De-escalation was a word first introduced in 1965 by Herman Kahn who was writing the book “On Escalation”, which talks about how the threat of nuclear war could more effectively be used to further national policy. The events in 1965 seemed to run on emotionality, one of which happened in our own back yard with the Watts race riots in Los Angeles, which was triggered by police use of force to arrest an African-American man for drunk driving.

Now, 50 years later we are faced with a new dilemma where many people are dying at the hands of those committed to protect us. Here we are again, regardless of the passage of time, looping around like a human fractal or ever-winding pattern of mentality. To break a pattern mental or otherwise, which gains momentum overtime, you first need to introduce a new idea and methodology. Through words, which are much more effective weapons, we can counter these events so that a shift can begin. I believe if we focus on conflict resolution we have a more balanced and equal playing ground.

Conflict resolution addresses the undertone of resentment on both ends not just on the community side. I believe if we collectively take responsibility for the actions of man then we can resolve them more effectively than placing blame and assigning guilt. Community members should understand that the officers are doing their best to do their job. However, we don’t think about community doing their best to do their job too in regards to cooperation.

What lacks on both sides is knowledge and understanding.

Knowledge is gained through training, instilling a new method on approach (refer to POP / SAFE Protocol). The officer’s training has focused more on firearms and defensive tactics rather than de-escalation (Police Executive Research Forum, Washington DC), which is something that the officers admit to. Understanding is the ability to integrate new information into the act of being, which changes the emotionality itself.

Despite that officers are faced with more mentally ill individuals, given that mental health services are no longer as available, there is an expectation that the community has, that the officers obliged themselves with the task of helping a person in need as well as ensuring their safety.

To reduce a potential negative interaction with law enforcement both the community and officers should follow these three steps: 

1. Remain calm; when anxiety is low you can think better

2. Listen and watch; body language and tone tells you more than the words themselves.

3. If instructions are not followed, assess for other variables/interference that are contributing.

These three steps get you back to basics and are purposely simplistic so that anyone can follow and remember. There are multiple factors present to discern when you’re at a standstill but anxiety is heightened when dealing with someone who lacks rational thought. Hostility is triggered by desperation or the perceived loss of control over the situation. One way to resolve any conflict is to get additional help so that they can shoulder the burden and offer another perspective, whether the officer needs to call their supervisor or if the community member needs to call their mom. This is no longer a one-on-one situation. This issue has now become bigger than all off us and so it will take all of us to remedy the problem.

Michelle Conover, Ph.D., Q.M.E.

Neuropsychologist/ Brain and Behavior Specialist

Southern California Neuropsych Group

POP Protocol Board Member

Michelle Conover