Update on Police De-escalation Dialogue

mayor-clipart-COV_Cop_clipArtFor those of you who signed our letter to APD, here’s the email I sent today to every member of the Austin City Council, plus the Mayor:

Dear [Council Member or Mayor X],

 

On January 2nd, I sent the attached letter, co-signed by 31 Austin community members, to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The letter requests some information, and an open dialogue, on the type and amount of de-escalation training APD officers receive.

As of today, we have received no reply to this letter. As the letter states, we feel that the issue of police use of force is an important one for our community, and we believe that an open conversation on this topic will help us collaboratively reduce violence and build mutual trust among all Austinites. We are asking for your help in encouraging Chief Acevedo and the Austin Police Department to respond to our initial requests for information, and begin a conversation on a topic that is becoming increasingly important nationally as well as locally.

Thank you for all you do to help keep Austin a safe and just place to live.

Sincerely,

Susan Schorn

The body and signatories of the original letter were appended.

I’ll keep people apprised of any response. Our next level of amplification will be contacting local media, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly soul-enriching activity, but we’ll do it if necessary.

Convention Harassment Materials

Concerned about potential harassment at a convention you’re helping to run? Want to advocate for better anti-harassment procedures at a conference you’ll be attending? My friends Jeremy and Alex put these materials together (with a little input from yours truly) for Sun Dragon  last year. They got lost in Sun Dragon’s recent website redesign, so I’m posting them here in PDF format:

CON Handling Harassment Complaint – Suggested guidelines for convention staff or volunteers when they are approached by someone who has been harassed.

CON Safety Team Incident Reporting – Suggested procedures for formal reporting of an incident by designated staff.

CON Witnessing an Incident – Advice and suggestions for those who witness harassment–includes common attributes/examples of harassment, What you can say/do to interrupt an active situation, and how to report.

Happy Holidays!

mcsweeneys_imageI have a new column up at McSweeney’s about my family’s annual tree-decorating traditions:

My father designed our family home in Texas with a 12-foot cathedral ceiling in the living room, for the sole purpose of accommodating extra-large Christmas trees. This may sound terribly jolly of him but in fact, the ritual of putting up the Christmas tree at our house did not involve a lot of merriment. It was more a demonstration of faith, consisting of 10% piety and 90% brute force—rather like building Stonehenge or re-taking the Holy Land.

For everyone suffering through some more or less beloved holiday traditions at this time of year, remember that any lessons you learned in childhood can be helpful to you in adulthood–even the lesson was to form new traditions, and let go of the old.

Happy holidays!

Take Action: De-escalation query letter for local law enforcement

In light of recent events, I’m gathering signatures on a letter that will go to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, asking about the amount and type of de-escalation training our local police receive. This is the first step in what I hope will be a public conversation about police training and tactics, and their role in community violence. I’m convinced that the lack of high-quality training in de-escalation skills is a big factor in excessive-force incidents involving police. Insufficient training in this area places officers as well as citizens at risk; thus, police departments that don’t take de-escalation training seriously are demonstrating a failure of leadership.

If you’d like to take local action to reduce violence involving law enforcement officials, please feel free to use this letter as a model.

NB: I’ve created this post, on my web site, for people interested in pressing for good quality de-escalation training for law enforcement personnel. If you don’t think that’s an appropriate course of action–for whatever reason–go write about your feelings on your own website. Do not post your opinions here. Any comments that I feel do not promote healthy discussion will be summarily deleted–though I reserve the right to screenshot them in draft form in order to publicly humiliate the poster on social media if I see fit.

To: Art Acevedo, Chief of Police
Austin Police Department
715 E. Eighth St.
Austin, TX 78701

Dear Chief Acevedo,

We write to you in a spirit of collaboration, hoping to open a dialogue about how we can reduce violence in the community where we all live and work.

In the wake of recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; New York City; and elsewhere in the United States, we have grown increasingly concerned about the frequent use of force by law enforcement personnel. In many cases, police seem to use lethal force when it is not warranted. Too often, this has led to tragic results.

The Austin Police Department itself was, as recently as 2011, investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice; we understand that one of the resulting recommendations from the DOJ involved identifying training issues that would minimize the use of force by APD personnel. We are concerned that police officers across the country, and in our own community, receive inadequate training and practice in de-escalation methods. In an effort to understand how the Austin Police Department prepares its officers for the responsible use of force while on duty, we are seeking  the following information:

How many hours of training, initially and continuing, do APD officers receive in the following areas:

Firearms – We would like to know what initial training is required before officers are permitted to carry a firearm on duty, the minimum training and practice required in order for them to continue carrying their firearm, and the amount and type of training they typically receive in addition to that minimum.

Non-lethal force – Tasers, beanbags, pepper spray, etc. Again: How are officers initially prepared to use these methods, and how much regular practice and training do they receive thereafter?

De-escalation tactics – Again, we are interested in both initial and recurring training in crisis intervention, recognizing mental health issues, tactical disengagement (non-intervention), specific verbal de-escalation tactics, physical de-escalation tactics (e.g., non-confrontational body language), active listening, and related skills.

We are particularly interested in the amount of dedicated, scenario-based practice time officers receive for each area. If force option simulators are used, we would also like to know the ratio of violent to non-violent outcomes they are programmed to simulate.

We are seeking this information not in order to provoke confrontation or to cast blame. Rather, we genuinely seek to understand how the men and women who are charged with protecting our lives and property are prepared for that important and difficult work. We feel that an informed, respectful conversation on this topic is the best way to achieve our common goal of public safety.

Sincerely,

Susan Schorn
Austin, Texas

Violence, Escalation, and Practice

mcsweeneys_imageIn light of the many recent shootings by law enforcement personnel, I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues addressed in this McSweeney’s column on de-escalation. Having done quite a bit of scenario training, I’m convinced that how, and how much, we practice for crisis situations is a huge factor in the level of force we end up using in those situations:

The key factor is experience. Cops need training and practice with de-escalation skills, or they won’t use them successfully, if at all. That fact that we’re seeing so much escalation in cops’ response to threats indicates they aren’t getting that training. That’s a failure of leadership, and it’s occurring both locally and nationally.

I’m working on a targeted project for local action on this front, and hope to share it shortly. There are ways we can all help to make our communities less violent, and police training is one of them.