How Simulation Training Can Lead to Better Contact Outcomes

Two police officers at target practice.

Ron LaPedis

With a cell phone camera in everyone’s hands, an imperfect officer interaction can quickly become tonight’s 11 o’clock news.

With many populations already set against any justifiable action which an officer takes, de-escalation is a critical skill. It can mean the difference between an ending where everyone goes home to their families or a potentially dangerous, or even deadly, outcome.

How do you train an officer to temper his/her reaction when a suspect gets in his/her face? You can lecture him/her all day, but that’s probably not going to make one bit of difference when it happens in real life. So, what is the answer?

A 2020 paper from the International Association of Chief of Police (IACP)/University of Cincinnati (UC) Center for Police Research and Policy evaluated the implementation of use of force de-escalation training using simulator training for skills reinforcement.

The Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) training instructs police officers in de-escalation tactics and critical thinking skills for the management of potentially volatile police-citizen encounters, encouraging the integration of crisis recognition and intervention, communication skills and operational tactics in police responses.

The ICAT curriculum consists of classroom training followed by role-playing training exercises involving a person who is going through some form of crisis and who may or may not be armed. While scenarios began the same, the training staff took different actions based on the officers’ decision-making. Therefore, the live scenarios could play out in many ways – ending successfully or unsuccessfully. The officers also engaged in practice with firearm simulators which may also end successfully or unsuccessfully.

From February 2019 through November 2019, the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) trained 1,049 officers of all ranks and assignments following a randomized training schedule developed by the paper’s research team. After each live and simulator scenario, the trainers reviewed what occurred to describe what officers did well and where they could improve in the future.

The result? Records showed a 30% decline in use of force incidents in the first four months of 2020, relative to the first four months in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, the timing of de-escalation training in Louisville was associated with a statistically significant decline in use of force (-28%), citizen injuries (-26%) and officer injuries (-36%).

Virtual simulators with de-escalation scenarios, where officers must “talk down” a potentially violent suspect could greatly enhance new recruits’ verbal de-escalation skills. The best simulators have wraparound screens, support virtual weapons, and have scenarios which can branch into different follow-ups based on what the trainee says and does. The idea is to place your trainees into this immersive environment and give them realistic training which can heighten their awareness and proper use of force responses. When a trainee watches a recording of their responses the first time through, it can be described like a child hearing their voice on a recorder for the first time. “Did I really do that!?” Yes, sir, you really did.

Simply going through the motions is not acceptable. Trainees need to be run through varied situations multiple times – and if they are not saying the right words and going through the necessary steps, repeat the training until they have become proficient.

If an officer either cannot take objective feedback on their performance or doesn’t accept that what they are doing is wrong, you may be placing a police officer on the streets which could lead to future troubles (including a potential lawsuit).

But, with the right attitude and successful training, your officers will be better prepared to deal with extremely stressful scenarios in the future. And, that’s like money in the bank.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer; NRA, USCCA and California DOJ certified instructor; is a uniformed first responder; and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security, and public/private partnerships.