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New ASU research says officer de-escalation training works. Here's why.

Officers who received the one-day training last year were 58% less likely to injure someone in a use of force encounter than those who didn’t do the training.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Excessive use of force has been dominating the headlines for some time now, but there’s virtually no research out there on police de-escalation training. Does it work?

After four years, Arizona State University is wrapping up one research project that answers that very question. ASU has been working with the Tempe Police Department since 2017 to implement de-escalation training and research its effectiveness. 

"We took about 18 months to put together the training curriculum, that was the design piece," ASU Professor in the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice Dr. Michael White said. "The second phase was how to deliver it to the officers and it was delivered in a series of one-day training sessions in February and March 2020 right before the pandemic."

The third and final phase?

"The evaluation phase and that’s when we did a range of different things to assess the impact of the training," Dr. White explained. "We looked at administrative data on use of force and complaints but the most important thing we did is watch body worn camera footage."

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He said his team reviewed hundreds of hours of officer body camera footage from Tempe PD. 

"So one big difference we saw was that officers who received the training were much more likely to try and build rapport with the citizen, much more likely to show empathy, they were much more likely to resolve the encounter informally. That means not issue a ticket, citation, or make an arrest."

This was a randomized controlled trial so half of Tempe's officers did the training and half didn't. 

"The other finding that I think is really important is that we found in these encounters that are combative, we found the officers who received the training were significantly less likely to injure citizens, actually 58% less likely to injure citizens in those use of force encounters compared to officers who did not get the training."

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Dr. White said all Tempe officers have since undergone the training in the last six months.

"In addition to the one-day training, there was a series of follow up trainings that were given at roll call trainings that were virtual."

Dr. White submitted the report to the Department of Justice in September and is briefing the DOJ on the findings Thursday. The DOJ funded the research. 

"This, I think, is the first project that really has opened that black box and identified some things officers should be thinking about dealing with citizens that can become combative very quickly," White said. "This training was all about giving officers additional tools in their toolbox to handle those kinds of situations and optimize the likelihood it will be resolved peacefully."

He said in the training officers sat through lectures, ran through acted-out scenarios, reviewed body camera footage, and then had discussions about that footage. 

"I think what Tempe PD is thinking about now is a way to be able to package this training so that we can talk to other agencies and they can do the same thing given the positive effects we have been able to show, I think that’s an important next step."

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