Lockouts and Lockdowns
From the Bible
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9).
Is this scenario familiar?
For whatever reason, two people get into an argument. This becomes ugly, and the two end up licking their wounds. There may be physical hurts, with a slap, a blow from a fist, or worse. Now you wish someone had calmed tempers, restoring peace, someone who used verbal de-escalation.
In the News
Successful verbal de-escalation is not likely to make the news unless police are involved, as in these stories:
Hyattsville, Maryland, March 12, 2021 - Hyattsville police responded to a 911 call from a convenience store. A man in the store was angry, agitated, and generally incoherent. Officers observed that the man was in an emotional and mental health crisis. The man was sitting on the floor, so one officer sat down with him while the other made space for them. The officer on the floor kept calm, even in the face of verbal abuse. The man eventually calmed down and let the officer have his cell phone. The officer called the man's family. They came and took him.
Police in Hyattsville are trained in verbal de-escalation and personal crisis management. A Mental Health and Wellness Day was held the following month.
Laredo, Texas, January 13, 2021 - Police responded to a 911 domestic disturbance call. Arriving at the home, they were informed that one of the parties was leaving in a pickup truck. They radioed this information and the description of the truck.
A few blocks away, other officers spotted the suspect's vehicle and made a traffic stop. Approaching the driver's door, they saw the man holding a knife to his neck. He threatened to kill himself if they tried to arrest him.
The officers established a security perimeter around the vehicle and called for a negotiator. This officer was able to build rapport with the driver. He got him to throw the knife on the ground and get out of the truck. Officers took him to a local hospital for mental evaluation and treatment.
Miami, Florida, May 19, 2021 - A police officer on patrol stopped to investigate something suspicious. He heard a noise, turned, and saw a man trying to open the car door. The officer approached the man and asked what he was doing. "I'm trying to steal ****," was the reply.
Then the man, with some object in his hand, approached the officer, yelling and threatening to kill him. The officer ordered him to drop whatever he had and put his hands up. The man kept moving toward the officer, who slowly backed up.
Finally the officer used a Taser. The points got caught in the man's loose clothing, so the effect was minimal at best. A bystander was yelling at the man to calm down.
When backup arrived, the other officers commanded the man to lie down, but he did not listen. Then they closed in around him and restrained him. A superior officer said the patrolman and the backup officers were following their de-escalation training to avoid use of deadly force.
It turned out that the suspect was homeless and was trying to get arrested so he could have a meal, a shower, and a bed for the night.
Robbins, Illinois, November 11, 2019 - Would it have helped here?
Six unruly drunk men had been escorted out of a nightclub in this Chicago suburb. One returned with a handgun and began firing. A security guard forced the shooter outside and down to the pavement, knocking his gun away. There he held the gunman down at gunpoint, waiting for the police.
Police from another suburb responded. It was dark, and the SECURITY lettering on the front of the guard's black vest and his cap could not be seen from the side. The officer reportedly commanded the guard to drop his gun, but it is uncertain whether the guard could hear and understand him amid the noise. The officer fired, killing the guard.
Four days later, an opinion piece in USA Today said that state laws should be reformed to require law enforcement officers to first use de-escalation to avoid using deadly force and be trained in how to do it. How that would have worked in this incident was not explained.
Videocast and Show Notes
Beneath the video screen is a link to Show Notes (an article summary), which will be available for one week.
Turning away Wrath
Verbal de-escalation can be compared to turning down the heat of a burner on the kitchen stove. Realistically, it is more like electric than gas. Turn off a gas burner, and the flame is gone. Turn off the electric one, and you wait for the heating element to cool down. It takes some patience. That's how it was in Hyattsville. The responding officer had to be patient for the subject to calm down.
It is like that when relieving tensions in the church. We must remain calm to bring calm. The officer in Miami remained calm, even when ordering the suspect to drop whatever was in his hand. It is easier to remain calm when you have a clear picture of what you are to do.
In the first Bible verse above, James provides a three-point guide:
- Be quick to hear.
- Be slow to speak.
- Be slow to anger.
