Police De-Escalation Training and Reform

2010 was a record year for officer-involved shootings in Las Vegas. There were several high-profile shooting incidents, many of which involved deadly force against unarmed suspects. Las Vegas wasn’t alone in this increase – all over the nation, citizens are protesting police brutality and use of unnecessarily deadly force. In light of these protests and due to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s (LVMPD) need to reign in seemingly trigger-happy police officers, the Metro PD has participated in de-escalation training and reform. The Las Vegas community knew something had to be done about violence and ideas of police de-escalation training came into play.

What Is Police De-Escalation Training?

In the name of accountability, LVMPD decided to reform its task force and become a model for police departments to do the same around the country. After five years of reform and police de-escalation training, Las Vegas cops have successfully halted a trend toward using excessive force. Now the New York Police Department, Baltimore Police Department, and several others have visited LVMPD to study its new training regimes.

The LVMPD underwent a complete reform of its culture, training, and oversight after the U.S. Department of Justice launched a full investigation of the Metro PD’s task force and techniques over the last 20 years. The investigation gave the LVMPD 75 recommendations for how to curb excessive use of force. The suggestions included tips on new training ideas and combating racially-motivated behaviors. Instead of rushing through training in a hurry to get new cops on the streets, LVMPD takes its time and emphasizes classroom training and field exercises.

Today, new LVMPD officers go through a four-hour training seminar in which they learn tips on how to eliminate – or at least manage – bias by becoming aware of partialities and adjusting one’s behaviors accordingly. New officers also go through new aspects of officer field training. These aspects focus on reality-based police de-escalation techniques instead of the more predictable training officers in Las Vegas used to go through. Officers must pass drills that take place in real-life settings, testing an officer’s use of force in true-to-life events.

How Has the Reform Helped in Las Vegas?

In 2014, there wasn’t a single deadly force incident involving unarmed suspects in Las Vegas, despite an increase in violence toward Las Vegas cops. The number of officer-involved shootings has significantly dropped all around. Moreover, the new training techniques and mindset put forth by LVMPD has cultivated a culture of accountability. In the past, a large part of the police brutality problem was the idea that police officers wouldn’t face punishment for their actions – even those driven by bias or negligence. Now, things have changed.

Today, LVMPD expresses a willingness to punish and fire problem officers, and even prosecute them for their actions. The LVMPD was the first big city to implement police body cameras to help identify unnecessary police force or brutality. The cameras led to the first officer in the country convicted of criminal charges for beating up a woman he suspected of being a prostitute. With Metro PD cops no longer enjoying a sense of impunity, few are as willing to aim, shoot, and kill. Despite the seemingly positive results of the LVMPD reform, however, many are still skeptical about the new approach.

Many police unions and rank-and-file officers disagree with police de-escalation based training, believing communication-based strategies to be nothing more than a “hug a thug” type of concept. Others are concerned that pushing police hesitation to use deadly force to stop a suspect could result in increased officer assaults and deaths. Despite the skepticism, however, the LVMPD will continue with its new training methods and reform policies.

Only time will tell if police de-escalation training will successfully reduce officer-related shootings in a way that will still keep the LVMPD task force safe and criminal activity down. In the meantime, several other police departments around the country are taking an interest in similar training programs.