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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

April 2020 | Volume 13 | Issue 4

As an increasing number of veterans come home to our communities deeply troubled by what they experienced in combat situations, local law enforcement faces some unusual, as well as dangerous, challenges. 

Though most transition back to civilian life without serious problems, some vets suffer from overwhelming anger, depression, and other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Suffering from often hidden, but no less painful, wounds to their mental health, these individuals can become suicidal, even violent.

Field-Tested Techniques for Officer and Public Safety

Police are usually the first responders to domestic violence, attempts at suicide, and other situations in which former warriors can become combative. An effective response requires not only compassion, understanding, and respect for the service these men and women have given to our nation, but the use of de-escalation techniques that have proven to work well with veterans in crisis.

To teach these methods to police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other first responders, the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) of the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service has developed an online training course called De-escalation Tactics for Military Veterans with PTSD.

Created to provide instruction in field-tested techniques that work especially well with veterans, who may have difficulty processing information or suffer from hearing loss as well as mental health issues, the course provides a comprehensive introduction to the how PTSD affects military veterans, along with the best approaches for responding to them.  

Immersive, Interactive Scenario Instruction

Through two scenario-driven modules, participants learn how to recognize the symptoms and behavior patterns of PTSD at the outset of a confrontation, as well as verbal and physical de-escalation techniques for defusing it.

In addition to seeing de-escalation methods in realistic video scenarios in which they themselves can interact, participants also receive instruction in active listening and rapport-building techniques, learn what things they should avoid saying, and learn procedures for maintaining their own safety as well as that of the veteran and the public at large.

Module 1 covers topics such as the effect of wartime stressors on a veteran’s integration into civilian life, the effects of multiple deployments, common stress-related issues, manifestations of PTSD, and the stigma attached to psychological issues. Module 2 covers active listening techniques, including listening for hooks, paraphrasing, emotional labeling, mirroring, and summarizing. 

Convenient, Self-paced Training for All First Responders

At the end of each video is a Knowledge Check to test and reinforce learning. Also provided is a list of additional mental health resources for officers to offer veterans in crisis and their families.

To make this training accessible to law enforcement and first responders in communities throughout our nation, LEIC designed De-Escalation Tactics as an online, self-paced course. In addition to allowing learners to complete their training on a schedule convenient to them, it saves the time and money involved in travelling for classroom instruction.

The course was developed by subject matter experts in the field of mental health with guidance from LEIC training specialists Greg Coker and Emily Miller. A retired lieutenant of the Knoxville, Tennessee Police Department, Coker served on active duty in the Military Police Corps of the United States Army before beginning his law enforcement career. Miller is a Curriculum Development Specialist at the University of Tennessee who specializes in experiential learning. 

Through De-Escalation Tactics training, officers can gain a greater understanding of the mindset of veterans who suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury. They will learn how to approach these individuals who have served their country with the respect and consideration they deserve, while also protecting themselves with intervention techniques that reduce the need to use force, limit potential liability, and enhance the safety of all involved.

Emily T. Miller
Curriculum Development Specialist II
UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center

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