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Moving the needle: can training alter officer perceptions and use of de-escalation?

Michael D. White (School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA)
Victor J. Mora (Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA)
Carlena Orosco (Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA)
E. C. Hedberg (NORC, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 3 February 2021

Issue publication date: 27 May 2021




De-escalation training for police has received widespread attention as a method for reducing unnecessary and excessive use of force. There is virtually no research on de-escalation, and as a result, there is little understanding about what it is, what it includes and whether it is effective. The current study compares attitudes about the importance and use of de-escalation among officers who were randomly assigned to participate (or not) in de-escalation training.


The current study draws from a larger randomized controlled trial of de-escalation training in the Tempe, Arizona Police Department (TPD). Approximately 100 officers completed a survey in June–July 2019 and again in June–July 2020. TPD delivered the de-escalation training to half the patrol force in February–March 2020. The authors compare treatment and control officers' attitudes about the importance of specific de-escalation tactics, how often they use those tactics and their sentiments de-escalation training. The authors employ an econometric random-effects model to examine between-group differences post-training while controlling for relevant officer attributes including age, race, sex, prior training and squad-level pretraining attitudes about de-escalation.


Treatment and control officers reported positive perceptions of de-escalation tactics, frequent use of those tactics and favorable attitudes toward de-escalation before and after the training. After receiving the training, treatment officers placed greater importance on compromise, and reported more frequent use of several important tactics including compromise, knowing when to walk away and maintaining officer safety.


Only a few prior studies have has examined whether de-escalation training changes officer attitudes. The results from the current study represent an initial piece of evidence suggesting de-escalation training may lead to greater use of those tactics by officers during encounters with citizens.



The authors would like to thank the leadership and officers of the Tempe (AZ) Police Department for their participation in this study.Funding: This research was supported through grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, grant # 2017-WY-BX-0008.


D. White, M., Mora, V.J., Orosco, C. and Hedberg, E.C. (2021), "Moving the needle: can training alter officer perceptions and use of de-escalation?", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp. 418-436.



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