This episode was originally broadcast on May 6, 2017.

Some police departments are embracing tactics designed to reduce the use of force – and prevent shootings. Rather than rushing in aggressively, officers back off, wait out people in crisis and use words instead of weapons. It’s a technique called de-escalation.

But this training isn’t required in most states. Reveal teams up with APM Reports and finds that most police spend a lot more time training to shoot their guns than learning how to avoid firing them.

APM Reports correspondent Curtis Gilbert visits a Georgia town where police don’t do much de-escalation training – despite what happened two years ago. In 2015, a man who was behaving oddly and singing hymns in a grocery store was killed 35 seconds after a police officer arrived on scene.

And experts believe it’s no coincidence that so many police shootings happen in so little time. They say if police slow down, it could save lives. In our next segment, Gilbert takes us to Minnesota for a look at how this training works and how some officers say it has helped them avoid using force.

Our final segment introduces us to some law enforcement officials who are opposed to requiring de-escalation training, fearing officers might get hurt if they are trained to hesitate before using force.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: When cops untrained in de-escalation kill unarmed people
  • Explore: APM Reports’ full “Not trained to not kill” investigation


Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Just about a month ago, in Toronto, a white van barrels down a busy street. It jumps a curb, and careens onto a sidewalk.
Alan Carter:I’m Alan Carter with a breaking story coming out of Toronto right now. A number of people struck by a van in the Yonge and Sheppard area.
Al Letson:About 24 miles away, Mike Federico is at home. He recently retired as the city’s longtime deputy police chief. He watches the scene unfold on his TV screen.
Mike Federico:Initially, it seemed like a traffic incident where a motorist had struck a number of pedestrians, but as the information came out it sounded like the event was more deliberate.
Al Letson:The van travels 16 blocks. It swerves on and off the sidewalk as pedestrians dive for cover. It hits 26 people and kills 10 of them. After about a mile, the van stops in front of a high end condo tower. That’s where a police officer confronts the driver. People watching take out their cell phones and start recording.
Mike Federico:And the video captures the person making movements that looked like drawing a firearm and pointing it at police officer.
Al Letson:The driver stands beside the van. He has a dark colored object in his hand. The officer stands behind his car, sirens blaring.
Mike Federico:The police officer, I should mention, has his firearm out.
Al Letson:They’re in a standoff. The officer pointing a gun, the man holding his arm like he has one too. The officer yells, “Get down.” The man yells, “Kill me,” and it seems like this is going to end with someone getting shot. But then, the officer does something unexpected. He turns off the siren.
Mike Federico:And that of course reduces the noise and the distraction, and then that lowers the stress levels and of course gives the officer an opportunity to actually communicate with the individual.
Al Letson:Now, the two can hear each other. The driver, still aiming at the cop, says he has a gun in his pocket.
Ken Lam:Get down.
Alek Minassian:I have a gun in my pocket.
Al Letson:The cop says-
Ken Lam:I don’t care. Get down.
Al Letson:… he doesn’t care. And then, the officer makes another surprising decision.
Ken Lam:[inaudible 00:02:21]
Mike Federico:The video shows the officer holstering their firearm, pulling out his baton, and then within a few seconds moving in on the subject and making the arrest.
Al Letson:The officer raises his baton, and walks toward the man. All of a sudden, the man drops what he’s holding. It looks like maybe it’s a cell phone. He gets down on the ground as he’s told, and puts his hands behind his back. No shots fired. No one else gets hurt.
The man’s name is Alek Minassian. He’s facing 10 charges of first degree murder. Constable Ken Lam is being hailed as a hero, but retired deputy chief Mike Federico sees something more than bravery of a single officer. He sees the officer’s training at work.
Mike Federico:It demonstrated to me that the officer absorbed the training, took it to heart, so I was proud of that.


Al Letson:Three years ago, Federico led an overhaul of the department’s training program. Now, every year, Toronto officers receive training in a set of techniques designed to deescalate tense situations. They learn to back off, slow down, and use their communication skills to resolve conflict.


Mike Federico:The new training tries to get the police officer to take the situation and the person under control without resorting to force or resorting to the least amount of force.


Al Letson:The Toronto video got a lot of attention here in the US where nearly 1,000 people are shot and killed by police every year. Recently some US police departments have adopted a training program like the one in Toronto. But most US police departments still aren’t doing that training, and most states don’t make them.


Today, we’re teaming up with a group of investigative reporters from American Public Media to look at why police spend more time learning how to shoot their guns than learning how to avoid shooting them. This a story were originally brought you last year. We start off with APM Reports correspondent Curtis Gilbert, visiting a South Georgia town where police don’t do much deescalation training in spite of what happened there in 2015.


Curtis Gilbert:Most days, life in Arlington, Georgia is pretty uneventful. It’s a farming community 30 miles from the Alabama border. Arlington has 1,400 people and one grocery store, Jerry’s Country Meat. Jerry Scarborough owns the store. He recognizes just about every customer who walks through the door.


Jerry S.:Everybody knows everybody, know where they go to church, where the children go to school, what the dog’s name is.


Curtis Gilbert:Jerry has a couple of rocking chairs out front. He’s happy to sit down for a few minutes and talk about the day a couple years back when a stranger walked into his store. The man was in his late 50s, and he was acting bizarre.


Jerry S.:He was quoting the scripture a good bit, and singing. The only thing he said to me when I said something to him was that I was fired, to turn in my keys, all 14 of them.


Curtis Gilbert:So he was acting like he owned the place?


