News 6 gets inside look at de-escalation training used in Volusia County

Training focuses on teaching officers verbal, nonverbal cues

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – One week after Orlando police peacefully ended a standoff at the Orlando International Airport with an armed, mentally troubled man. News 6 is getting an inside look at the training officers go through to handle situations like this.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina told News 6 that when he took over the department in 2014, hestarted making all officers go through what's called "de-escalation" training.

Instead of pulling out their gun and firing during intense, dangerous situations it teaches officers to step back, take cover and take their time -- if possible-- so that everyone involved goes home at the end of the day.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office showed News 6 what this training looks like. The training focuses on the verbal and nonverbal cues, like body language and the officer's posture, to make a person in distress feel as comfortable as possible and trust the officer as much as possible. In an exercise seen by News 6, a deputy in training goes through scenarios, including those on how to deal with someone who is in mental distress.

The trainee is learning what to do and also what not to do when someone is having a tough time.

The stressful situation ends peacefully, like it did last week at the Orlando International Airport when police held their fire, and calmly talked a man with a fake gun into surrendering even after he pointed the gun at police.

"I was very, very impressed at how they did that," Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.

Chitwood said the formula is simple: time, distance and cover. But following it under pressure is difficult.
That's why they train like this.

"There are mentally ill people out there who are armed, and we've seen it here in Volusia County three times this year, with mentally ill people who are armed and we end up shooting them, that if you take a second -- use time, use distance, use cover -- you might not have to shoot, because they're not on their medication; not dealing in reality. Some of them are (attempting) suicide by cop," Chitwood said.

"You can let down your guard, you can be human, but you have to stay professional," one of the trainers said.
Instructors stop the scenario to give the trainee tips on how to de-escalate carefully but effectively so that when the time comes on the streets, he or she can get results.

"We had it happen in Daytona. A man armed with a knife, trying to stab neighbors, officers show up, they do a phenomenal job. They have information -- he was baker, acted two other times, when officers approached him he wanted to be killed, so they know who they're dealing with," Chitwood said. "The guy comes at them with a knife and they already had a game plan, they taze him. He goes to the ground."

In this situation the guy survived the standoff and the deputies weren't hurt, either, the sheriff said.

Chitwood went on to tell News 6 that about a month later he was bike riding through the neighborhood and spotted the same man sitting on his porch, and the sheriff actually got a friendly hello. The guy was back on his medication, the sheriff said and very happy to be alive.

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