05/22/2011

LAPD officers seek new ways to resolve violent encounters

Ambitious project interviews former "barricaded subjects" for insight into better ways to diffuse incidents

By Erica Goode
New York Times

LOS ANGELES — When the police arrived, she was barricaded inside her apartment with her former girlfriend, threatening suicide, a gun in her hand.

“Let your hostage go!” one of the officers shouted. It was the beginning of a seven-hour standoff that brought out the SWAT team and the Fire Department, cost the City of Los Angeles tens of thousands of dollars and could well have ended in lost lives.

But three years later, when two Los Angeles police officers interviewed the woman, Shawn Baxendale, in prison, she told them the police could have handled the situation better. The use of the word “hostage” by the first officers at the scene, she told them, stunned her — her ex-girlfriend had insisted on staying and could have left at any time, she said — and it made her feel that she had no options left.

The interview, recorded on videotape, is part of an unusual project started by the two officers, Detective Teresa Irvin and Officer Michael Baker, to gain insight into the mind-set of people involved in potentially violent encounters with the police. They hope the information gained from the interviews — they have conducted about 40 over the last four years — will help law enforcement officers, especially those who are the first to respond to a scene, learn to diffuse volatile moments rather than escalating them.

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