Jerry S.:Yeah. Yeah, basically. And he asked the girls up front if they believed in god, and when they said, “Yes,” he went ranting and raving at them.


Curtis Gilbert:Was he threatening them, or just saying this crazy scripture thing and trying to fire people?


Jerry S.:Physically threatening them, no. He was telling them all to get out. Then he left and went back to the deli and started on my deli girls back there. He told all them girls they were fired, and then he went back out the door.


911 operator:9-1-1, how may I help you?


Store employee:I need a-


Curtis Gilbert:One of Jerry’s employees called the police about the man.


Store employee:Something’s mentally wrong with him, seriously.


911 operator:Do you think … Okay.


Store employee:Like I think maybe he’s crazy.


Curtis Gilbert:Sergeant Mickey White was off duty, driving his squad car home from his job at the Early County Sheriff’s office. There were no other police nearby when the call came over the radio, so White took it. By the time he rolled up, the man was in his car trying to get through a construction zone. White’s dash cam video shows what happened next.


Mickey White:Driver, step out of your car. Get your hands where I can see them. Put them on the hood of the car.


Curtis Gilbert:Instead, the man gets out of his car and walks slowly towards Sergeant White.


Mickey White:Put your hands on the hood of the car now.


Curtis Gilbert:Then, just as he had in the grocery store, the man begins to sing. It’s a hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness.


Derry Touchtone:(singing)


Mickey White:Put your hands on the car. I am going to tase you.


Derry Touchtone:(singing)


Mickey White:Put your hands on the car. I’m going to tase you.


Derry Touchtone:(singing)


Curtis Gilbert:The taser doesn’t knock the man to the ground, it just makes him mad. He stumbles back, then cocks his fist and charges at Sergeant White. The man lands two glancing blows as the Sergeant draws his gun.


Mickey White:97 Jay Central shots fired. Subject is down.


Curtis Gilbert:The man is dead. Sergeant Mickey White had been on the scene for a total of 35 seconds. Last summer, a grand jury ruled the shooting was legally justified, but right after he’d killed the man, Sergeant White wondered out loud whether he’d done the right thing.


Mickey White:And you know the bad thing about it, Brent?


Curtis Gilbert:The dash camera recorded this conversation with another officer, about 20 minutes after the shooting.


Mickey White:[inaudible 00:07:43] You know what I mean? [inaudible 00:07:47] I could have fought him.


Curtis Gilbert:“I could have fought him,” Sergeant White says.


Brent:Don’t second guess yourself. You did what Mickey had to do.


Curtis Gilbert:“you did what Mickey had to do.”


Brent:You did what Mickey had to do.


Curtis Gilbert:Mickey White did what he was trained to do. But I’m left wondering whether it could have all ended differently if he’d taken another approach. And I’m not the only one who has that reaction after watching the video.


Derek Collins:He’s dead over that?


Curtis Gilbert:Oh yeah. Shot twice.


Derek Collins:That makes no sense.


Curtis Gilbert:Derek Collins trains police to resolve situations without violence.


Derek Collins:One of the things the officers have to do is practice patience. If the citizen did not have a weapon on them that shows a danger to himself or to other people, things don’t have to be resolved within the first 30 seconds. Let him sing all day. Let him stand out his car and sing until backup comes.


Curtis Gilbert:Even in this post-Ferguson world, where it seems like every police shooting of an unarmed person gets dissected and analyzed, the stranger’s death didn’t get much attention. It happened far from any major media market. No one demanded to see the video. There were no protest marches. Databases of police shootings maintained by The Guardian and the Washington Post both misspell his name. It was Derry Touchtone. Derry’s family didn’t file a lawsuit.


Clint Touchtone:My first words were, “I don’t care.”


Curtis Gilbert:Clint Touchtone is Derry’s son. Clint was 28 when the shooting happened, and for most of his life he didn’t have much of a relationship with his father. At the time of the shooting, it had been about 10 years since he last saw his dad.


Clint Touchtone:It just a lot of resentment at that time coming out. I really didn’t wanna deal with it. But that was selfish. And then the fact then, like hey, he’s gone, ain’t never coming back, that kinda settled down on me, then I kinda got haunted. It took a toll on me. It kinda messed with me.


Curtis Gilbert:Because there was so little media coverage of Derry Touchtone’s death, Clint didn’t even know there was a video of the incident. When I tell him I have a copy on my laptop, he asks if he can watch it.


All right. You sure you wanna see this?


Clint Touchtone:Yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, yeah. I feel like I need to. I feel like it’ll help, for real.


Curtis Gilbert:Okay. Here it goes.


Clint Touchtone:I’ll be damn. Yeah, he’s definitely gotten older.


Curtis Gilbert:Clint listens in silence as his father is tased and takes a swing at Sergeant White. When the shot is fired, his dad and Sergeant White are off camera.


Clint Touchtone:That was it, wasn’t it?


Curtis Gilbert:Yep.


Clint Touchtone:Dang. Damn, Derry. It’s kinda depressing, knowing that’s the last thing he seen there. Man. You know, why? It seems like it was uncalled for. The whole scene, not just as far as the police, him and all. It’s mind boggling, you know, it’s like what? Where did that come from? I’d never in a million years … Maybe me, but not him. I’m the one that’s always had the run in with the law. But not him, he never had no trouble with the law.


