Aldermen push for CPD officer 'de-escalation' training

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In the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, some Chicago aldermen are pushing an ordinance to require new training for police. (WLS)

In the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, some Chicago aldermen are pushing an ordinance to require new training for police which would set new guidelines on use of force, dealing with the mentally ill and de-escalating volatile situations.

Many of those skills are already being re-emphasized in suburban police departments.

It's called "de-escalation training," but as any officer can tell you, not every encounter can be diffused.

A routine call can quickly end in injury or death.

At the Cook County Sheriff's training facility in River Grove, suburban police are learning techniques to tone down tense encounters.

"It's a developed skill and that's what we're trying to do here at the academy," said Sgt. David Cammack, Cook County Sheriff's Police.

The theory is that calm begets calm. Soft words, body language, compassion can create that culture of calm. Officers are trained to try to de-escalate before they escalate. That's often the opposite of a person's natural instinct.

"We're not warrior mindset people," Sgt. Cammack said. "We're here to be your guardian, whether you're a victim or an offender. We're a guardian of your rights and of your person."

During the training officers run-laps before they can respond to a simulated fight.

"Your adrenaline is flowing, you get on a scene, out of that car and you're already huffing and puffing," said Tony Wasco, Cook County Sheriff's Police.

Of course it's nothing like the adrenaline rush or fear an officer can face on the streets.

Whether under fire near a crime scene or containing large protests, sometimes the danger can't be diffused with talk and body language.

"We're the social worker, basically we have to go in and handle it," Wasco said. "Every call is different, no such thing as a routine call."

When a call goes wrong and becomes a video seen around the nation, that's a teaching moment too.

"We use that to stop and say, 'Ok, where could these officers have taken a different tact,' which is de-escalate," said Tom Fleming Cook County Sheriff's police training.

In many cases, officers have no choice but to respond with force, and officer training includes a healthy dose of combat training. In Chicago and across the country, police tactics and training will continue to be debated.
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