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Members Of Utah Law Enforcement Look At Relationship Building As A Tool For De-escalation

Photo of police in riot gear in Salt Lake City.
Brian Albers
Utah law enforcement agencies are considering ways to implement more de-escalation training for officers. The Utah Legislature passed a law requiring more hours of that type of training.

For Jason Lehman, de-escalation isn’t just something that happens moments before a possible incident between police and community members.

It starts with people getting to know each other.

“It takes a lot of effort to want to seek to understand somebody when they may be giving you the finger or they may be telling you that they want to hurt you,” Lehman said. “Most of the time, the human condition forces us to care about each other more when we know more about each other.”

Lehman is a police sergeant in Long Beach, California, and the founder of Why’d You Stop Me — a program that’s intended to help reduce violent confrontations. Monday’s training took place at one of the Salt Lake City Police Department’s precincts.

Around 30 members of Utah law enforcement volunteered — from police chiefs to line officers. They represented parts of the state from Iron County up to Weber County.

Lehman’s team led them through scenarios, like a call about a suspicious vehicle that ended in gunshots. They discussed whether there was anything police could have done prior to or during the incident that would have led to a different outcome.

A photo of a group of police officers sitting around a table in a training.
Emily Means
Members of Utah law enforcement discuss how they could respond differently to a scenario that resulted in someone dead and an officer shot.

His approach also puts some of the responsibility on the shoulders of the general public.

“Even though the community is not expected to be trained professionals, we have to teach the community a few things about the police at some point,” he said. “Right now, the best way we can do that is to think about police officers on a call by call basis trying to instill some ideas in the community.”

Ian Adams, the executive director of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said officers in the state already receive some sort of training but there’s no one right way to do it.

“What we're dealing with is an interaction between two or more parties,” Adams said. “So people have to come to some understanding that there is no single tactic that you can simply employ that de-escalates people.”

The Utah Legislature passed a law this year to increase training for officers. Adams said the Why’d You Stop Me program is just one training option for law enforcement agencies to consider.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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