Curtis Gilbert:Clint’s father may have been a stranger in Arlington, Georgia, but half an hour up the road, where he grew up in Newton, just about everybody knew Derry Touchtone. Friends say he was popular in high school. His family had money when he was younger, but his father made some bad investments and lost the farm. Marquita Bullard used to own the trailer park where Derry lived until a couple years before he died. She says on Derry’s good days, you couldn’t hope for a better friend.


Marquita B:There was this old black lady that he loved, and she loved him, and they were both having it hard financially before he got his disability started. He would go catch fish out of the river and bring them to her, and she would cook for both of them. He was just that kind of person.


Curtis Gilbert:But Marquita was also familiar with Derry’s problems. She was one of the counselors at the local mental health clinic. She says he was bipolar and occasionally suffered from delusions. Derry once told friends he’d punched a hole through a concrete wall. Another time, he said he’d won a baseball scholarship to the University of Georgia.


Marquita says as a mental health worker she took training on how to deal with people like Derry, and she wishes more police did too.


Marquita B:I have a lot of respect for most law enforcement people, but what I’d like them to recognize is that they need training in this area, and not just for mental health reasons, but dealing with alcoholics and drug addicts, dealing with domestic violence, dealing with parents who are upset when they have to go in and take their child out of the home. All of these are volatile situations, and they have the potential to blow up in your face.


Curtis Gilbert:The officer who killed Derry had been involved in other volatile situations. After the shooting, Sergeant Mickey White had to tell agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations about one of them.


GBI agent:Have you been involved in any other shootings?


Mickey White:Yes.


GBI agent:And-


Mickey White:September the 26th, 2009. Baker County.


Curtis Gilbert:The McElroy family was having another squabble. [Orchin 00:13:05] McElroy is 62, and he’s lived in a trailer at the end of a muddy dirt path for most of his life. He’s got a thick south Georgia accent, and he can talk pretty fast.


Orchin McElroy:Argument be made sometimes. We don’t agree sometimes. He get out of the [crosstalk 00:13:18]


Curtis Gilbert:He says, “Argument be made sometimes. We don’t agree sometimes.” He’s talking about his brother Terry. Terry used to live next door, and he used to get to arguing with other members of the family.


Orchin McElroy:It’d get out of hand sometimes. We’d call the police. Police come in, settle him down, he’d go home [inaudible 00:13:40]


Curtis Gilbert:He’d get out of hand sometimes and they’d call he police. Police would come in, settle him down, he’d go home to his house.


Orchin McElroy:It’s just a family thing, that’s all.


Curtis Gilbert:Just a family thing, that’s all. But that night in 2009, it wasn’t the usual officer who responded. It was Mickey White. He’d taken a job with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office earlier that year. White tried to arrest Terry, but he told the investigators Terry wouldn’t cooperate.


Mickey White:I sprayed him with pepper spray. He wiped it out of his face. I hit him with the little baton in the legs. He come toward me. I try to handcuff him, he throws my handcuffs across. I push him to the ground, he does pushups with me on his back. He gets out up from under me somewhere during the thing. He says, “Oh, you wanna fight?” He comes and jumps on my back, and I stick the pistol under my arm and shoot.


Terry McElroy:I said, “Man, I don’t believe you shot me, man.”


Curtis Gilbert:Terry McElroy survived, but he still has a scar on his chest from the bullet wound.


Terry McElroy:I didn’t even feel it at first, I just went down. I just went down and got weak. But when I wind up waking up in the hospital, I felt it then.


Curtis Gilbert:Terry eventually pleaded guilty to obstructing an officer. An investigation cleared Mickey White of any wrongdoing in the shooting. He wouldn’t talk to me for this story.


Mickey White has been a cop for more than 15 years. In that time, he shot two unarmed people. Before the shootings, he’d never taken a course in deescalation. But he’d taken more than 600 hours of training in other subjects. In fact, on the day Sergeant White shot and killed Derry Touchtone, White had just attended a five hour training session. And it wasn’t just any training. It was called Firearms Requalification and Use of Deadly Force. He spent part of the morning doing target practice on the shooting range and the other part learning when he could legally open fire on someone.


WIll Coddle:Describe it? Well, I do it in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.


Curtis Gilbert:Captain Will [Coddle 00:15:43] taught the deadly force class at the Early County Sheriff’s Office that day. He’s been doing it since 2010.


WIll Coddle:The training on deadly force is focused on the code sections, basically, so it’s coming right out of the code book, is where we get that training from.


Curtis Gilbert:Have there been any significant changes to the kinds of topics you’re covering with officers?


WIll Coddle:There have not been any changes in the law, so our training wouldn’t have change as far as what’s required, when you’re authorized to use deadly force.


Curtis Gilbert:When police use deadly force, the law is generally on their side. If an officer reasonably believes there’s a threat to his safety or someone else’s, then he’s allowed to shoot. Coddle didn’t spend any time teaching officers how to resolve situations without firing their weapon.


Mickey White’s training history is pretty typical. We looked at training records in other states that, like Georgia, hadn’t historically required police departments to train officers in deescalation. Those records show that officers usually don’t get that kind of training. Just like Mickey White.


In 2017, we reviewed training records for every law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia. It’s remarkable how little of their training was devoted to deescalation. At the time, it accounted for about 1% of all the training hours over the previous five years. Early County, where White works, did considerably less than that.


WIlliam Price:He’s coming over now?


Officer:He’s on his way.


Curtis Gilbert:I went to see the Early County Sheriff to find out why.


WIlliam Price:Did you enjoy the Days Inn?


Curtis Gilbert:William Price has held this office since 2012. He was the first black sheriff ever elected here.


