Implementing Informed Training to Improve Officer Decision-Making and Reduce Use of Force

By Lt. Michael Nevin, San Francisco Police Department

“The Department of Police Accountability (DPA) provides San Francisco with independent and impartial law enforcement oversight through investigations, policy recommendations, and performance audits to ensure that policing reflects the values and concerns of the community.”—DPA Mission Statement

Several years ago, following the review of a controversial officer-involved shooting, the DPA made a series of policy recommendations related to training. One such recommendation was that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) should conduct a thorough and wide-ranging review of officer decision-making in deadly force incidents so that the involved officers and the department itself are better equipped to address future tactical challenges.

The SFPD agreed with this recommendation and proactively established Field Tactics Force Options (FTFO) Unit in 2018 to review critical incidents and recommend training for not only involved members but the department in general, where appropriate. FTFO conducts thorough reviews of every critical incident and adopts responsive training plans to address tactical shortcomings and adopt best practices. This review is non-punitive and separate from criminal and administrative investigations.

The SFPD understands the need to continually train and evaluate, especially where the use of deadly force is concerned. In 2019, the department introduced Critical Mindset Coordinated Response (CMCR) training to enhance officers’ tactical skills. This reality-based training focuses on critical decision-making, teamwork, and leadership at the scene. Debriefing is also an emphasis and takes place following each exercise. CMCR was added to the larger training model which includes Crisis Intervention training. Both have been credited with a significant reduction in reportable use of force in recent years.

Other ongoing training includes state-mandated force and de-escalation training per California Senate Bill 230. The course includes new state standards, the duty to intercede, and police legitimacy.

Beginning in 2016, the SFPD engaged in a collaborative reform initiative with the U.S Department of Justice. One such recommendation was for the SFPD’s Training Division to adopt comprehensive formal training related to use-of-force practices. This completed recommendation credits the Training Division with “developing and prioritizing force training based on data analysis and legislative priorities.”

An example of partnership between the DPA and the San Francisco Police Department is a regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The SFPD’s Training Division hosts the DPA’s chief of staff. The multi-discipline group from the SFPD includes members of the FTFO, Defensive Tactics, and Crisis Intervention Team.

The SFPD hosts investigators and senior staff from the DPA to attend training. A review from a DPA attorney is worth sharing:

“As I kept saying throughout the training, I thought the training was excellent! It highlighted for me what our society must recognize, namely, that some of the misunderstanding and distrust that has developed over the years between law enforcement and civilians stems from the fact that the public is unaware of the tactical reasoning for police conduct, and the idea that civil rights do not have to be sacrificed for officer safety. I think your course does a great job of marrying the two concepts together and educating officers about the importance of thinking about—and articulating—the justification for their actions so that civilians, and potential jurors, like me can understand why officers do what they do. Bravo for creating a course with a balanced approach to both concepts.

Communication and planning are key to successful outcomes on the street. The emphasis and recognition that when officers can use time and distance to formulate a plan, they should take advantage of it, was excellent. Officers’ gut reactions are often based on good intentions, but their actions, when undertaken without a plan, can backfire with unintended consequences. There were a number of excellent examples of that.

What was striking to me was that all the scenarios had the possibility of becoming officer-involved shootings, yet few of them actually ended that way. I am not sure if that was obvious to everyone. It became obvious to me midway through the training … Bravo!”

Lt. Michael Nevin has served with the San Francisco Police Department for 26 years. He has worked in patrol, investigations, and is currently assigned to the Training Division’s Field Tactics Force Options Unit. He has experience as an officer-involved shooting investigator and has worked on use-of-force policy.

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Posted on Sep 23, 2021