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Founder of Crisis Intervention Team police training teaches de-escalation in First State

Megan Pauly
Delaware Public Media
Major Sam Cochran, the founder of CIT, role played different crisis scenarios to demonstrate de-escalation Wednesday in Dover.

There’s been a growing call to require more de-escalation training for law enforcement lately.

Representatives from multiple state agencies were in Dover earlier this week to hear from a national leader in police de-escalation strategies.


De-escalation is 93 percent tone of voice and body language, and seven percent words. That was one key takeaway from Major Sam Cochran’s  workshop Wednesday - part of a day-long conference in Dover coinciding with Mental Illness Awareness Week hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Delaware.

Cochran spent over 30 years in the Memphis Police Department and created the Crisis Intervention Team training model for police officers. The model has been used nationally and internationally for nearly 30 years and was introduced in Delaware in 2014.

Cochran emphasized de-escalation training is critical. He says it should account for at least a quarter of 40-hour CIT training and include role playing exercises of different crisis scenarios.

“There has to be a slowing of the process down: how you communicate with this individual," Cochran said. "It’s all about how you communicate with this individual. A lot of the times the law enforcement traditional ways of a loud, authoritative voice is actually impeding the opening up of communication.”

Instead of loud, sudden movements, Cochran encourages officers to first offer a greeting: introduce themselves, and ask for a name in return.

But he adds they might have to re-assess personal space and re-try  a greeting, especially if a person is having hallucinations or delusions.

“Strategy is all a part of this too," Cochran said. "It’s not just about – ok I’m going to do A, B, C. No, we may have to do A, D and then back to B. It depends on where the officer is within his or her performance of de-escalation. The officer has to understand the totality of the crisis and has to use his or her skills to have confidence.”

Other critical elements of communication Cochran mentioned: validating the person’s emotions and active listening.


The head of Delaware State Police Colonel Nathaniel McQueen was among those listening to Cochran.

McQueen says de-escalation can be applied to multiple police interaction instances, not just those dealing with mental health.


“That becomes instrumental no matter how you effect a situation," McQueen said. "So you can de-escalate a situation whether it’s someone involved in mental health, maybe it’s a drug issue or maybe it’s just someone who’s out of control and just – those techniques and ways to calm folks down and de-escalate the situation so that everybody leaves the scene safely is the goal.”

McQueen adds it takes the right approach to understand whether a  situation calls for sending someone back into treatment or to jail.

He notes that since Delaware is relatively new to CIT model, his immediate goal is making sure everyone is at the table and the program is implemented correctly statewide.



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