WIlliam Price:It was very big find.


Curtis Gilbert:Talk about it.


WIlliam Price:It was basically said it was impossible here.


Curtis Gilbert:Price has a hand made placard on his desk. It says, “Back the Blue.” I saw similar signs around town.


WIlliam Price:You know, all lives matter, no matter what color they is.


Curtis Gilbert:Sheriff Price describes Mickey White as a good old country boy and a great employee.


WIlliam Price:This Mickey White, all I could tell you, he’s just a good officer.


Curtis Gilbert:He isn’t interested in second guessing the shooting of Derry Touchtone or how Sergeant White was trained.


WIlliam Price:But you can what if that situation from now to forever. A lot of folks don’t realize we have two seconds to make a decision. People sit around a table and judge us all day. It was a justified shooting, that’s basically it. It has nothing to do with his training. He’s well trained.


Curtis Gilbert:But you …


 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
 Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 – 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Sheriff Price:So it has nothing to do with his training. He’s well trained.


Curtis Gilbert:But you know, there is this whole line of training that, you know, slow down the action, give yourself some space and try to give yourself some more time, don’t try to resolve the situation as quickly. Do you think that an approach like that might have led to an outcome where that guy isn’t dead?


Sheriff Price:So, that’s still my point. In certain situations, yeah, you may can’t go and approach a certain situation a certain way. But then that situation, boom, bam, it happened.


Curtis Gilbert:I’d just like to pause there for a moment. The Sheriff says de-escalation training wouldn’t work because the situation unfolded so quickly. But one of the key things officers learn in de-escalation training, is to slow things down. So out of 600 hours of training, why didn’t Sergeant White spend even one of them learning about ways to avoid shooting people?


Sheriff Price questions the value of formal de-escalation training. He sees that as a skill that simply comes with experience.


Sheriff Price:The first five years of my law enforcement career, I ’bout had to fight everybody to put them in the car to arrest ’em. The next five years, it was a lot easier to talk ’em to get in it. From my experience, over 27 years of experience, on the job training’s the best you can get. Can’t nobody teach you how to de-escalate nobody other than the streets itself. You’ll learn quickly.


Derek Collins:I think that’s a whole bunch of B.S.


Curtis Gilbert:Police de-escalation trainer, Derek Collins, says the skills he teaches don’t come naturally to every cop.


Derek Collins:And the reason why is this. Everybody’s not as emotionally intelligent as other people.


Curtis Gilbert:After developing his training course, Derek’s organization contacted more than 150 law enforcement agencies in Georgia, to see if they were interested in putting their officers through it. Only two police departments signed up.


Derek Collins:We should have had at least a hundred times more officers in this training, and no one sought us out. The people that we got in the training, we all sought them out. And it’s a shame.


Curtis Gilbert:The whole experience left Derek feeling cynical. Especially when he sees all the other training police are doing.


Derek Collins:Let me go to So you got-


Curtis Gilbert:He pulls up an online calendar, where police trainers advertise their classes.


Derek Collins:We saw one de-escalation training, right?


Curtis Gilbert:Yeah, and there’s another one there.


Derek Collins:Okay. That’s two. So let’s keep on scrolling down.


Curtis Gilbert:You’ve got emerging law enforcement legal trends, internet tools for criminal investigators, hands on electrical fire, investigating officer involved shootings, statement analysis, career protection resiliency, criminal patrol drug interdiction.


Derek Collins:Oh, and then there’s, that’s me. So we saw three so far. Out of, I don’t know, maybe 100, 150, 200. With all these shootings that has happened, you would think this board would be filled with de-escalation trainings, but it’s not.


Curtis Gilbert:Derek says, if police chiefs aren’t willing to make de-escalation training a priority, someone is going to have to make them do it. And in Georgia, someone now has. Starting last year, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Counsel, required every officer in the state to take at least one hour of de-escalation training every year. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s a lot more than most Georgia police departments had been doing.


Al Letson:Curtis Gilbert is a correspondent with APM Reports. There an investigative journalism group based at American Public Media. After the break, Curtis takes us to Minneapolis, where we meet cops who are changing their approach to people like   Derry Touchtone.


Jennifer L:I just was very honest with him, and let him know I thought that his behavior appeared paranoid. He basically started crying.


Al Letson:That’s in a minute, on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX.


From the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.


Thirty-five seconds. That’s how long it took between the time Sergeant Mickey White pulled up in his squad car and the moment he shot and killed Derry Touchstone in rural Georgia. In Ferguson, Missouri, the shots that killed Michael Brown were fired less than two minutes after the police arrived.


Anchorwoman:Took just 90 seconds.


Anchorman:Some 90 seconds later, Brown was dead, reports the newspaper-


Al Letson:For Philando Castile in Minnesota, it was just over a minute.


Anchorwoman 2:Unfolded in a one-minute traffic stop in Falcon Heights, right next to-


Al Letson:For 12 year old Tamir Rice, playing with a pellet gun at a park in Cleveland, it was less than two seconds between the time the police rolled up on the scene, and opened fire, killing him.


Anchorwoman 2:It happened in the blink of an eye. So was this-


Al Letson:Add it up, and that’s four people dead in under four minutes. Experts believe it’s no coincidence that so many police shootings happen in so little time.


San Francisco Police Departments study the relationship between time and shots fired. Assistant Police Chief, Tony Chaplain, keeps a chart in his office.


Tony Chaplain:[inaudible 00:23:20]


Al Letson:He conveys every time his officers open fire during a five year period.


