The Debate on the De-escalation of Force

There have been recent discussions and movements to create a new national standard for when police officers can use deadly force and how de-escalation of force techniques should be taught. This debate also includes a review process to determine whether an officer could have done more to avoid violent encounters. Are we recreating the wheel here?

In May of 2016, a bill called the Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act of 2016, was proposed by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). Moore indicated she wanted officers to use force that is proportional to the situation and to give police officers additional training assets with regard to encounters that don’t necessarily have to end up with a deadly use of force. This legislation is the one of the latest measures that has been introduced since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

The call for a de-escalation of force by police agencies is really nothing new from what has been previously taught or discussed. For decades, new policy and procedures have been implemented with the goal of de-escalating force and improving the safety of the public and police officers. The recent terminology may have changed from less lethal to de-escalation of force, but the idea and concepts are the same.


The use of mace, OC spray, tasers, verbal judo, the Arwen, batons, saps, long poles with nets for PCP suspects, stun-bag/bean-bag shotguns, team takedowns, weaponless defense training, crisis intervention training, crisis negotiating teams etc., are some of the tools, tactics, and techniques used for decades and modified as time has passed. All of these involved the idea of de-escalating force for the mentally ill, drug crazed suspects, or the resistive and violent suspect alluding capture.

The demand for more transparency in law enforcement and the constant challenge to officers’ credibility while performing their daily functions, especially concerning incidents involving the use of force, are of course extremely important and vital. New tools and additional training is great. The emphasis on the preservation of life is a must.

Do we need to create more legislation, more committees and more commissions, that already are in place, to review and regulate force used by police officers?  Do we need to create more avenues of second guessing officers who face deadly threats with split-seconds to act? How do we judge the mindset and not just the tactics of an officer to determine if he or she properly attempted to exhaust all efforts to defuse a situation before using force?

We need to be careful regarding our expectations and be aware of reality when dealing with human beings who are asked to do one of the hardest, if not the hardest job there is on a daily basis. No other occupation is so heavily scrutinized and asked to be as transparent that deals with one’s life and liberty in a civilian setting. Dealing with people on one of the worst days of their lives, who exhibit unpredictable behavior in deadly situations, is an inexact science. We must not forget this no matter how great the political or public pressure. Especially, if we want to attract and retain people to this profession who have the ability, desire, ethics, and judgment to be a first rate law enforcement professional.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, when an officer or agency is out of line they need to be held accountable and criticized.  To the contrary, when we criticize an officer for defending himself against someone who is trying to take his duty weapon from him and he is attempting to stay alive during the attack, then we have a major problem as a society. Should we not be holding these individuals accountable too? #deescalationofforce, #policecommunityrelations,#lawenforcement, #useofforce

For another must read article on the De-escalation of force see the following article by Dr. Ron Martinelli. “WHO REALLY NEEDS DE-ESCALATION TRAINING?”


As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

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One thought on “The Debate on the De-escalation of Force”

  1. NEVER AGAIN is a continuous read of interminable emotions of survival through strength. It is a true introduction and account into the behind the scenes of law enforcement’s command and actions. You are able to see the strength of management, coordination and direction through Weiss’ precise leadership as watch commander.

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