Camden Police Department to Adopt New De-Escalation Policies

The Citizens Campaign has unveiled a comprehensive de-escalation policy designed to make the "use of force as a last resort" and establish de-escalation practices as the accepted and adhered to standards.

The Citizens Campaign Comprehensive Police De-escalation Policy is centered around incentivizing de-escalation practices.

According to The Citizens Campaign's Law and Policy Task Force, these measures are proven to not only reduce excessive force incidents but to also reduce police officer injuries and the costs of police abuse lawsuits.

Under the proposed policy, the Camden County Police Department defines de-escalation as: "Actions taken by an officer meant to stabilize a situation and reduce the immediacy of a potential threat so that a potentially dangerous situation can be resolved with voluntary compliance and without resorting to force".

"The cold-blooded killing of George Floyd is driving home the need for fundamental culture change in our city police departments," Harry Pozycki, Founder of The Citizens Campaign, said. "This comprehensive police de-escalation policy provides the incentives and practices required to change the culture of police departments by prioritizing de-escalation in everything from hiring to promotions."

Jiles H Ship, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives( NOBLE) Northern New Jersey Chapter, and member of The Citizens Campaign Law and Policy Task Force said, "We know that de-escalation works. Putting this comprehensive policy in place will ensure that police departments fully incorporate state-of-the-art de-escalation practices into the day-to-day work of policing."

Outlined briefly below are the general plan elements:

Policy Elements:

1. Putting In Place Use of Force as a Last Resort Policy: "Use of force" policies, such as the one put in place by the Camden County Police Department, which has primary law enforcement responsibility in Camden, provide clear and specific guidance for use of force as a last resort, contribute to significant reductions in excessive "use of force" incidents.

These policies spell out that the first order of business is to work to "de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving encounters without force." To have maximum impact, these policies should, as required in Camden, require officers on the scene to intervene when needed to prevent escalation as well as to report any incidence of the use of excessive force.

2. Substantial De-Escalation Training: Police departments who have implemented serious and expanded de-escalation training show significant reductions in injuries and fatalities for both civilians and police officers and much lower payouts in excessive force legal suits. Tying the training to the specific "use of force as a last resort" policy will make it even more potent. A 2015 study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of 280 law enforcement agencies, showed that there were 8 hours of training on uses of various kinds of force for every one hour of de-escalation training.

The result of this imbalance in training, according to law enforcement experts, is that police officers are primed to use force rather than de-escalation techniques, resulting in violence that could have been avoided in at least some cases. Serious de-escalation training teaches "officers to slow down, create space, and use communication techniques to defuse potentially dangerous situations. It also gives officers strategies to more effectively deal with people who are experiencing mental and emotional crises.

3. Tying Appropriate Use of Force to Promotions: Success with appropriate uses of force should be given significant weight in promotions in order to incentivize the culture change needed. In addition, superior officers who have officers reporting to them should have the records of their division or precincts on "use of force as a last resort" incorporated into their over-all performance evaluations as well.

4. Requiring Body-Worn Cameras: Body-worn cameras mounted on an officer's eyeglasses or chest area provide a visual record of "use of force" incidents and other more positive interactions with community members. Their required use provides the transparency that builds trust, deters the inappropriate use of force, and importantly, enhances evaluation and on-the-job learning.

Keeping the cameras turned-on must be strictly enforced with consequences for officers that don't comply. Experience in the Phoenix Police Department, as well as others, shows that even if there is a policy in place to do so, it will often be ignored if not enforced.

5. Tracking Use of Force Incidents: Mandating the filling out of "use of force" reports, including the race and ethnicity of suspects, is essential to building the accountability necessary for implementing a comprehensive de-escalation policy.

Incidents must be reviewed with the officers involved for both evaluation of de-escalation performance and lessons learned purposes. Additionally, a comprehensive "use of force" report for the police department must be produced quarterly in order to measure progress on de-escalation and made public to ensure accountability.

6. Use Psychological Testing to identify police recruits who possess strong interpersonal skills. Psychological testing has been used by police departments mainly at the tail-end of the hiring process to rule out someone with obvious red flags, such as a wanting to 'join the force because they like guns or want to drive fast" or explicit racial biases.

It is better, as some police departments are beginning to do, to use the tests earlier in the hiring process to help identify candidates who have high executive control of impulses and strong interpersonal skills that would make them more likely to be interested in and skilled at de-escalation. This kind of testing includes video of actual situations to gauge an applicant's real-time reactions

7. Connect Police to the Community: Research shows that regular contact with members of the community in non-law enforcement settings reduces implicit bias. Devising programs that bring police officers to high schools and junior high schools on a regular basis to meet with students to discuss their work and also to talk about careers in law enforcement--rather than employing them as enforcers of school discipline-- can help build mutual respect.

Promoting regular contact with a broad cross-section of residents through a community policing approach is also essential.

Click HERE for more information on The Citizens Campaign's Law and Policy Task Force or the new police de-escalation policy.