Tony Chaplain:In under a minute, 45 percent of the shootings occurred. When you went to a minute, you’re up to 10 percent. At two minutes, you’re at five percent. Three minutes, and it just, literally the graph falls off a cliff with each minute that you stall these things out. If we create this time and distance, as you can see from this graph, we save lives.


Al Letson:Today, we’re taking an in depth look at one way police departments are training officers to take their time, through something called de-escalation.


Curtis Gilbert, and his colleagues at APM Reports, found most police departments spend hardly any time training in de-escalation, even though they spend a lot of time doing various other trainings. For the next part of our story, Curtis takes us to Minnesota to see how this training actually works.


Paul Monteen:How are you going this morning?


Woman:We’re excited.


Paul Monteen:All right, I like that. Excited.


Curtis Gilbert:This training session was held in a non de script government building, surrounded by farmland on the rural fringes of the Minneapolis suburbs. More than 40 people attended, including both cops, and county social workers. This eight hour course focuses on how to resolve a mental health crisis, without resorting to violence.


Paul Monteen:Slow down. Back off. Take cover. You don’t have to win.


Curtis Gilbert:Retired Police Chief, Paul Monteen, is one of the instructors for this training. One way he teaches officers to slow down a situation, is through better communication. Monteen advises them to avoid asking yes or no questions.


Paul Monteen:You need to open end those questions in a, what’s bothering you? You’re mad? How come you’re mad? So that people will tell you what they are thinking about.


Curtis Gilbert:At the end of the training session, the cops and social workers get a chance to practice those techniques.


Paul Monteen:Okay, we’re gonna work this about 15 minutes or so.


Curtis Gilbert:I sit in on one of the groups. Jean Ranthom works in the county Human Services Department. She’s assigned to play an agitated Alzheimer’s patient named Charles.


Jean Ranthom:Am I supposed to start?


Speaker 1:Yeah.


Jean Ranthom:Okay, I’m having a temper tantrum. The nurse just made me mad.


Curtis Gilbert:Deputy Ryan Edmonds, from the sheriff’s office, plays himself.


Ryan Edmonds:Why did she make you mad Charles?


Jean Ranthom:I just … I don’t know. I don’t know where it is. I haven’t seen my stuff. Maybe Claire knows where it’s at.


Ryan Edmonds:Claire?


Jean Ranthom:Claire.


Ryan Edmonds:We can certainly ask Claire. And who’s Claire to you?


Curtis Gilbert:Edmonds is trying out an active listening technique covered in the class. The idea is to show you’re paying attention by repeating the last thing someone says and turning it into a question.


Jean Ranthom:She works for me.


Ryan Edmonds:She works for you?


Curtis Gilbert:Deputy Edmonds took another de-escalation training a couple ears ago. He says he never learned this stuff when he started his career.


Ryan Edmonds:I went through training 12 years ago and they definitely didn’t have any same or similar topics, more of a hands on, use of force issues, not communication skills, active listening skills. We never really touched much on that at all.


Curtis Gilbert:So you been through a training like this before, and have you had an opportunity to apply some of that stuff that you’ve learned?


Ryan Edmonds:Absolutely. Every day.


Curtis Gilbert:Does it work?


Ryan Edmonds:Absolutely. Yep. Works really well.


Curtis Gilbert:It’s hard to measure exactly how well this kind of training works, especially when it comes to reducing deadly police shootings. That’s because they’re extremely rare. Recent police shootings have gained a lot of attention, usually after a video of the incident surfaces. But the fact is, most police officers will go through their entire career without every firing at anyone. So you can’t take a department, train the officers, and then check to see if they shoot fewer people the next year. Because they probably wouldn’t have shot anyone anyway.


The police departments that have embraced the training, say it’s working. In Dallas, Texas, a year after officers took de-escalation training, the department saw an 18 percent drop in the use of force. Use of force means more than just shootings. It also includes everything from wrestling with suspects, to tasing them.


Las Vegas also made a major push for de-escalation, and saw a use of force decline. But the most powerful evidence the training works, comes from the cops who’ve done it.


Jennifer Lazarchic joined the Minneapolis Police Department in the mid ’90s. Back then, she says officers weren’t trained to empathize with people. Lazarchic remembers she was taught three simple steps to get people to comply with her orders. Ask, tell, make.


Jennifer L:Ask them to do what you like ’em to do. If they don’t do it, tell them to do what you’d like. And then when that doesn’t happen, you make them.


Curtis Gilbert:Make them, means use physical force. And all those fights have taken their toll.


Jennifer L:I stubbed my toe one time in a fight, which damaged my toe to the point where it’s now fused. I have a wrist issue that when I was trying to arrest somebody, he did the squiggle out of his little coat thing and I fell landing on the palms of my hands, and injured my wrist. It’ll always hurt.


Curtis Gilbert:But Officer Lazarchic isn’t getting into as many fights as she used to. The reason, she says, is a few years ago, the department put her through de-escalation training.


And I should probably begin by having you just tell me where we are, and what we’re doing.


Jennifer L:Huh. You want me to tell you where we are? Huh? Somewhere in the skyways of Minneapolis.


Curtis Gilbert:Even cops have a hard time navigating the maze of the Minneapolis Skyway System. It’s a series of elevated enclosed bridges connecting most of the buildings in the downtown business district. You can walk from one end of downtown to the other, without ever going outside in the cold of winter, or the heat of summer.


Picture an eight mile long food court, winding from the second floor of one building to the next. I met Officer Lazarchic there, because it’s one of the places where she put her de-escalation training to work.


