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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

The most convincing evidence so far is a new study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the University of Cincinnati's Center for Police Research and Policy. The study, released in September, found that ICAT deescalation training in the Louisville, Kentucky, Metro Police Department resulted in 28% fewer use-of-force incidents, 26% fewer citizen injuries and 36% fewer officer injuries.

In Camden, the Police Department started an in-house deescalation training program in 2014 and helped develop what would become the ICAT program in 2016. All recruits now receive the training at the police academy.

Excessive-force complaints have dropped from 65 in 2014 to three in 2019.

"You have to be open-minded as an officer," said Camden Police Chief Joseph Wysocki. "Policing has to evolve. ICAT is the next generation of training. It works and it keeps everyone safe — the officers and the citizens we encounter."

Capt. Kevin Lutz, who oversees Camden's ICAT training, said officers need to recognize — and avoid — "officer-created jeopardy" situations, when officers place themselves in danger unnecessarily and increase the likelihood of using lethal force.

"There's a huge difference between an imminent threat and a possible threat, and we don't want our actions to make that threat imminent," Lutz said.


Instead of multiple officers immediately drawing their guns and yelling orders, Camden's officers are taught to consider their options, including whether it is possible to use distance and negotiating tactics.

"That's not how we were trained 10 years ago," Lutz said. "We want everyone to go home. We want everyone to survive these encounters."

More than a decade ago, the Philadelphia Police Department was running a six-hour deescalation training course that included videos of man-with-a-knife scenarios and emphasized keeping a distance, slowing down the encounter, and having one officer take the lead.

John MacAlarney, the course's lead developer and main presenter, said it was similar to what ICAT teaches today, and thousands of officers took it. The course was developed partly in response to a nationally publicized 2000 incident in which Amtrak police shot and killed a homeless man at 30th Street Station.


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