Slow Down the Ticking Clock

June 6, 2017

We’re hearing about it almost every day from pundits and politicians: Cops need training in “deescalation.” It’s a point, by the way, I whole-heartedly agree with.

Where I part company with most of these self-appointed experts is in just what “deescalation” means and how it can be applied (or not) in real life. Deescalation doesn’t mean what or work the way, I’m afraid, our critics think it does. But regardless we do need more training on it.

When human beings are raging, for whatever reason—drugs, alcohol, psychological disorders, or plain old molten anger—there is no sure-fire tactic or technique that will be able to calm each and every case down. That’s because each person and circumstance is unique.

For more than 25 years I’ve been promoting this principle: True and effective communication skills are the most important skills for those involved in the law enforcement profession to master. Unfortunately, in our profession, realistic and street-applicable communications training is the most overlooked, misunderstood, and undertrained skill set.

Following are five strong suggestions from what we teach at Calibre Press.

1. Understand your true Professional Goal: Control, redirect and influence other people’s immediate behavior.

That’s it. Sounds too simple, but think about it. We are almost always dealing with other people’s behavior, which is very often dictated by their emotions. And our job is to reason with them. Redirect and control whatever behavior is dysfunctional, painful, counter-productive to peace, and/or dangerous.

For example: If someone is beating the hell out of another, we need to stop them from doing that. If they are lying, we are trying to get them to tell us the truth. If they are speeding, a stop and a ticket is designed to make a positive change in their driving habits. If their bike was stolen and they are upset, we are trying to display empathy and calm them down so we can gather the facts. If they are victims of an assault, our goal is to make them feel safe.

All this amounts to one thing: Officers need to be human behavior specialists. Something which we almost never correctly and realistically train …

2. In order to accomplish your professional goal you must therefore begin by Controlling your own Emotions and Behavior! Officers must contain the IDIOT that resides in them. Everyone has an IDIOT living inside them and if two IDIOTs are engaged, nothing good can come of the interaction.

The biggest obstacle to remaining professional and do what’s necessary to engage and develop rapport is when officers take what others say and think personally. If an officer’s authority is challenged or they are treated as though they have less worth that the citizens, too often police officers resort to exercising their given authority rather than remaining an objective party outside of the conflict.

When I taught Interview & Interrogation I used to give officers some advice about the constants of interactions. Two of those things were: 1. Never go into an interview with your own value system; and 2. Learn how to truly listen with the eyes and ears, because people will literally tell you how to get them to confess; they will give you their motivations and who they want you to believe they are.

(Both hold true for hostage negotiators also.)

Know that if you view the other person’s behavior and beliefs through the paradigm of your own values, listening, and understanding who they are and being able to empathize with them becomes almost impossible. You need to leave your world-view aside for the moment. As Jeff Shannon brilliantly puts it: “Write their biography.”

3. In order accomplish the preceding points, police officers have to be Expert at Understanding, Recognizing, and Dealing with Stress: Both theirs and the citizens’. Again, such training is almost completely ignored in the profession.

Stress affects everything: evaluation of situations, judgement of others, our thoughts, emotions, and thus subsequent decisions and behavior. If stress negatively impacts any of those things, flawed assessments beget poor decisions, which will often result in irrational behavior.

Stress is the number one reason officers do things they shouldn’t. It is the number one reason police officers die! From hitting the gas in the squad unnecessarily to moving in towards a challenging subject, stress effects valuations, decisions, and behavior.

Stress causes officers to be diverted from their professional goal. They lose focus and allow personal feelings to hijack professional behavior. This is where we see officers making quick decisions before having all the facts, misreading others, becoming overly aggressive, profane, and sometimes violent.

Stress training should be a constant in all organizations and stress behaviors a perpetual discussion among the ranks.

4. Realize that Time is Almost Always on Our Side! (Not always, but almost always.) The officers who are the best at developing rapport and deescalating the irrational have learned how to slow that clock down. Hostage negotiators and Interview & Interrogation specialists are particularly good at this.

Some simple realities: Moving in too quickly speeds up time. Make rash decisions and being overly aggressive does also. Recognizing that people are emotional beings who always want, even if unconsciously, to be listened to and viewed as if they have worth and value can slow it way down.

5. Have a Stages System and Conscious Routine when you find yourself dealing with irrational people.

In our Read, Recognize & Respond Seminar we advocate the following Five Stages:

  • Engage: Effective communication skills are a must at the beginning of an interaction.
  • Consider: Don’t be in a hurry to make a decision. Don’t let bias or your negative emotions sway you from what is actually happening. Truly listen to the other person(s) with both eyes and ears. Understand the nuances of listening to words and what their meanings are in context.
  • Decide & Resolve: Your decisions must be made free of personal feelings. They need to be based on what you know and an objective evaluation of all you know.
  • Communicate Your Determination: Explain why you made the decision in a professional manner and display an unbiased judgement.
  • Follow-Through: Stay confidant in your decision and move forward. This does not mean listening has to stop, but professional presence and tones should be part of you carrying out your decision.

