As the man shouted and ranted, three officers stood at a safe distance. One officer was armed with a stun gun and another had a handgun.
The third tool was the most important -- a willingness and ability to talk.
The emergency that occurred in Maine's school parking lot was fake but the strategies were real. Police Executive Research Forum offers a training course that officers are taking this year. It is available to thousands of officers across the country. Officers are taught to keep a safe distance and slow down.
This think tank, based in Washington, D.C., focuses on policing. The waiting list for the two-day training is long.
Steven Stefanakos, New York City Police Department, said that the most common error is to rush a situation you don't need. He was brought in to train officers. "When time and space are compressed, it often doesn't go the way you want."
Since the death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests, police department requests for training in how to deal with the public have risen dramatically. This is especially true as calls to defund the police increase and reforms are passed by cities to crack down on police brutality.
Five years ago, the Police Executive Research Forum began its training program after the shooting of Michael Brown (an unarmed black man) in Ferguson, Missouri,. Since then, it has been updated with new techniques. Chuck Wexler, the forum director, said that the idea was born in the United Kingdom where most police officers don't have handguns. The training combines classroom training with scenarios that are played out with actors, to allow officers to review what they have learned.
It is our goal to make the training available to as many of the 18,000 agencies that are part of the national law enforcement force.
New York City announced that all 36,500 officers would receive the training. New Jersey's 35,000 officers are also being trained. The agency is also holding regional sessions for smaller departments. In late July, the first regional session was held for officers from 90 New England police departments. They are expected to then take what they have learned back to their respective departments and train others. A session was also held in Colorado. The most recent training was completed Friday in Tampa.
There are many tasks that police officers have to perform. According to Jack Clements of Saco Police, who hosted the event in New England, they are asked to perform many roles, including being roadside counselors, family counselors, and mental health workers.
It is important to practice.
Instead of rushing into an encounter with deadly force and ending up in a trap, let's slow down, talk, and create a plan. Then engage. It doesn't matter if it takes you an hour to calm this guy down. "Take your time," said the chief.
Some officers claim that the training has already saved lives.
A Texas police officer responded to a 911 call about a suicidal female with a knife just a few weeks after she had received training in Harris County. After ramming a car in which her boyfriend was riding, the woman nearly struck a deputy and fled before locking herself in an apartment.
Although the first deputies arrived on the scene, Sgt. Pete Smith stopped the proceedings and started a conversation upon his arrival. The woman gave up her knife after being assured that Pete Smith was there to help.
According to Sgt. Jose Gomez was part of the behavioral health training unit at the department and was responsible for the security of the training.
The officers spent their first day in Saco learning and then went on to role-playing exercises. These scenarios dealt with most encounters with the public without a gun, but could also include knives or weapons.
The three officers kept away from the man holding a knife during the tire-slashing situation. They said that the man was a threat but not imminent as long as they kept a safe distance. They quickly identified the officer who would speak.
The conversation lasted for long hours as the assailant and officer talked, commiserated and dragged on. Finally the boss was freed from the center of the conversation. They eventually got to talking about customizing cars. The man dropped his knife.
A New Haven police officer stated that he had kept the "21-foot rule in mind" during debriefing after the exercise.
The distance of 21 feet is often called the "kill zone". Officers are taught that someone with a knife or baseball bat can quickly close the distance and inflict fatal injuries.
Officers who are trying to protect themselves and make it home safely at the end of a shift are more likely than others to resort to deadly force because that's what their training allows them to do.
Wexler, who listened to the post-training conversation said that he was disturbed by the results he saw from what he believes is an arbitrarily taught rule in police training.
Wexler stated, "These are what we would call the lawful and terrible kinds of shootings."
Sometimes winning is about stepping back to maintain a distance and not trying to change the situation. He said that it means taking the time to evaluate and communicate.
Raphael Thornton played the role as the knife-wielding assailant. He said that officers don't always buy textbook training. He said that this changes when they play the role of the knife-wielding assailant.
Thornton works for the Camden County Police Department, New Jersey. "That's when they really get the buy in," Thornton said. "If they have any naysayers in the classroom, they buy in when they get outside. They put the knowledge they have acquired into practice."