I got into the car and spent the last couple of days outside of Cleveland at a "Realistic De-Escalation Instructor course" being put on by the Force Science Institute.
I managed to bunk in with my old partner back in my uniform days and did a good amount of catching up with him. The trip included cold beer and a lovely muscle and shrimp stew prepared by his wife, so life was good.
This is not a course synopsis, if you want the content, take the course, but more of a review of the course as well as some big takeaways for me.
First, Force Science Institute has become what many consider to be the gold standard of scientific study of police use of force, particularly deadly force. They teach and research items focused on determining if what we ask cops to do on our behalf is realistic, based on science.
They don't make shit up, they study human performance themselves as well as scour scientific research in order to explain how and why cops do what they do in gunfights and use of force incidents. This is important because if it is scientifically impossible to do things under stress, but we expect cops to do them, we should probably know about it.
The course was about "de-escalation." But it was focused more on REALISTIC de-escalation. De-escalation is a hot button topic with a lot of people when it comes to police tactics today. Most people want cops to take care of the public. We want them to fix the problems we cannot fix ourselves, no matter what they tend to be. For instance, we call the cops to fix the problem of the crazy guy who is wearing a dress and talking about Jesus in the street, but also we don't want them to use force to do it.
This is a little unrealistic, to say the least.
It is like cops should have a pouch full of de-escalation glitter on their belt and throw it into the air over the bad guy and say " Whoopie, you are de-escalating now." And it should work.
Well that is bullshit.
And you and I know it.
This course broke down the SCIENCE of how, when and why de-escalation works as well as how, when and why it wont work. More importantly than that, it focuses on when it would likely get the cop killed or the public injured to try it.
Being a full time trainer of guys who get paid to deal with and heard around really bad guys all day, some of which are quite insane, antisocial and subject to total crisis at any time, this was extremely relevant.
The first day was mostly tactics. It focused on what Force Science is most known for, using science to predict what is likely to get a cop killed in the street as well as what is known to work. All of the course was centered around the idea that tactics cannot be separated from de-escalation. You can train a cop how to shoot people, how to fight with and forcibly control people, how to hit people with batons, spray them with pepper spray, shoot them with electricity or bean bag rounds in a couple of months until they meet an arbitrary standard. The problem is we THEN teach them how to talk to people in a completely separate class two months later and expect them to do it well under stress, worrying about who is going to get hurt. It wont work. But that is how it is too often done.
They spent quite some time on things I already was aware of, such as "type one" and "type two" system thinking. Most legit training will talk about how you will react to a situation under stress and how you will make decisions. It will go into why you will do things and how you will do things under stress. If you are not hip to things such as the "RPD model of decision making" or "type one" and "type two" thinking, you may want to educate yourself in this, particularly if you have decided to carry a gun in any capacity or even have made the decision on defending yourself.
As a side note, one of my trainers that was with me at the course made the statement, "It is kinda nice to know that Jones isn't just full of shit when he teaches stuff." That was satisfying on several levels.
There was also quite a bit on some of the studies involving edged weapon attacks and amature use of firearms. One giant takeaway from me is that, when it comes to hitting people with bullets out of a pistol, people with formal firearms training don't do a whole lot better on the street as someone who has never shot a gun before.
Another thing that was emphasized to me was that you definitely need to move your head if you are getting shot at by someone who has no idea what the hell they are doing with a gun. Their studies indicate that totally inexperienced people with a gun will hit the target in the head and neck more often than not within nine feet. There is legit scientific research on this, it is counter-intuitive and fascinating to me.
One other takeaway, that may be of use to those interested in self defense, is reaction time. It takes about .08 seconds for a person to realize they are under attack and begin to take action. Most total morons with homicidal intent have already cut you or shot you by then at least once (average time is around .3 seconds to initiate an attack).
This lines up with the things I have personally seen with bad guy on bad guy stabbings. Many times the victim of the shank just thought he was in a fight and getting punched. It is common for them to realize, sometimes after it was totally over, that he was leaking and getting stabbed the whole time.
It is sorta scary to realize that the first indication you are in a gunfight is after a bullet has already impacted your flesh and tore out the other side.
It is sorta scary to realize that the first indication you are in a knife fight is after a shank slips into you and is pulled back out creating a hole where there was not one before.
Yet that is the realistic situation.
The second day was largely on the topic of when and how to recognize de-escalation as a good option based on a subject's emotions, thinking and behavior. This is very important for people to understand.
One takeaway for me was the loaded meanings that come with the term "mental illness." Mental illness does not mean helpless, or no danger to anyone. Mentally ill, suicidal people are not "only a danger to themselves." There was a lot of talk of suicide by cop. And it is a pretty real phenomenon that is pretty fucking dangerous to everybody involved.
Academics have been telling law enforcement for years that they need to know a bunch about "mental illnesses" so they can do their job better and it has not accomplished much. I personally have taken a lot of training on this and can tell you it is mostly worthless. First, diagnosing mental illness is about the most non-scientific thing that a medical professional can do. It is not like you can run a blood test to find out if you have schizophrenia, you have to dig into the background, conduct interviews, and follow symptoms.
I have had guys tell me they have been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, at different times in their lives since they were kids:
"Man you know, I got ADHD, depression, bipolar and anxiety man. They started out with the ADHD when I was a kid and then they told me I had depression when I was like 15. Then when I went back to prison from juvie on my first number they said I had bipolar, and now they are saying I might have anxiety on top of it, so I don't know man."
This was something I have heard more than once in my career. Yet there is no real, formal, scientific method for any of this. I have diabetes, my doc told me I did, based on physical symptoms and lab results. Yet mental illness is not so clearly defined.
The findings from giving officers "mental health training" are largely that officers start to understand that it exists and, interestingly, they begin to question if we should be incarcerating the people who suffer from it. That is great, but it is far from a cop or a correction officer to make those calls. They DO NOT suddenly have the ability to diagnose a mental health condition on the spot. It makes administrators who sit in offices feel good, but it does not accomplish anything.
De-escalation is not effective and cannot be used if the subject is completely out of his mind. If the person is in a mental health crisis, excited delirium event, or a drug induced psychosis and cannot be connected with and talked to, you can try to de escalate all day and it ain't gonna do jack shit in the best case, and in the worst case is going to get you killed or hurt if you try it.
Further, and this is extremely relevant, the true bad dudes who intend to do you great harm, will tend to act a certain sort of way early on in an encounter. If you try to de-escalate them as if they are in a crisis, they will use that time you are wasting on trying to "crisis communicate'' to figure out how to hurt or make you a decomposing meat sack.
BUT if you have time, have space, and can connect with someone in crisis, use good words, slow down, listen and talk… a lot of times you can de-escalate.
Point is, de-escalation is sort of like ping pong, it takes two people to play.
They included all of the times when the data indicates it is likely to work and when it is not likely to work. They even managed to work out a tool that was simple and effective to show how it works. It was eye opening and useful.
The actual author of the tool that was developed by Force Science taught the class. He is a Dr. in abnormal psychology and a part time cop. He was a former teacher in academia, notice I say former. No academic he worked with ever took up his offer on a ride along in his police job when they tried to tell him what "cops need to be doing." It was telling but not surprising to anyone in the room.
Overall it was an excellent class. What I have written here is far from the only things I took. About 8 pages of notes, 30 photos of PowerPoint slides and an entire manual should give you an Idea of how content packed it was.
I plan on integrating most of this in classes for my real job, but also feel that there may be an opportunity here for a civilian self defense course. If you would be interested in this, please get in touch.