She and her partner answered a 911 call from a security guard here in 2017. A homeless man was screaming at the morning crowds in the skyways, accusing them of trying to steal his cell phone. Lazarchic and her partner found him in the lobby of a finance firm.


Jennifer L:As we approached, I could see kind of a group of maybe 10 to 15 people standing in a circle in front of that desk, kind of between the pots and the pillar right there.


Curtis Gilbert:At the center of the circle was the man, still agitated and screaming.


Jennifer L:He was sitting on the ground. Twenty years ago, that would have been, okay, you go on one side of ’em. I’ll go on the other. We’ll both grab an arm and we’ll cuff him, and take him to the hospital.


Most of the time that goes okay, but there’s those few times that it doesn’t go okay, and they start to fight with you.


Curtis Gilbert:So instead, Officer Lazarchic asks the crowd to back up. She kneeled down in front of the man, made eye contact, and started a conversation.


Jennifer L:I just was very honest with him, and let him know that I thought his behavior appeared paranoid. And I pointed out that he was sweating, and that it was cold, and that wasn’t normal. And he basically started crying. In having this conversation with him and continually reassuring him that I wanted to help him and not hurt him, he started to talk about wanting to go to the hospital.


Curtis Gilbert:Officer Lazarchic says she got him to the ambulance without even using handcuffs, and nobody got hurt.


Listening to this story, I was struck by the parallels with Derry Touchstone, the man in rural Georgia who was shot by a sheriff’s deputy. Like the guy in Minneapolis, Derry was mentally ill and causing a disturbance, and someone called 911. But when the officer in Georgia arrived, he went old school. Ask, tell, make. It ended 35 seconds later, with Derry dead in the middle of the road. Not on his way to the hospital like the man in Minneapolis.


Officer Lazarchic says she spent at least 35 minutes talking down the homeless man. Not seconds, minutes. Now, she’s helping other officers in Minneapolis learn how to do the same thing. And she says some of them were deeply skeptical at the start of the week long sessions.


Jennifer L:I will say I had so many people that were negative, old timers, who had been trained in the old way that would argue with me during the scenarios and say, I’d never do that, I would never do it that way. That would never work for me. And we would talk it through, and at the end of the training would say, wow. You know what, I get it. That makes sense. I’m gonna to try that next time.


Al Letson:More Minneapolis police might try that next time. Since we first aired this story last year, the city has completed putting all 800 of its patrol officers through a week long de-escalation training. But that’s not the norm.


When we come back, we’ll find out why so many police departments spend so little time on this type of training.


Speaker 2:Nothing is significantly broken in law enforcement right now. We are better trained, better selected, better educated than ever before in the United States of America’s history. Yet we’re in the toilet right now. Why?


Al Letson:That’s in a minute, on Reveal. From The Center For Investigative Reporting, and PRX.


From The Center For Investigative Reporting, and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.


President Obama:This report-


Al Letson:Barack Obama made improving the relationship between police departments and the black community a major priority. His task force on 21st century policing recommended a variety of changes to the way law enforcement agencies trained their officers.


President Obama:It will be good for police, and it will be good for the communities involved, and as a consequence it will be good for the country.


Al Letson:This hour, we’ve been focusing on of those training reforms. It’s called de-escalation. The goal is for police to use force less often, and to prevent the kinds of shootings that have put a wedge between police and communities in recent years. But America has a new president now, and Donald Trump doesn’t like the Obama administration’s approach.


President Trump:They have fostered the dangerous anti police atmosphere in America, and all throughout America.


Al Letson:Trump promises to support cops, and not question the way they do their jobs.


President Trump:The war on our police must end, and it must end now.


Al Letson:Under Trump, the Justice Department has steered its focus away from improving police community relations, and back to more traditional crime fighting programs. But even when Obama was in office, he didn’t get police to change much. The federal government can’t tell local police departments what to do. State governments can, but fewer than half of them require de-escalation training. Almost every state has a small group of people in charge of making that decision. It’s called a Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, or POST Board. We wanted to find out why they don’t require police departments to train officers in de-escalation. So we contacted of all the POST boards. Here’s Curtis Gilbert again of APM Reports, to tell us what they found.


Curtis Gilbert:De-escalation is a controversial subject in the law enforcement world. Mike Sherlock spent 30 years as a cop. He held just about every job on the force.


Mike Sherlock:I actually worked robbery homicide for a while. When you call a witness or something on the phone and go, hey, this is Detective Sherlock, they don’t believe you very often. Let me put it that way.


Curtis Gilbert:You almost had to be a cop, with the last name Sherlock.


Mike Sherlock:Yeah, it was destiny, you know.


Curtis Gilbert:Now Sherlock runs the Nevada POST Commission. It doesn’t mandate de-escalation training, and Sherlock doesn’t think it should.


Mike Sherlock:I think it’s based on a false premise. And the false premise is that officers are prone to excessive force.


Curtis Gilbert:Sherlock says Nevada police officers are already taught that communication skills are key and force is a last resort. But, he says overemphasizing that could be dangerous. He worries it could lead officers to hesitate when they need to be decisive.


Mike Sherlock:I want officers in my neighborhood who make legal-


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 Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 – 00:51:01]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)


Speaker 3:-my neighborhood, who make legal, moral, ethical decisions and it may mean they have to escalate what they’re doing to save my daughter save my son. And my point is we have to be very careful how we couch this. If it’s about using no force we’re going to have officers hurt, we’re going to have citizens hurt.


