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Can Philadelphia transform its police force from 'warriors' to 'guardians'? This deescalation training could help

By William Bender, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

Camden and more than 80 other police departments around the country use a version of the training known as ICAT (Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics), and the results are promising. Developed by the Police Executive Research Forum, its techniques are designed for scenarios in which a person is armed with a weapon other than a gun, particularly those involving people in crisis or attempting "suicide by cop."

ICAT teaches officers to create space, taking cover behind their squad cars or other barriers if possible, and buying time. Ideally, one officer takes the lead in speaking with a subject and uses open-ended questions — rather than multiple officers yelling commands down the barrel of their guns.

Some of the concepts are based on lessons learned in Scotland, where most police officers do not carry guns, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

"It dawned on me. They have situations there involving people with knives and 2x4s and rocks, but you never hear of police in the United Kingdom shooting people, unless they're terrorists," Wexler said. "In America, we train them that if someone has a knife, pull out a gun and bark orders."

For someone with mental illness, Wexler said, "that might be the worst thing you can do."

Philadelphia police receive some deescalation training, but neither of the officers who shot Wallace had gone through the department's crisis-intervention training, nor were they equipped with Tasers.


Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has said she is interested in bringing the ICAT program to Philadelphia. She had used it in Portland, Oregon, while serving as police chief there before taking over Philadelphia's department in January. Wexler said he has been in discussions with Outlaw following the Wallace shooting.

ICAT and other forms of deescalation training have won over skeptics who initially were concerned that a less aggressive police response would put officers in harm's way.

Mike Chitwood, a former Philadelphia officer, signed up all of his deputies for training in 2016 after he took over as sheriff in Volusia County, Florida. Last year, use-of-force incidents and injuries to his deputies were both down 50% from 2016, Chitwood recently told the Philadelphia Citizen.

"We're onto something," Chitwood said. "We have to continue what we're doing."


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