. When somebody has been trained to be afraid of people who don’t respond to their commands with immediate obedience, it’s questionable whether the person so trained is capable of acting reasonably.

The legal standard for use of deadly force is the reasonable person standard. Would a reasonable person feel that their life or the lives of others are in imminent danger unless they use deadly force to stop the person who isn’t obeying? But all too often, police who are trained to  kill to avoid being killed by suspects who are out of control and behaving in an unpredictable way, use deadly force against people who are

  • Unarmed
  • Mentally ill or otherwise impaired
  • Incapable of understanding the command
  • Have no warning they are about to be shot down
  • Not an imminent deadly threat to the officer or others

In order to meet the reasonable person legal standard of accurately judging when it is necessary to use deadly force, a cop must be capable of thinking and acting like a reasonable person.

when can police use deadly force?


Police training which emphasizes use of deadly force and escalation of force against suspects who cannot or will not obey for whatever reason is not helpful. Unarmed people who pose no imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to anybody are being gunned down in our streets. In many cases this is the direct result of fear-based police training.

What Do Police Officers Do With De-escalation Training?

In a recent tragedy which has been called The Toronto Van Attack, a man later identified as Alek Minassian allegedly targeted pedestrians deliberately as he sped down a crowded sidewalk in Toronto’s New York City Centre in a rented van. The attack left 10 dead and 16 seriously injured.

Officer Ken Lam responded first and didn’t have backup yet when the van came to a stop and the suspect exited the vehicle.  From the video of the potentially deadly encounter, we can see Minassian is wielding a dark object, which he repeatedly aims at Lam in a threatening way; he is trying to provoke Officer Lam to shoot him.

The video which shows Lam’s response should be viewed in police academies. It’s a real-life example of how to de-escalate a tense and potentially deadly encounter with a dangerous suspect who may be armed and is refusing to obey police commands. While it’s hard to tell from the video what exactly Minassian is holding and aiming repeatedly at Officer Lam, Lam can see that it’s not a gun.

Lam turns off his siren so that he can hear what the suspect is saying, and as the deranged man approaches he backs away and continues trying to communicate. When he sees an opening he moves in and Minassian drops his weapon and collapses to the ground. Lam then handcuffs him and places him under arrest. Toronto Police Officer Ken Lam, hailed internationally as a hero, denies the label. His response is, “I’m just a cop; this is what we do.”


What is De-escalation and How Can it Save Lives?

Police have the dangerous job of dealing with potentially violent criminal suspects, yet not all people who come under a cop’s purview are dangerous or violent. A big part of a cop’s job is to arrest those who they have reason to believe are breaking the law. When they are trying to determine how to place somebody under arrest they need tools to help them safely arrest those who won’t or can’t obey their commands.

To de-escalate a situation is to reduce the tension and potential for violence inherent in an encounter. De-escalation training teaches you to:

  • Slow down
  • Communicate
  • Create space

You learn techniques for defusing a conflict and effecting cooperation from suspects who are scared, desperate, angry, or mentally ill. Communication is especially important. For instance, listening to somebody who may be acting out in order to be heard by others, or speaking calmly and with compassion to somebody who is scared or angry. In some cases, tactical retreat while you call for backup is the best option. Unless somebody is an imminent threat to public safety you could wait for backup before making an arrest.

De-escalation Training For Law Enforcement is Not Favored By Some People

Not everybody thinks that de-escalation is important. Some people believe that if you cannot or will not immediately obey police you deserve whatever you get. However, we are not a fascist regime, where those who are charged with enforcing our laws on the street have power to act as judge, jury and executioner. Our Constitution guarantees that people who are suspected of committing a crime have Civil Rights. Even when a suspect almost certainly committed a horrific crime such as the Toronto Van Attack, our Constitution guarantees that person a lawful arrest and trial by jury.

Everybody, including people who believe police should have unlimited power to demand obedience, cares about money. In the United States of America, when a peace officer violates somebody’s constitutionally guaranteed Civil Rights, the police agency is liable for damages.

While no amount of money can compensate for the real damages suffered by victims of police excessive force and their families, holding the policing agency liable can help effect change. Teaching police de-escalation techniques should become a priority. De-escalation training can help police to avoid unnecessary tragedies which take a devastating toll on all involved, including in many cases the police officer who shot an unarmed person because he or she did not have the necessary skills or training to deal with that person without resorting to deadly force.

What Are Cops Not Allowed to Do?

Police are not legally allowed to violate the rights which are guaranteed to all by our U.S. Constitution. A cop cannot stop you and question you without a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in illegal activity. If a police officer arrests you without first obtaining a warrant that officer must have probable cause to believe that you are committing a crime.

If an officer uses physical force while placing you under arrest, it can only be the force a reasonable person would deem necessary to make the arrest.  However, always keep in mind that police are trained to be scared and may not be capable of acting reasonably. You should try to cooperate with police to avoid becoming another tragic statistic. You can always contact an attorney after the arrest if the police officer violated your rights.

Call The Sehat Law Firm If You or a Loved One is a Victim of Police Excessive Force

If you or somebody you love is a victim of police excessive force, including being

Or if your Civil Rights have been violated in any way, contact the Sehat Law Firm immediately. Together we will demand justice and hold police accountable to abiding by the law of the land.

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