Speaker 4:Do you think though, with better training you could save a life or two though? You, know every one in a while there’s an officer, it’s not that he did anything illegal or immoral but just that he went there, charging in and got himself into situation where there was only one option left and that was to use his firearm. And that maybe with some better tactics, calling for back up, taking more time, that maybe he wouldn’t have that be the only option.


Speaker 3:I agree with that but again, I go back to we do, do that. That is what we’re teaching. Doing exactly what you’re talking about. Training exactly what you’re talking about is the reason that we have so few use of force incidents in this country.


Speaker 5:This is a pretty common attitude among law enforcement officials. We already know how to de-escalate. We do it every day. But doing it too much could get us hurt or killed. When APM Reports reviewed training records from police departments from around the country we found most of them devoted hardly any time to de-escalation training. And most POST boards don’t make them. Many POST board leaders have no problem with de-escalation training but they do have a problem with mandating it. They want to let local police departments decide how their officers spend their time. And, then there’s the cost. Forty hour de-escalation training can easily run more than $500 per officer. But money and time aren’t the only barriers. Frank Zimring is a Law Professor at UC Berkeley. He studies police shootings.


Zimring points out that most of the seats on state POST boards are held by current of former law enforcement officials.


Frank Zimring:One of the reasons why these fancy looking boards are not aggressive is because they are essentially representatives of local governments.


Speaker 5:So, you’re saying because they’re local police chiefs, they don’t wanna pass mandates on themselves or their peers.


Frank Zimring:You bet. That isn’t rocket science. That’s basic political science.


Speaker 5:So that leaves it up to local police chiefs to decide what training their officers need and Zimring says, reducing the use of force doesn’t seem to be a priority for most of them.


Frank Zimring:De-escalation is going to work only when saving civilian lives becomes and important objective of police administration and training.


Speaker 5:And you think that basically they have not shown that they care about this issue?


Frank Zimring:Not to date.


Speaker 5:We found police departments all often don’t change until they have a high profile shooting. John Ohl led the police department in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony for more than a decade. When he returned in 2016 he gave and interview to a reporter at a community newspaper.


Speaker 6:How’s your day going?


John Ohl:Good.


Speaker 5:In the interview Ohl was dismissive of the Obama Administrations push for police reform.


John Ohl:Nothing’s significantly broken in law enforcement right now. We are better trained, better selected, better educated. Held to more standards, higher accountable with better policies than ever before in the United States of America’s history. Yet, we’re in the toilet right now. Why?


Speaker 5:Ohl told the reporter his department was already doing 90% of what the panel recommended.


John Ohl:And I tell you I just read it and I go, doing, doing, doing, you mean some people don’t do that, doing, doing, doing,


Speaker 5:But, when it comes to de-escalation training the St. Anthony police department did significantly less than many other twin city suburbs. St. Anthony officers did plenty of other training though.


In 2014, two St. Anthony officers went through the course called, The Bullet Proof Mine. It was designed by former Army Ranger and West Point Psychology Professor, Dave Grossman.


Dave Grossman:Dave Grossman begins the sharpening of your bullet proof mind with the glimpse into the world you enter every time you put on your uniform and gun belt. It’s a world you better need to understand to go home safely at the end of every shift.


Speaker 5:This version of the training was posted to YouTube in 2008.


Dave Grossman:We’re living in the most violent times in peace-time human history.


Speaker 5:In it, Grossman paints a frightening picture of police life.


Dave Grossman:You’re not dealing with rag-tag odds and ends criminals out there. You’re dealing with individuals who are motivated to kill in a way that we have never seen before.


Speaker 5:The training is supposed to prepare officers mentally so they won’t flinch if they need to shoot.


Dave Grossman:We’re going to explore the dynamics of another human being looking at you across the sights and you pulling the trigger and snuffing their life out.


Speaker 5:Grossman says police need to think like warriors and prepare themselves for combat. That’s pretty much the opposite of the kind of de-escalation training Obama’s Task Force recommended.


In the summer of 2017 one of the St. Anthony police officers who took that Bullet Proof Mind training shot and killed a black man named Philando Castile during a traffic stop. It was captured on police dash cam video.


Philando C:Officer … [inaudible 00:41:56]


Officer Yanez:Good. Reason I pulled you over did you … your brakes lights are out, so you only have one …


Speaker 5:You might remember what happened. Castile told the officer he was carrying a gun.


Philando C:I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.


Officer Yanez:Okay. Don’t reach for it then.


Philando C:I’m …


Officer Yanez:Don’t pull it out.


Speaker 5:Seconds later the officer opened fire. Killing Castile.


Speaker 7:The officer who shot Philando Castile was Jeronimo Yanez. A jury acquitted him of second degree manslaughter last summer. Castile’s mother was outraged.


Speaker 8:When they get done with us they’re coming for you, for you, for you and all your interracial children. Y’all are next and you’ll be standing up here fighting for justice just as well as I am. I am so disappointed in the State of Minnesota. My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on this body and it was of the twin cities. The State of Minnesota with TC on it. My son loved this city and this city killed my son and a murderer gets away.


Speaker 7:The Castile family received a 3 million dollar settlement from the city of St. Anthony and the city gave Officer Yanez a little less than $50,000 in exchange for his resignation. The city is working with the Justice Department to reform it’s training practices. The work is continuing even though the Trump Administration has said it’s overhauling the program funding that effort.


We first aired this episode reveal a year ago. And Curtis Gilbert joins us now to explain what’s changed since then.