Using this, in most—no, not all, but most—cases will help officers stay focused and avoid being diverted when confronted with belligerent, insulting, degrading, and even threatening people.

Final Thoughts

While nothing is perfect, expecting common sense and an untaught, untrained skill-set to magically kick in under cases of high stress is not only ridiculous, it’s unnecessary. Training and planning on a conscious level is the key.

Learn about people. Learn about stress. Master your craft. And make no mistake: Your craft is people.


  1. LegalBeagle

    I agree that communication is vital, and that you make good points. Your point about controlling ourselves is sound, and the acknowledgement that the inner idiot is universal and must be controlled is spot on.

    A task at which we must do better – much better – is creating the understanding that as a matter of law, cops get to control the entire situation in a non-consensual contact. To the extent that there is this delusion that the offender gets a vote in the outcome, we must correct that impression. They get a vote in the process, and generally are the only one responsible for it, but the outcome is not negotiable.

    • Dmitri Kozlowsky

      That understanding can be summarized in four words.
      “Obey, Comply, or Die”
      That is a mark of a police state. Where Law Enforcement sees itself as higher cast. To whom , to paraphrase BLM, “All lives matter, but blue lives matter more.”

      Such a state of relationship between law enforcement and citizenry, in these United States cannot be allowed to persist. If it does , it will get worse. The answer is to push back. By disobedience, by passive resistance, and if neccesary to active resistance.
      When a cop blatantly murders a citizen in broad daylight on public street, and is aquitted , the doctrine of “Comply then complain” does not apply.

      • LegalBeagle

        As for your first statement, your summary is wrong. It IS comply or be forced. Whatever force is required is determined by the unlawful resistance of the offender. The US Supreme Court has made it very clear that the officer is in charge. Officer safety is always a higher priority of than that of offenders. This is well settled. BLM is not generally a credible source of information on the law or much of anything else. While I will agree and have emphatically pointed out in other settings that there is a centuries long history of questionable to horrible treatment of persons of color, there must be efforts by all to change their mindset. The history does not drive the conduct today, and if you look at the uses of force on offenders, it is overwhelmingly lawful and proper. Ugly is not wrong. What is wrong is how certain parts of the community (not just black, BTW; a lot of ignorant folks of all pigments make the same kinds of ignorant comments) immediately assume the police were wrong and engaged in misconduct because of the status of the offender (pigment, politics, whatever). I’ve seen the same stupid stuff said by people upset by enforcement action against their relatives, etc … . Look at the stupid response when Michael Brown violently assaulted Officer Wilson and was appropriately shot. Look at the knowingly frivolous prosecutions of the Baltimore officers, Kerrick, Betty Shelby.

        Officers get to control their professional encounters. This may mean among other options using our presence; threatening the use of force, or imposing physical control against the wishes of the subject. The law is clear, and has been this way for several decades. “The risk of harm to both the police and the occupants is minimized if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.” Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 702-703 (1981). This is true in any non-consensual encounter. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 258 (2007)(citations omitted). The statutes of most if not all states have the same effect.
        Understand, also, that cops have a duty to take action. “Other than random attacks, all such cases begin with the decision of a police officer to do something, to help, to arrest, to inquire. If the officer had decided to do nothing, then no force would have been used. In this sense, the police officer always causes the trouble. But it is trouble which the police officer is sworn to cause, which society pays him to cause and which, if kept within constitutional limits, society praises the officer for causing.” Plakas v. Drinski, 19 F. 3d 1143, 1150 (7th Cir. 1994). Law Enforcement is not a people pleasing business; it is a coercive compliance business. The ugly nature of the lawful use of force is a fact, but “ugly” and “unreasonable” are not at all synonymous. The offender may be hurt because of his or her own actions, but any outrage must be directed at the offender, not the police officer who is fulfilling his or her duty.

        The actual standard for the use of force is simple, and a matter of constitutional law; analytically the use of force is a form of seizure under the 4th Amendment. The officer must be “reasonable” under the circumstances. Being factually correct is not the standard, nor would it be sound. (And this standard is based on and virtually identical to the standard for civilians acting in self-defense.) Whatever the offender is in any other portion of their life, and before the moments leading up to the use of force, is simply not relevant to the analysis unless a history of violence is known to the officer(s). There are occasional events that have been revealed to be truly unfortunate, the result of facts that were not what they reasonably appeared at the time. Sad, tragic and many other adjectives apply to such events, and they are understandably traumatic to all involved, including the officers. That does not make the officers’ conduct “wrong”. All that matters is the officers’ perception and conduct at the time force is used, assessed through the insight and experience of the officers involved.

