Police de-escalation training can make streets safer for officers and civilians, study says

CINCINNATI, Ohio — The public’s relationship with the nation’s police isn’t always a smooth one. Claims of excessive force are not all that uncommon. Now, new research from a team at the University of Cincinnati reports for the first time ever that de-escalation training classes for police departments can indeed help foster a healthier relationship between police and civilians, making police encounters with the public safer for everyone.

“Despite widespread promotion and proliferation of de-escalation trainings, until now, no research had empirically demonstrated that these trainings reduce use of force in the field,” says lead study author Robin Engel, a professor in UC’s School of Criminal Justice, in a university release.

Prof. Engel has researched policing strategies for over 20 years.

Study authors conducted their research in collaboration with the Louisville, Kentucky, Metro Police Department. More specifically, they analyzed the impact of a 2019 de-escalation program called Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT), put together by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Thanks to a randomized, controlled trial design, researchers uncovered statistically significant decreases in use of force, citizen injuries, and officer injuries after the training course had wrapped.

‘The results were impressive’

“The results were impressive, to say the least,” says PERF executive director Chuck Wexler. The study, according to Wexler, “found that training officers in ICAT was associated with 28% fewer use-of-force incidents, 26% fewer injuries to community members and 36% fewer injuries to police officers.”

Notably, this decline in police incidents was much larger than any differences among the Louisville police department arrest patterns during the same time period.

“We add several statistical analyses to determine if the reductions in use of force were due to factors other than the training. After considering these alternative possibilities, the evidence led to the conclusion that it was indeed the training that had such a powerful impact” explains study co-author Nicholas Corsaro, an associate professor and criminal justice researcher also in UC’s School of Criminal Justice.

All in all, study authors say police forces should continue to implement de-escalation training courses and invest in even more extensive programs. To achieve true change, researchers suggest a well-rounded approach that combines supervisor oversight, complementary policies, and community input.

“Our research efforts and strategic partnerships are specifically focused on making police interactions with the public safer and improving the conditions and quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Prof. Engel concludes.

The study appears in the journal Criminology & Public Policy.

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