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Crisis De-Escalation Training for ‘War Situation’ Comes to Urban Sheriff’s Dept.

A pilot Program in Los Angeles is trying to restore urban communities’ trust in law enforcement.

LOS ANGELES — Organizers of a conflict resolution training course for sheriff deputies in Los Angeles hope to make de-escalation techniques commonplace within law enforcement.

The course is the product of a unique partnership between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Foundation, the Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

“We’re in a war situation right now,” said J. Edgar Boyd, the church’s pastor and chief executive, “but we’re planning for peace.”

“Law enforcement organizations like LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department and CHP [California Highway Patrol] are really working hard to place some reforms and some changes that will cause sensitivity to be displayed by officers,” Boyd said. “This whole process of sensitizing law enforcement is something that is critically needed, not just for the community but for the officers and for the department as a whole.”

Some 25 sheriff deputies from across the LASD attended the first course on Oct. 24.

Former FBI special agent Dr. Errol Southers hopes that interested community members who regularly interact with the police will eventually sit in on future de-escalation training sessions. (Photo by Evan Henerson)

Classes cover topics such as the causes of crises and the impact of crises on the behavior of individuals and groups. Instructors aim to give law enforcement professionals the practical tools needed to minimize risk, maximize compliance and create conditions that make crisis de-escalation possible.

Participants discussed some challenges they faced with instructor Alexandra Lieben, a certified mediator, specialist in international conflict resolution and lecturer at the Safe Communities Institute.

“We are at a point where legitimacy is undermined. The public doesn’t trust law enforcement,” Lieben said. “Amidst all the calls for police reform, this is one piece. How do we build that trust back?”

Interest in conflict resolution material has increased since the death of George Floyd, according to Dr. Erroll Southers, Safe Communities Institute director and a former FBI special agent.

“We come from a police academy standpoint where, unfortunately, we’ve been teaching officers for decades that everybody can be a threat,” Southers said. “This comes from a totally different premise. We have to get away from that warrior mentality and get into that guardian mindset so we can really help people.”

Follow-up with trainees will be ongoing at monthly debriefs to determine whether the deputies found the information helpful and relevant, Southers said.

“This isn’t a ‘show and go.’ We don’t just give them a certificate and say ‘good luck,’” said Southers. “We want to debrief through this not only to inform them but also to improve the program as it goes along. So, these officers are now wedded to this for their career.”

Southers hopes that interested community members who regularly interact with the police will eventually sit in on future de-escalation training sessions.

The course is the product of a unique partnership between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Foundation, the Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. (Photo by Evan Henerson)

“It’s not just about taking a class,” David Hochman, founder of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Foundation, which sponsored the sheriff deputies’ enrollment fees, said. “It’s applying what you learned in the field from a practical standpoint. I’m very encouraged, and I’m happy everyone is working together.”

Black Lives Matter leaders did not reply to a request for comment from Zenger News.

(Edited by Joanna Victoria Lewis and Stan Chrapowicki)