        “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. See Terry v. Ohio, supra, at 392 U. S. 20-22. The Fourth Amendment is not violated by an arrest based on probable cause, even though the wrong person is arrested, Hill v. California, 401 U. S. 797 (1971) … ”
        Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). The test is not based on hindsight, the ugliness of any significant use of force, or the ignorance of reporters, friends of the offenders, or others unqualified to assess the matter. “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” 490 U.S. at 396-397.

        • Dmitri Kozlowsky

          With today’s LEO, how they are trained, equipped, and present mundset, ‘forced compliance ‘ is all too often lethal force (firearms ), or less-then-lethal (TAZER) application such that result is lethal . Which brings us to where we are today. With citizenry viewing law enforcement personell as a menace and a threat to their safety and to safety of their families.
          In practice , as everyday reality, the ‘reasonable officer’ standard is abused as a ‘get out of jail card’ and heavily contributes to injustice and miscarriage of justice, when LEO visits violence, trauma, or death on a citizen. This chronic miscarriage of justice is a result of trifecta of police unions, justice system, and policy. When it comes to police violence, lethal force, injustice is the expected result. That is an LEO who kills needlessly even maliciously , can reasonably expect that the maximum penalty, he or she will suffer, is a loss of job. Whereas their victims loose their life. The LEO proffesion magnifies the injustice, by equating loss of life suffered by citizen , to loss of job or career suffered by LEO.

          • LegalBeagle

            You have bought the false folklore put forth by the crazies. American LE sues force of ANY kind at a very low rate. Considering that cops could (and by implication, should) kill 20 TIMES as many violent assailants each year, your claim does not withstand scrutiny. If citizens would simply comply with the lawful requests, there would be no need to force them to comply. They, and only they, are responsible for the fact that they have to be forced. The case law on who is in charge is not new; it is over 35 years old, and the issue was not really in doubt even before SCOTUS weighed in.

            The reality is that officers who dawdle, who do not use enough force, who are not decisive, are the ones most often assaulted by criminal offenders. This was shown by studies in the early 90s. It is not new news. Same with the book “Officer Down, Code 3”, by Pierce Brooks, published in about 1975. You are turning the law and the priority of life on its head. Non-compliant offenders’ are always the lowest on the priority of life, in large part because they, by their clearly criminal actions in resisting, have created the situation. Putting their well-being on a par with that of their victims and the police is simply unethical.

          • OregonCopper

            Well said, but unfortunately you are wasting your time here with this poster…it has determined that all cops are blood-thirsty thugs based on its refusal to follow and comply which resulted in a deputy screwing his service revolver in this one’s ear…

            Thanks for fighting the good fight…Stay Safe!!

          • LegalBeagle

            You are right – the criminally feral and their apologists will never accept the truth. It is the middle ground folks with whom we must communicate so that they are not buying the falsehoods. Unfortunately, most command officers are well beyond derelict if they actually know the law, and many are flat out unaware of the legal and tactical issues, so they largely abandon the field to the kooks. While they should be fired for such incompetence and cowardice, I am not holding my breath.

          • OregonCopper

            I agree 100%…I think you may be my new best friend!

            Stay Safe!

          • LegalBeagle

            I’m not a role model. I’m a warning. 🙂 However, I do try to get that message out, because if we are not taking steps to address the problem in a sound manner, we are part of it.

  2. Todd

    The problem as I see it is that it is those smaller number of cases where we have to use deadly force that make the nightly news. Do we need to improve how we talk to people? Yes. But that is not the heart of this issue – it is not the “majority,” of contacts where we have to shoot a citizen with lethal force. If we “slow down,” time for ourselves when met with an unjust aggressor who seeks to take our life, then we do have the rest of our lives – which is equal to right then and there. Sadly some would like for us to “slow,” down in the very moments we either speed up – or we die. Even worse, those politicians who are self seeking and care nothing for their people will never the less stand up at his funeral and say such eloquent words and the city will dodge the riots and the criminal damage. When are more Chiefs, Sheriffs, and Defensive Tactics Instructors including those professional organizations who we pay to train our trainers going to stand up and tell the people the truth? When a fight is going to go, you either go first and maintain that momentum, or you lose! To deny the principle that action beats reaction is just dumb. The whole business of how we talk to someone hopefully in a professional manner, with respect for their human dignity comes “before,” the fight starts. Once they have made their decision to present themselves as a deadly force threat, those precious few seconds are not the time to say anything – but rather the time to get on the trigger.

    The trouble with bias is it is always a matter of perception for the person perceiving. We hear frequently that our decisions are “biased.” Our decisions are based on the law. Our decisions are based on the rule of law. That does not stop others from using the word “bias,” like a political bludgeon.


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