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Discussing use of force: how officers make their decisions

Posted at 6:17 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 21:00:33-04

(WXMI) — A police interaction in Calhoun County this week made headlines for what didn’t happen.

Police were called after reports of a man armed with a knife, suffering a mental health crisis, attempted an apparent suicide by cop. Deputies used non-lethal beanbag rounds and a taser to subdue the man and also had used a negotiator and mental health professionals to make decisions.

“This was a recipe for success,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Steven Hinkley. “We’ve been collaborating with mental health; we have deputies and dispatchers trained in crisis intervention.”

Dr. Dennis Savard, a criminal justice expert and professor at Saginaw Valley State University, says the trend of officers being trained on the job in crisis intervention is becoming more and more common.

“There’s a big emphasis placed on de-escalation,” he said. “De-escalating a situation to a point where force isn’t necessary. It’s a humanistic approach to law enforcement if you will.”

The training typically includes information on how to properly help citizens suffering mental health issues and connect them to resources instead of incarceration.

Dr. Savard says police academies and most departments' use-of-force policies teach use-of-force practice on a sliding scale.

“What we call a use of force continuum,” he said. “At the bottom of the continuum, a police officer can just use some type of verbal resistance…but situations can escalate very quickly. The force that a police officer uses against a subject or a suspect has to be proportionate with the threat they’re facing.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, call the state’s hotline at 1-888-535-6136 then press 8.

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