Studies have shown that teaching officers to de-escalate confrontations can reduce violent encounters, but many states don’t mandate it.
De-escalation training for police can save lives, but more than 20 states in the U.S. don’t require it.
More than six years after a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown — sparking protests and a national conversation about police violence — 21 states still don’t require officers to receive ongoing training in techniques to reduce the use of force, an APM Reports analysis has found.
Former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing, established in the aftermath of Brown’s death, called for all officers to receive de-escalation training, which teaches them ways to resolve confrontation without violence. And a growing number of states have heeded that call.
Before Brown’s death in 2014, just eight states required officers to receive de-escalation training. By the end of 2017, 13 more states had added the training, according to an analysis by APM Reports. In the past three years, another eight states did so, bringing the total to 29.
The states that recently instituted de-escalation training are Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia.
Since Brown’s death, Americans have been regularly shocked by the violence committed by police officers, resulting in the injury and death of a disproportionate number of people of color. Calls for reforms — from banning the use of force to defunding the police — often follow such incidents.
Experts in policing say de-escalation can be particularly effective. A recent study in Louisville showed that officers who completed eight hours of de-escalation training received 26 percent fewer citizen complaints, reported 28 percent fewer use-of-force incidents, and logged 36 percent fewer injuries.
The killing of George Floyd last year by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder in April, sparked nationwide outrage and renewed calls for police reform. Minnesota mandates de-escalation training, enacting a requirement in July 2018 that officers take a 16-hour training course every three years that includes de-escalation, mental health and conflict management. Minneapolis police records show Chauvin received a combined 47 hours of de-escalation training in 2016 and 2018.
After Floyd’s killing, New Hampshire mandated that all police officers receive two hours of de-escalation training each year, as well as training in unconscious racial bias and ethics. Nebraska, Utah and Virginia enacted de-escalation policies for officers this spring.
“We were directed by our governor to have very meaningful, and in some cases, passionate discussions relative to police accountability interactions with the community and police transparency,” said John Scippa, director of the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council.
Most states have a board responsible for overseeing the licensing of police officers. Many of these state Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) boards require officers to complete a certain amount of training to maintain their licenses, typically including firearms, driving, CPR, updated laws and use of force.
Many POST board members are local sheriffs and police chiefs, and they tend to resist state-wide mandates. Board leaders often say they prefer to let local agencies set their own training priorities and that communication skills taught in police academies are sufficient.
But that thinking may be starting to shift as board members and state lawmakers face public pressure from activists to enact stronger police reforms.
In 2017, the chair of Nevada’s police licensing board opposed additional mandates, insisting that de-escalation was already covered in many agencies’ training. But two years later, the state Legislature unanimously passed a requirement anyway. The new law mandates annual training on racial profiling, mental health, officer well-being, racial bias and de-escalation.
“Training law enforcement officers is just as important as a doctor going to medical school, or teachers receiving classroom management training, or lawyers passing the bar exam,” Nevada Assembly Speaker and bill sponsor Jason Frierson said during a hearing. “Giving officers the tools to de-escalate a situation can often be the difference between life and death.”