The University of Wisconsin Police Department officers practiced deescalating tense situations in the safety of the MATC Truax campus’ protective services building.
That’s part of a training called Integrating communications, assessment and tactics or ICAT training. UWPD becomes the first department in Wisconsin to embark on it.
The department chose the Police Executive Research Forum’s training, and trained U-W-P-D officers facilitated today’s exercises. The Washington-based think tank first piloted the program in 2016 and today dozens of departments have undergone the training.
Officers begin with a theoretical, classroom portion and end with a series of scenarios designed to test their responses to both armed and unarmed individuals. Unlike traditional police training, which often emphasizes maintaining control of a situation by superior force, ICAT emphasizes communication with suspects to reduce the need for force.
Captain Jason Whitney, one of the UWPD instructors responsible for administering the training, said the program will give officers more productive tools to when responding to potentially dangerous situations.
“A lot of our academy type training and other use of force training is about making sure the scene’s safe and returning things back to normal as soon as possible, and a lot of times officers put themselves in a bad situation or a situation where more force has to be used,” Whitney said.
Whitney said the training is especially useful for officers responding to mental health crises, which occur almost every day for UWPD.
“What happens in a mental health facility when the doctor can’t handle a patient anymore? They’re ultimately calling the police,” Whitney said. “Most of our officers across this country are not trained in psychology, so we have to make sure that we provide them as much training as possible to go in and handle these types of situations.”
UWPD chose ICAT over other de-escalation training because of the amount of research and testing that went into the curriculum. Whitney hopes the training will fill a gap traditional police academy courses often leave.
“You have officers coming out of the academy and you ask them ‘what is deescalation?’ or ‘how are you going to deescalate the situation?’ and the first thing they’re probably going to go to is the tools on their belt,” Whitney said. “They plan on using force to bring the situation under control. That’s not what we want.”
Though the new training is meant to reduce the use of force in everyday police interactions, Whitney believes police officers are actually safer today than they were in the past. He attributes this to greater access to non-lethal tools and training.
Although no other department in Dane County has completed this particular program, MPD did do a different department-wide deescalation training in fall of 2016.
WORT’s Teymour Tomsyck reported this story.