DE-ESCALATION PREPARATION

By Janelle Hanson, communications specialist, University Communications

Imagine walking up to scene with a person acting aggressively in a public place, making threats to those in the area, including children, and possibly armed with a weapon. This was one of many training scenarios University of Utah Police were faced with at an 8-hour Crisis Intervention Team Utah de-escalation training.

University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy required all 31 university police officers and six hospital security guards to attend this intervention strategies training to better prepare for situations on and around the campus.

“Our officers are dealing with more and more difficult situations every day,” Brophy said. “Our jurisdiction includes the hospital, U of U Health Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) and main campus, so we see a lot of different situations. The more training we have, the better we’re going to react. We’re just starting to see it more often so we want to get ahead of it.”

The training focused on recognizing signs, symptoms and overall condition of situations, dealing with emotion and crisis, strategies and techniques to handle and de-escalate different circumstances officers encounter, when possible. Along with prioritizing officer safety, the training emphasized the safety for all involved, including the community.

The day started out with discussing the psychology of human behavior, teaching officers techniques to respond effectively, interact rationally and remain calm in emotionally charged situations — recognizing hooks (things people have an emotional connection with) and triggers (things that will set someone off).

Officers were then asked to put their skills to the test with highly-tense role-playing scenarios based off real calls.

University of Utah Lt. Brian Wahlin was involved in the training and said, “The biggest take away is having the opportunity to utilize your de-escalation skills in a practice setting and think about the options, the tools to use when you’re encountering people,” Wahlin said. “Identifying triggers and hooks just brings it to the forefront of your memory to better resolve situations and circumstances to the very best for everyone involved, in the most peaceful way. It’s not as easy as you might think.”

Officers also faced an immersive and interactive VirTra simulation that provided different outcomes based on how officers responded. A screen surrounded them from every angle and while listening to information from the dispatcher, would need to focus on details from the scene, look for cues to better read the situation and figure out how to address it. The person operating the simulation was able to change the scenario based on the officers’ responses.

“Being in a scenario where you can make mistakes is a nice thing. These types of trainings just help our officers in an environment where they can make a mistake, learn from it so they’re more prepared when dealing with a real situation,” Brophy said.

And These officers are doing hundreds of hours of training throughout the year — from daily training bulletins to weekly and monthly scenario-based simulation trainings and specific trainings that Brophy considers important for his officers to participate in, like the de-escalation training.

“We want to do the very best we can, but because situations are so dynamic and changing so quickly, it’s important to continually participate in these trainings so it becomes second nature to start with these tactics,” Wahlin said.