new haven

Listening, Connecting Key in Police Department De-Escalation Training

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The New Haven Police Department leadership said their approach to policing is to operate as a customer service.

“Sometimes, unfortunately we have to deliver that in situations where tensions are high, people are angry, people are going through a lot of turmoil that we don’t realize when we get the call,” said Acting Police Chief Renee Dominguez.

Officers are going through a de-escalation course to help them focus on and address those other stressors. Retired New Haven Police Lt. Ray Hassett said being aware of those outside factors comes through listening.

“When there’s a connection between two human beings, there’s trust. Trust is the foundation we’re looking for,” Hassett said.

He added the goal is “to have them get a sense of what that person is feeling, not necessarily what they’re thinking. Because feelings are emotionally driven and our whole culture right now is emotionally driven.”

The course was offered three years ago, and officers go through de-escalation training throughout their careers.Dominguez said officers have been using some of these tools already.

“Giving them extra pieces to be able to do it even better, and understanding that policing has changed and we want our officers to change and grow because if we don’t ever change and grow, we’re not doing a good service to our officers or the community,” Dominguez said.

This year’s course by Hassett comes as Dominguez said their responses should be adaptable.

“As the world has changed and as he’s developed more techniques and how to better our officers, he’s evolved the training,” Dominguez said.  

“The police officers in New Haven tend to actually get it,” said Lorenzo Boyd, the vice president of diversity and inclusion for the University of New Haven. “And most people that join the police department do so because they want to help their community.”

Boyd is a former law enforcement officer who said the department is leading a trend. He believes more departments will offer the course as the country moves to more police accountability.

“Good police departments will. There’s still a lot of police departments across the country that are in denial mode,” Boyd said.

Hassett is the only certified de-escalation trainer in the state. He said there are more departments getting on board.

“I’ve trained in the private sector as well,” Hassett said. “Private sector is quicker picking up than PD, law enforcement, but we’re getting there.”

Monday was the first session for one cohort, but the department began the process back in March. They hope to have all the officers go through the training by June.

The city and the department are exploring ways to expand the training and offer different learning modules more often.

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