This is echoed in the four goals of verbal de-escalation presented in the training module:
- Keep lines of communication open.
- Get the person talking.
- Actively listen.
- Maintain control through clear and calm communication.
Keep lines of communication open
- Approach disruptive persons in a non-threatening manner.
- Stay where you can be seen so they don't think you're sneaking up on them.
- Speak to them. Find out their names and refer to them by name in the conversation.
- Keep your posture, facial expressions, and body language both confident and non-hostile.
Get the person talking
- Ask the person's name, if you don't already know it.
- Ask a non-accusatory question about what's happening in a way that shows interest in what they will say.
- Wait for them to answer.
- When they pause, indicate you're listening with responses such as "I see."
- Paraphrase what they're saying, such as, "So you feel that …" This lets them know you understand what they're saying.
Maintain control through clear and calm communication
- First, be in control of yourself.
- Don't be argumentative. Use "and" instead of "but" to avoid arousing defensiveness.
- Use short sentences and short, commonly-understood words.
- Speak slowly. This communicates calmness.
- Control the volume and tone of your voice.
- Limit what you say to what has to be said.
- Smile. It doesn't have to be cheesy, just a relaxed smile.
- Relax your face. Don't raise your eyebrows, frown, or grimace.
- Maintain natural eye contact, but without staring.
- Don't be rigid.
Maintain the Mind of Christ. You are here to help these persons. Frankly, some of them really need help.
By relieving tensions through verbal de-escalation we protect the church while ministering to disruptive individuals.
"Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4" is a training module in the Safety Member Certification program. It covers:
- What is Verbal De-Escalation?
- Engaging with a Disruptive Person
- Verbal Strategies that Work
- Maintaining Personal Control
Each Church Safety Team is urged to have all its members trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. There are three formats available:
- Team certification in church-hosted classes.
- In some areas Certified On-Site Instructors are available for teaching classes. Currently, there are instructors based in Arkansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Some may teach in neighboring states.
- Individual Certification through self-paced online instruction.
- Online Events with live Zoom classes for individuals and teams.
- The next season begins this Fall with four tracks, beginning September 11, November 13, January 29, and March 26. There are eight training modules:
- Safety Team Fundamentals
- Active Shooter
- Deescalating Disruptive Persons
- Protecting Children from Abuse
- Basic Use of Force Laws
- Arson and Fire Safety
- Storms and Disasters
- Mass Trauma Emergencies
There Is More
This is the third of four articles in June. The others are "2017 Burnette Chapel Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "Shut Out, Shut In" (Lockouts and Lockdowns), and "Building Resistance" (Educating Children against Attempted Abuse).
- Kris Moloney, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4," Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy, © 2019 [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Shomari Stone, "Maryland Officers Deescalate Situation, Offer Compassion to Man in Behavioral Crisis," News4 (NBC Washington), March 18, 2021 [https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/hyattsville-police-officers-deescalate-situation-offer-compassion-to-man-in-behavioral-crisis/2612550/].
- César Rodriguez, "LPD: De-escalation techniques saved man's life," LMTonline (Laredo Morning Times), January 14, 2021 [https://www.lmtonline.com/news/article/LPD-De-escalation-techniques-saved-man-s-life-15872229.php].
- Ted Scouten, "Miami Police Officer Shows Restraint, Discharges Taser When Confronted By Aggressive Man," CBS Miami, May 21, 2021 [https://miami.cbslocal.com/2021/05/21/miami-police-officer-shows-restraint-discharges-taser-when-confronted-by-aggressive-man/].
- Emily Sullivan, "Police Fatally Shoot Black Security Guard Who Detained Shooting Suspect," NPR, November 13, 2018 [https://www.npr.org/2018/11/13/667252788/police-fatally-shoot-black-security-guard-who-detained-suspected-shooter].
- Cynthia Lee, "State laws should require police de-escalation. That could have saved uniformed security guard Jemel Roberson from being shot and killed by an officer," USA Today, November 15, 2018 [https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/11/15/jemel-roberson-killed-deadly-force-require-police-de-escalation-column/2002341002/].
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/c/SheepdogChurchSecurityAcademy].