Talking Tactics and De-escalation
These are the two issues that the Police Commission most critically focus on when reviewing your categorical use of force. An officer was recently given an Administrative Disapproval by the Police Commission, in part, because he and his partner did not specifically discuss edged weapon tactics on the way to a 415 Woman with a Knife radio call. And, you can be sure, that the topic of de-escalation will be the first thing that the Commission looks at in every use of force that results in injury or death of a suspect.
When you are involved in a Categorical Use of Force, you will be interviewed by a Force Investigation Division investigator. The investigators are trained and experienced in conducting the kind of investigation that will satisfy the Inspector General and the Police Commission. They have checklists to make sure that they consider all of the issues involved in a Categorical Use of Force. High on that checklist is the issue of discussion of tactics and/or the formulation of a plan. Both you and your partner will be asked this question. “Were you able to discuss tactics or develop a plan prior to your contact with the suspect?” Since there is always time between receiving a radio call and arriving at the scene, the expected answer will be ‘yes.’ The follow up question will be “what did you discuss.” Since you and your partner are immediately separated and you are both going to be asked these questions on tape, a lively discussion at the Inspector General’s office or the Police Commission back room can be expected if you and your partner’s answer differ significantly. Many times they will because when you are involved in an officer-involved-shooting, the last thing you are concerned about is remembering conversations on the way to the call.
Never the less, it is part of the package that will be considered when the chief makes recommendations to the Police Commission about whether your tactics substantially deviated from Department policy and training without justification. And, it is certainly something that will be contemplated by the Inspector General and Police Commission, especially if your OIS turns out to be controversial.
So, because you know it is coming, be sure to have a tactical discussion of some kind with any new partner and always discuss tactics on your way to any hotshot. The question will be asked. One suggestion might be to clip the Tac Ops Pre-Planning Guide and put it in your notebook. When you have a new partner, pull it out and go over it together. When you get the question in the Categorical Use of Force interview, you can say “my partner and I reviewed the Tac Ops Pre-Planning Guide.” It is always good to review tactics and an effective answer to the question.
The other hot topic, nationwide as well as at your next Use of Force Board, is de-escalation. The League and the Department are in a Meet and Confer on revising the Use of Force policy because of the direction of the Police Commission connected to this issue.
De-escalation is nothing new. When I was in the police academy in 1970, we were taught that distance plus cover equals time, and time gave you more opportunity to react and plan. Officers have always gone to great lengths to avoid a fight whenever possible, mostly for humanitarian reasons, and maybe a little bit because uniforms are so darn expensive that rolling around on the ground with a suspect is economically undesirable. What is new, however, is the emphasis on the concept as the answer to eliminate all police shootings that is now being trumpeted by the media, anti-police groups, and politicians.
The antidote to this media manufactured non-problem is articulation. We de-escalate all the time, but it is so normal and natural that we don’t talk about it. It is paramount that we now articulate it in our reports and interviews. Point it out! Use the word! Brag about it! We no longer should write that I “told the suspect to drop the weapon five times.” We now should write or say “in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and avoid using force, I told the suspect to drop the weapon five times!”
The Department in October of last year put out a Use of Force Tactics Directive. It has two important parts. The definition: “Tactical de-escalation involves the use of techniques to reduce the intensity of an encounter with a suspect and enable an officer to have additional options to gain voluntary compliance or mitigate the need to use a higher level of force while maintaining control of the situation.” And the exception: “Tactical de-escalation does not require that an officer compromise his or her safety or increase the risk of physical harm to the public. De-escalation techniques should only be used when it is safe and prudent to do so.”
You can be sure that the Police Commission when reviewing your Categorical Use of Force will focus on this question, “What did you do to de-escalate the situation, or if you did not do anything, why not?”
The likelihood is that you did do something to de-escalate. You just need to express what you did. A quick review of the tactics directive will highlight the different things you do that fit under the definition of de-escalation. For instance, any planning that you do while en route to a call fits the definition (and satisfies the FID question you will be asked above). Any assessing of the situation upon arrival that you do is a de-escalation technique. Taking advantage of cover is a de-escalation technique. Redeployment, containment, and communication are all de-escalation techniques. The requirement is that you recognize them as de-escalation and name them in reports and interviews.
On the other hand, if the situation is such that immediate action is necessary, articulate that fact clearly. It fits the exception. Use it.
You survive to go home through tactics. You survive the administrative investigation through articulation. Both are necessary skills. Work to develop them.
Be legally careful out there.