Hey Curtis, how you doing?


Curtis Gilbert:I’m doing great.


Speaker 7:All right, so a year ago there were 16 states requiring de-escalation training so what’s that number at now?


Curtis Gilbert:It’s up to 21 and that’s pretty significant in just one year for five additional states to add de-escalation training requirements. And those states are Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, New Jersey, and South Carolina.


Speaker 7:So why did those states make the change?


Curtis Gilbert:You know it probably varies a bit from state to state but a couple of them, they’re going to sound familiar, Minnesota we were just talking about the Philando Castile shooting, that was a big catalyst in the state of Minnesota. South Carolina, there was the Walter Scott case. Both of those are situations where a police officer was actually criminally charged for shooting a civilian and so I think that was definitely on the mind of legislators when they put those requirements into place.


Speaker 7:So, you’ve also been reporting on physiological evaluations that police officers have to go through which that came up with another high profile police shooting in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, last summer.


Speaker 9:Well there’s a story that is getting international attention, and Australian woman …


Speaker 10:[foreign language 00:08:44 – 00:08:49]


Speaker 11:This is a shocking killing. It’s inexplicable.


Speaker 7:People may remember this case. The police shot and killed an Australian woman named Justine Damond Ruszczyk. She had called the police to report what she thought might be a sexual assault. When the police showed up one of the officer say they got spooked by a noise and someone approaching their car. The other officer opened fire, killing the woman. He’s been charged with third degree murder.


So, Curtis, what did you find when you started looking into this case?


Curtis Gilbert:You know this all really started with a single piece of paper which is the license application that Officer Mohamed Noor, the officer who shot Justine Daymond Ruszczyk, had to submit to become a licensed police officer in the State of Minnesota. And, on that was one line that said, name of licensed psychologist approved for hire, yes or no. And, I thought, it’s that interesting so he had to go to a psychologist. I actually hadn’t, didn’t even know that. And, that led me down this long rabbit hole and what I discovered is that the City of Minneapolis was giving police officers including Officer Noor, way fewer psychological tests than they used to.


They used to put police through a whole battery of five psychological tests and over the last five years they scaled that back to just a single psychological test.


Speaker 7:So why would the city do that?


Curtis Gilbert:Yeah, it really came down to a change in personnel. So, it happened at the same time the city switched psychological screening providers and they went with a provider who for whatever reason, decided one test was going to be sufficient. So, all the other test’s sort of fell by the wayside.


Speaker 7:How effective are these psychological screenings. I mean do we actually know?


Curtis Gilbert:Yes, there’s actually a lot of research that shows they are very effective at identifying which officers are going to be good officer and which officer are potentially going to cause problems on the force. In fact there is good research that shows that doing more than one test is more effective at doing that. So, there really are stakes to a decision like this.


Speaker 7:Minneapolis did a review and it found that minority candidates were being screened out at a disproportionate rate when they were using these test. Do we know what that is?


Curtis Gilbert:Exactly why it was happening is something that no one seems to have a really good answer for. I can tell you this, it was a huge concern for the leaders in the police department. Janee Harteau was Chief of Police in Minneapolis at the time and she was really alarmed when she saw that racial disparity in the psychological testing.


Janee Harteau:We’re not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with those psychological testing evaluations but why is it that consistently white males pass more frequently. It was very consistent when you looked at the data the percentages were always there.


Curtis Gilbert:And that really led the Minneapolis police department for a new psychological provider.


Speaker 7:So, what’s happening in Minneapolis now. Has anything changed?


Curtis Gilbert:Yeah, they found a new provider. It’s a woman named Jan Tyson Roberts. She’s committed to doing a broad array of psychological tests looking at whole bunch of different personality traits.


Speaker 12:Characteristics such as dependability, integrity, stress tolerance, teamwork, social competence.


Curtis Gilbert:And, the other thing I should note, is that Jan Tyson Roberts is the first African American psychologist to do these screenings in the Minneapolis Police Department.


Speaker 7:So, how does this work across the country? I mean do psychological screenings work like de-escalation training where it kind of varies from one police department to the next?


Curtis Gilbert:Yeah, so it definitely is a patchwork that varies from one police department to the next. There are 38 states that require psychological screening. Even more police departments even in states that don’t require it, do it anyway. So, it’s a pretty widespread practice. But when you get down to the nitty gritty and look at, well what tests are you giving, are you following national best practices, are you following research based techniques. One department might be the next one might not be. And that’s really a symptom of the way law enforcement works in the United States. We leave it up to local control and it’s hard to image that’s going to change in a big way any time soon.


Speaker 7:Curtis Gilbert is a correspondent with APM Reports. They’re an investigative journalism group based out of American Public Media.


Curtis, thanks for coming in.


Curtis Gilbert:You bet.


Speaker 7:Today’s show was reported and produced by Curtis and edited by Catherine Winter. They had help from their colleagues at APM Reports.


Jennifer Vogel, Emily Havic, and Ethan Nelson. Along with data reporter Will Craft and APM Report Editor and Chief, Chris Worthington.


We had production help from Samantha Fields.


To see what police training your state requires visit


Our sound design team is the Dynamic Duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernado “my man” Arruda. They had help this week from Claire Mullen, Catherine Raymondo and Mary Lee Williams.


Our acting CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle’s our Editor and Chief. Our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado, Lightening.


Support for Reveals provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. The Ford Foundation. Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.


Reveal is a co-production of the Center of Investigative Reporting and PRX.


I’m Al Letson and remember there is always more to the story.


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