Bedford Police Practice De-Escalation Skills

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The Bedford Police Department has announced that most of its officers have completed scenario-based training, specifically focused on proper de-escalation and communication tactics.

The training took place on a mobile training center (MTC) owned by the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office.

Bedford Sgt. Patrick Towle, who coordinated the training, said the MTC is a tractor-trailer unit that allows police departments to replicate a video scenario, such as a car stop or domestic dispute, inside the trailer.

Towle, who is a department firearms instructor, said a video screen in the back of the trailer shows officers a scenario. The video is operated by a deputy sheriff, who controls the situation based on how officers react to it.

If officers handle the scenario using their proper voice commands and de-escalation skills, the scenario ends. “If they just stand there and do nothing and they don’t give voice commands, the situation is going to escalate,” Towle said.

The purpose of these scenarios is to teach officers proper de-escalation tactics. “If they don’t properly address the incident, the incident escalates to where it usually becomes a deadly force situation where they have to use their firearms,” Towle added.

Since the MTC trailer is also lined with ballistic material, this means officers can fire weapons with live ammunition inside, as the room is essentially bulletproof.

“If it turns into a deadly force situation where they use their firearm, they’re actually firing their firearm,” Towle said. “Then we can look and see where their shot placement is afterward.

“It’s pretty unique,” Towle added, explaining how the MTC trailer is different from other training units which only use a video screen and mock weapons. “This actually allows officers to shoot, see how loud it is, and see where their shot placement is,” he said.

According to Towle, his department had the trailer for a week and were able to train 21 out of  27 officers. Each officer was allotted 25 to 30 minutes in the trailer and started with five “skill-building” exercises, such as marksmanship training. From there, officers participated in one of four scenarios the department picked.

“They have hundreds of scenarios,” Towle said. “We specifically picked certain ones where we wanted the officers to work on their de-escalation tactics.” The scenarios the department chose included a motor vehicle stop, a mental health call, and a domestic dispute.

“Domestics can be very volatile, very emotional calls that we respond to … so sometimes they’re very violent,” Towle said. In a situation such as a domestic dispute, officers are expected to separate the parties involved, calm those on scene, and determine if a crime occurred. During a mental health call, protocol is similar, Towle said.

Officers dispatched to a mental health call are also expected to calm the situation and determine whether the scene is safe. “Usually, our goal is to calm them [mental health patients] down enough and get them up into the emergency room, where the emergency department has the resources to deal with it,” Towle said.

Although the BPD has a clinician specially trained to deal with mental health calls, Towle said she also works for several other departments so she’s not always on duty.

“One thing police officers are really good at is talking to people,” he added. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time … they talk them into going to the hospital.”

In addition to the training offered by the MTC, officers are required to attend a 40-hour annual in-service training, which also teaches them proper de-escalation techniques. However, Towle said the MTC trailer is beneficial because it allows officers to practice “very real” scenarios.

“It just allows us to put the officers into a situation where they’re under a little bit of stress and they have to react under that stress,” Towle said.

“We have a lot of incidents in town where just pulling out our taser de-escalates an incident,” he added. “That’s what these tools are all about.”

According to the sheriff’s office, since the trailer was purchased in 2010 it has been used by municipal police departments across the county.

“We are proud to collaborate with Bedford PD on this important training,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian in a press release. “The MTC is an incredible tool for agencies across Middlesex County because it allows officers to train for real life scenarios using the full range of their skills, while getting immediate feedback from instructors.”

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