by Bill Lewis II

In the report writing section of a recent Canine Liability 360 class, as we discussed reports and articulating factors to assist in justifying the deployment of a police dog, one handler asked about how we might incorporate “de-escalation” into reports as more emphasis is placed on it nowadays to include its requirement by most state laws.  It was a great question.

I’m certain most police agencies across the country have been required to incorporate de-escalation into their policies and decision making before using force to resolve a situation if they were not already doing so and K9 deployments are one part of the process. Most policies spell out the necessity and requirement of using de-escalation tactics and techniques and agencies provide training to address it. 

Even before de-escalation became the buzz word (if I may call it that), handlers have long been attempting to de-escalate their encounters with suspects with warnings, announcements, and negotiations to encourage peaceful surrenders so that force is not necessary. And, the handler reports have articulated those attempts – but I do not believe I’ve read one use report that used the word “de-escalation” or “de-escalate” to recap and specifically identify those efforts as a preamble to their deployment justifications and final decisions to deploy. 

So, I think it’s time you add “de-escalation” to your report narratives when applicable if you are not already doing so.  I’ve been reviewing some policies and state law on the topic and suggest you do the same.  As you prepare to write your report, I suggest you use similar wording from your policy or state law (or both) as a separate paragraph after you have described the circumstances and attempts to gain compliance from the suspect to surrender that should include warnings prior to articulating the final justifications for deployment.  Depending on the circumstances, that paragraph may resemble the following;

“After approaching this situation with the intent to de-escalate it, and having provided numerous unsuccessful attempts to encourage a peaceful surrender as part of my de-escalation efforts before using any force to resolve this situation as I have described, including clearly audible warnings that a police dog may be deployed which could result in a bite, [the suspect] refused to take advantage of the opportunities to surrender.”

With a little more time and thought, I probably could improve this wording, but I think it’s a good start and something you can now craft based on your own style of report writing. You may even include one bullet point within your report (in addition to your de-escalation paragraph) that briefly articulates the deployment justifications along with the other circumstances that might read; “The suspect refused to take advantage of my attempts to de-escalate the situation and would not surrender peacefully to avoid the use of force.”

We must adapt with the times – and the law and our policies – and I strongly believe this suggestion will improve your reports and demonstrates in writing an acknowledgement and compliance of an applicable law as you consider “all options” for a peaceful surrender before using force.

Bill Lewis II © September 2021

This article was published in the United States Police Canine Association Monthly Newsletter in September 2021 as “Report Writing Tip: De-Escalation.”