RIVERTON, Utah (ABC4) – How do police prevent a dangerous moment from getting out of hand? You hear about times they may have used excessive force, but not how they stopped something from happening in the first place. Their training for that is a big part of what officers do every day. ABC4 News explains how they deescalate tense situations, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
Police stories that make headlines often mean something happened – a shooting, police chase, drug bust, or swat standoff, etc. But you rarely hear what the police do to make sure nothing happens.
“How often would you say you have to use de-escalation skills on the job?” Reporter Brian Carlson asked.
“Every single shift,” said Officer Robert Snell, Riverton Police Dept., De-escalation Instructor.
The art of talking someone out of doing something, deescalating the situation, is part of what police in Riverton regularly train to do. Riverton police are one of roughly 15 Utah police agencies that come each year to the Utah Attorney General’s office virtual training center, learning to de-escalate tense moments on the job.
“You experience virtually any situation here that you would encounter on the street… much like the concept of an airline pilot that would go through a flight simulator,” said Scott Carver, Director of Training for the Utah Attorney General’s Office VirTra Training Center.
In addition to other training, Riverton officers come to the state’s VirTra Training Center to practice de-escalation skills like keeping their distance, avoiding words that trigger someone in crisis, finding common ways to connect to calm someone down, and allowing themselves enough time to make sure the situation ends peacefully.
These skills came in handy for Riverton Police Dept. De-escalation Instructor, Officer Robert Snell who once used them to convince a suicidal teenager armed with two knives not to kill himself.
“I was able to just take the time with him, the kid, talk to him, see what was going on, figure out what was causing him to feel suicidal in that moment,” said Snell. “He started to realize that it didn’t make much sense… we ended up taking him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation, but without having to use force, with a person with a mental health crisis with two edge weapons.”
Similar stories seem to play out throughout Riverton’s police department. Of Riverton’s 18,282 calls to police in 2021, only 51 ended with police using force.
“People look to us to help them with their problems. And when we show up, we don’t want to make things worse we want to make things better and de-escalation is the key to do that,” said Sgt. Chase Thomas, Riverton Police Dept.
Riverton police said the goal is to help everyone go home safely. If they do it right, you may never hear about it.
This de-escalation training isn’t just limited to Riverton and a handful of police agencies. Police tell ABC4 News Utah law requires officers to complete 16 hours of specialized training a year that includes things like de-escalating situations, making arrests, and responding to people with mental health concerns.