By Jean Reynolds

“De-escalating” means “slowing down,” and many agencies are offering police training in ways to minimize conflict. The New York Police Department (NYPD) has already begun training all its officers in de-escalation techniques.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) issued a lengthy report that offers strategies that officers can use to keep tensions under control when a conflict is brewing. Chuck Wexler, PERF Executive Director, says, “We owe it to our officers to give them a wider range of options. ‘Shoot/don’t shoot’ training does not provide the full range of issues that officers need to consider.”

According to Wexler, everyone may be safer when an officer defuses a situation and negotiates a peaceful resolution to a conflict. But Wexler says that officers may fear criticism if they don’t make a show of aggression: “If an officer slows a situation down and calls for assistance, there is sometimes a feeling that other responding officers will think, ‘What, you couldn’t handle this yourself?’“

Here are some strategies presented in training programs offered by various agencies:

  • Listen respectfully. Don’t argue or interrupt. Many times angry people calm down when they feel they’ve been listened to and taken seriously. Make sure that each person in the conflict has a chance to talk.
  • Don’t allow an audience to gather. If two people are having an argument, isolate them from friends or family members. Removing a potential audience sometimes eliminates the need to show off with angry and aggressive behavior.
  • Set an example. Use courteous, professional language yourself to convey the message that talk must be calm and respectful.
  • Be aware of body language. Don’t point or jab a finger at a citizen. Don’t loom over anyone.
  • Maintain control. Cut off offensive speech (cursing, yelling, insults) by asking the person to restate the point in acceptable language.
  • Don’t publicly humiliate anyone—especially when others are watching. If you have to perform a patdown or ask potentially embarrassing questions, take the person aside.
  • Remember that the only person whose behavior and thinking you can absolutely control is you. Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince a citizen that he’s wrong and you’re right. Do what you need to do (such as writing a citation or making an arrest) without becoming defensive.
  • Remember that “broken record” is a useful way to achieve two goals—conveying the message that you’re in charge while keeping the lid on a potential conflict. “Broken record” means repeating a message as many times as needed: “I’m writing a citation. You’ll have an opportunity to state your case in court.” If a citizen argues, you refuse to take the bait. You simply repeat your message until the citation is written and your job is done.

De-escalating a police conflict takes brains, training, and practice. If you’re offered a chance to attend a de-escalation training session, take it seriously. The strategies you’ll be learning could save a life someday—possibly your own.

Wexler, C. (2015, January 30). Testimony by Chuck Wexler, Executive Director. Retrieved January 23, 2016, from