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Calming a Crisis: Asheville Police Department's new training policy explained

It's a new era of law enforcement at the Asheville Police Department. Starting this week, the department will be training employees with a new, updated, use-of-force policy.

This new policy focuses on de-escalation and trying to slow-down volatile situations, in an effort to protect both officers and civilians.

The APD allowed News 13 to be there, seeing trainers polishing technique, preparing to teach the rank-and-file.

There are many components to the new policy, the following among those considered key:

  • When a person is resisting, consider reasons for non-compliance. Are substance abuse or mental health issues involved.
  • Factor surrounding conditions, is it light or dark, is the space confined, is there a weapon present.
  • Limit physical confrontation, unless there's an immediate threat to officers or bystanders.
  • Then determine appropriate response.

News 13 crews were allowed to shoot video of a training drill, demonstrating the role-playing that will soon be the real-life Asheville standard for police and public safety.

During the simulation, two officers respond to a call, what may be a dangerous situation.

The simulation situation: an at-risk woman , off her medication, threatening to kill herself after her boyfriend broke-up with her on her birthday.

Keeping a safe distance, one officer becomes the point of contact, the communicator. His partner stands off to the side, providing cover, just in case the knife is turned on them. With the scene finally set, it's time for de-escalation.

Lt. Jacki Stepp, Asheville Police Department, "That'll help the officer in the heat of the moment make better decisions, slow things down, create a better thought process."

Chief Tammy Hooper, Asheville Police Department, "Let's use communication skills to get, you know, some compliance or to accomplish our goal in a situation, as opposed to going right into a hands-on situation, or a situation where use of force is necessary."

As in the case of Jai Williams, the man who led police on a chase July 2nd, got out of his car with AR-15 rifle in hand, and was shot to death.

RELATED LINK| DA: APD officer will not face charges in shooting death of Jai Williams

That officer-involved killing was ruled justified, a confrontation involving a firearm, where de-escalation was not an option, but it still raised questions and concern.

James Lee is Vice-President of the local NAACP, and a member of the Racial Justice Coalition. In a climate of heightened tension and public scrutiny, the coalition and Asheville Police came together.

Lee, "What happened in Ferguson, what happened in Baltimore with the riots, the things that have happened even in Charlotte, if we would've waited, that could've been our community."

The group is composed of 16 civilians and 5 people from the APD, collaborating on updated standards for use-of-force.

RELATED LINK| Police, Racial Justice Coalition Hold Forum for Better Relations

Hassan Aden, Vera Institute Senior Adviser, "It was at times a painful process for a lot of people but that's its intention."

With 28-years experience in law enforcement, Hassan Aden now helps departments across the nation learn 21st Century policing, "Specifically police accepting the community's viewpoint, and the community accepting the police viewpoint."

Chief Hooper, "We did some scenario training with them, to try to help them understand kind of what it is that the officers are thinking, and how we're behaving and why we're doing what we're doing."

Lee, "It was an eye opener and a great reminder of why I didn't become a law enforcement officer. Ha-ha-ha".

Over the course of several months, they met, traded ideas, learned from each other, and hashed it out.

Chief Hooper, "It was really a group of people who were committed to putting in the work to get informed, and then to sit down and help us understand what was important to the community members to be in this policy."

Lee, "I felt like there was some bumpy roads, but coming out of it i felt like we really presented a product that is great for our community."

Aden: "To actually allow the community to have a direct say in how they are policed, particularly in the area of use of force and de-escalation, is absolutely unique and it gives the community a voice."

Aden says a layer of accountability was also critical, evaluation of every conflict between police and the public..

Chief Hooper, "Did they employ de-escalation the way they needed to, and make an attempt to, you know, avoid it, before we jump in, or was it a situation where they just didn't have a choice, it really comes down to the officer being able to explain why they did what they did."

Rank-and-file started Monday, with the new policy expected to be in-place by early Summer.

The obvious goal is a reduction in cases involving use-of-force.

Chief Hooper, "My job is to look at it from the perspective of what's the best thing for our community, and you know also takes into account the safety of our officers, the safety of everyone involved, so for me it's just doing the right thing."

Chief Hooper says there will be continuous de-escalation training, and adjustments where necessary.

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