Post event de-escalation tactics

One of the most under-utilized police verbal tactics is to employ "Subject Debriefing," i.e. a post event de-escalation tactic, at the end of a physical confrontation. When you're bringing a combative subject down literally - to the ground, you're using heavy control talk. You're shouting out commands like, "DOWN! DOWN! GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!"

After you get the subject cuffed and he is under control, both of you are still pumped with Adrenalin and agitated, ready to continue fighting.

Here is where you, as a professional law enforcement officer, have to switch gears in order to truly end the fight so you can begin safe follow-through procedures like rendering care to an injured prisoner, searching and transporting.

In order to bring the suspect down emotionally you need to bring yourself down and stop shouting aggressive, high-energy commands in his ear. You're huffing and puffing and the adrenaline is still dumping, but you need to act, look and sound calm. This isn't easy and needs to be programmed into your tactics.

Start talking to the subject in a normal tone of voice. Admittedly, you have to be a little schizophrenic to do this but this, but that's why they pay us the big bucks, right? You project calm because that is what the subject needs to see and hear in order to calm himself down.

If you make this kind of verbal and non-verbal de-escalation a programmed response, it will just come out. You won't even have to think about it. It's programmed. It's reflexive. I have a "programmed verbal loop" that I immediately start saying to the subject in a very soft, gentle tone of voice that goes like this: "Relax. Take it easy. It's going to be OK. Just take a couple of deep breaths. Nobody's going to hurt you. It's all over now. Breathe."

I'm projecting and looking calm. That's calming the subject down, it's calming me down and it's looking good to any on-lookers. Even more importantly, I don't have to think about it. It just happens. It's a programmed response. This allows me time to do some important things like being able to scan around for additional threats and to plan my next move.

Remember the line from the movie "Road House": "You have to be nice until it's time not to be nice." In law enforcement, we have to add another line, "… and then we have to be nice again." This application of tactical communication skills tends to shorten the fight, reduce excessive force complaints, improve public perception, and reduce additional medical complications from continued resistance after control should have been initially established.


About the author

Experience, expertise and communication skills are the criteria by which a defensive tactics instructor is judged. By these measures, Gary T. Klugiewicz is recognized as one of the nation's leading control systems analysts specializing in the Use of Force. Gary is the training director for Vistelar a global consulting & training firm that addresses the entire spectrum of human conflict. He retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department in 2001 after 25 years of service, during which he rose to the rank of captain. He spent more than 30 years as a line officer, supervisor and a control systems designer. Contact Gary Klugiewicz

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