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Police officers need training in their response toward Black men

Police violence against unarmed Black people is as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. With the trial of Derek Chauvin taking central stage in the news, it seems unfathomable that additional high-profile incidents of police violence would take place. However, that is exactly what has happened.  

First, we hear that a Black and Latino U.S. Army officer, 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, had guns pointed at him, was pepper sprayed and then pushed to the ground during what should have been a routine traffic stop in Virginia. And then, in a cruel twist of irony, while justice is being sought for the killing of George Floyd, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was “accidentally” shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop. 

As a result, there have been increased calls for police reform. One goal of police reform is mandatory de-escalation training. Thirty-four states currently do not require de-escalation training for all officers. It is probably no coincidence that Philando Castile, George Floyd and Daunte Wright were killed in a state with no mandatory de-escalation training

The effectiveness of de-escalation training

But although de-escalation training is thought to offer one of the best paths toward reducing violent police encounters, whether the training actually works is another story. Evidence is mixed. As a psychologist who has provided de-escalation training to law enforcement, I recognize both the promise and limitations of this training.  

Five years ago I co-authored an op-ed arguing that police training should focus not only on de-escalation of conflict, but also the reprogramming of the automatic fear response that some police officers have toward Black men.  

It does not matter whether Black men are engaging in lawful behavior or allegedly criminal behavior. Black men are still viewed as inherently more dangerous than men from other racial backgrounds. The pepper spraying of Nazario is consistent with a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found in nonlethal uses of force, Black people are more likely to experience being handcuffed without arrest, pepper-sprayed, or pushed to the ground by an officer. 

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