Our first look at Phoenix Police’s new de-escalation training

The Phoenix Police Department has been doing special de-escalation training and Arizona's Family Investigates got a behind-the-scenes look.
Updated: Oct. 4, 2023 at 5:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Phoenix Police Department is implementing a new de-escalation training for its officers. It comes as the department faces criticism about the number of shootings involving its officers and a Department of Justice probe. Arizona’s Family Investigates was given exclusive access to training to see what it entails and how it’s working.

It’s called Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics or I-CAT. According to their website, more than 120 law enforcement agencies across 30-plus states have implemented it. It’s a one-day training that Phoenix PD began using back in April. It’s a program they said Chief Michael Sullivan was familiar with and something he believes his officers can benefit from. “We see an increase in calls for service for those involved in crisis or mental health calls for service over the last decade or so,” Commander Dennis Orender with Phoenix PD said.

With it has come an increase in shootings involving police. In 2021, there were 13 of them. In 2022, there were 24 and to date this year, there have been 23. “Without a doubt, I would say some of this training that we have given has reduced the likelihood that an incident may have resulted in a police officer-involved shooting,” Commander Orender said.

The training begins with classroom time in the morning and then running through scenarios in the afternoon. “Utilizing that cover, that distance, that time. Time creates more options. More resources and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Lt. Mark Tovar with Phoenix Police said.

He was one of the first to receive the training and has since begun teaching the program to others. Phoenix PD wants all of its patrol officers to go through the program.

To date, they said about 20% of them have. Arizona’s Family Investigates asked Lt. Tovar how an officer is supposed to slow things down when they’ve just raced to a scene. “Is he a threat? Yes. But is he threatening anyone at this time,” Lt. Tovar said. That’s the question the officer has to ask.

The training applies to those armed with a weapon, other than a gun. Phoenix PD said it hasn’t received any pushback to the training.

Arizona’s Family Investigates watched on as officers acted out three different scenarios. In the first two, the new tactics worked well, but not in the third one. Officers gave the man several minutes to comply but he doesn’t. With the knife to his neck, officers act. “Pepper ball, pepper ball,” one of the trainers yells. “We may still have to take action and always be poised and ready for that,” another trainer explains.

Phoenix PD said the goal is to have every patrol officer go through the training by October of next year. The department remains short-staffed and that, they tell us, plays into how long this will take.

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