RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – The Raleigh Police Department is looking to revamp how officers approach stressful and potentially life-threatening situations.

The department said in light of national discussions overuse of force, it is dedicating the next two years to developing a new de-escalation policy and training.

Although RPD has done de-escalation training in the past, now it will be using more than $118,000 in federal grant funding to create a longer-term training program and policy.

In an outline of their new de-escalation program, RPD said the death of George Floyd and others was among the reasons for “diminished public trust in American Law Enforcement.”

Raleigh social justice activist Kerwin Pittman agrees, saying community confidence in police needs to be restored.

“Community trust needs to be built first and foremost,” Pittman said. “Law enforcement are to protect and serve the public, and so the public must trust them in order for them to effectively protect and serve.”

To rework its de-escalation policy, starting next year, the department plans to hold eight public feedback sessions. It will also send a total of 70 officers and members of crisis intervention teams to three separate in- and out-of-state training sessions to learn more tools to respond to fast-changing situations.  

Those tools will then be used to create a department-wide, 9-month-long training on how to slow down a scene, interview people and respond best. 

The police department hopes to have community meetings after the new year and start the training for officers by next August. 

Pittman said although he wants more information on how RPD will enforce the new policy among its officers, he said the effort is a step in the right direction.

“What we want to see is effective, evidence-based de-escalating trainings and models that will essentially de-escalate the officer in order so he can de-escalate whatever situation it is,” Pittman said.

Community college program and statewide mandatory trainings also look to strengthen de-escalation teaching

Jamie Wicker at Wake Tech’s public safety training program, an officer herself, said when she teaches new officers, she wants them to think about the safest way to resolve a scene, not necessarily always the fastest way.

“How can you adjust your approach to resolve this maybe with less force or more time or allow more flexibility or more options?” Wicker asked. “New officers or trainees want to speed things up quickly, so it’s always good practice to help them understand that you may have some time or you can buy some time to bring things down a little bit.”

The director of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, Bill Hollingsed, said the state is working to increase crisis response training during yearly required courses.  

“We are providing general de-escalation, crisis intervention training at a statewide level,” Hollingsed said. “We applaud agencies like Raleigh that are going a step further and providing additional training for their officers.”

Nazneen Ahmed, DOJ spokesperson for the NC Justice Academy, said in a statement that the required basic law enforcement training (BLET) curriculum is being re-done and will roll out with revamped courses in 2023.

“The revised curriculum will include de-escalation and crisis-intervention trainings incorporated throughout many other topics in the curriculum,” Ahmed said. “These curriculum review and updates are being done with input from local law enforcement, police, sheriffs, the public, and community advocates.”

The academy has already started to offer optional de-escalation training in April. So far, they have trained more than 180 officers from 179 agencies, including RPD.

“The Justice Academy is also implementing an advanced de-escalation training program via the National De-escalation Training Center,” Ahmed said. “The academy has been named a regional training center via the NDTC, and should begin delivering classes in the spring of 2022,”