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Police-Academic Ties Hailed as De-Escalation Training Spreads

Collaboration between academic researchers and police departments gradually is increasing police use of de-escalation techniques to resolve disputes that otherwise could result in death.


That was a key message delivered on Wednesday to the first-in-12 years National Institute of Justice (NIJ) research conference, which is being held under the slogan "evidence to action."


Some police departments have long resisted the idea of devising important polices that are endorsed by researchers.


As Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) put it at a featured NIJ session, police chiefs fear that they will cooperate with academics only to be told that research is inconclusive or that their agencies are doing the wrong thing.


The story of de-escalation research is somewhat unusual in policing circles.


After a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed Black motorist in 2015, one of the university's criminologists, Robin Engel, was named a vice president overseeing the campus police force.


As Engel described it at the NIJ session, she quickly set about finding studies that had been done on training officers on how to de-escalate conflicts, only to discover, "I couldn't find that training.".


Engel arranged with the Louisville Police Department to evaluate the Kentucky agency's use of a training program developed by Wexler's organization called Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT).


Her research team's study, published last year, found a 28.1% reduction in use of force incidents, a 26.3% drop in citizen injuries and a 36% reduction in officer injuries


"Our findings suggest that agencies should continue to implement and evaluate de-escalation trainings and adopt other resiliency-based approaches to police training," Engel and her co-authors wrote.


The researchers wrote that, "Continuing to implement and evaluate innovative police trainings is our best opportunity for meaningful changes in policing."


Wexler said officers appreciated the soundness of the training, and gradually the common police officer belief that their primary mission was to use their guns to resolve conflicts to make sure they could return home safely after their shifts began to change.


Last week, PERF opened a National ICAT Training Center in Decatur, Ill., built with the support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.


The NIJ speakers agreed that the success of ICAT in Louisville was hardly assured. The police department has been under severe criticism for its use-of-force policies since the shooting death of Breonna Taylor during a raid in 2020.


Justin Witt, a Louisville police training officer who took part in the NIJ session, noted that even as many officers successfully completed the training, their supervisors had to be convinced to support it.


Engel said that other police departments now are adopting and testing the ICAT model, including Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Phoenix.

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