The current police rulebook doesn’t support de-escalation


“There was not a lot of choice in the altercation,” were words spoken by Baltimore County, police spokeswoman, Elise Armacost, to justify the events that led to police killing Korryn Shandawn Gaines, age 23 of Maryland. Not a lot of choices?

Let’s consider some real choices outside the policing rulebook, a rulebook that when followed led to the death of a mother, jeopardized the life a baby and wounded a five-year-old child, as well as endangered the officers themselves.

First consider the circumstances: officers came to Gaine’s apartment to issue warrants for failure to appear in court, disorderly conduct and traffic violations. Ask yourself, should the issuing warrants for such minor offenses escalate to a point where someone is killed?

Of course not. Who is responsible for deescalating this situation? The woman or the officers? The officers. What other choices could the officers have taken? These questions lead to alternative responses not in the rulebook.

For one, how about come back another day? How about monitoring the apartment from nearby, giving the woman and the man in the apartment space to think about the situation, instead of insisting on serving the warrants.

Yes, she had threatened them with a gun when they announced their arrival, but she is obviously not being rationale for her own sake given the odds of her surviving a standoff with police. The responsibility belongs with the police to be rational, to deescalate.

Instead they opened her apartment door knowing the situation and having heard the cry of a baby in the apartment. Then they called in a tactical team, evacuated residents and cordoned off the area. Is this deescalating?


The fact that time and again in such deaths we find that officers escalate the situation is reason to demand that citizens have jurisdiction over rewriting the rulebook.


To make matters worse, they apparently, repeatedly opened the door inviting her to go through with her threats, further escalating tensions. Now that the context is established, here are some suggestions for respectful, non-authoritarian protocols to de-escalate such a situation.

For starters, once the officers realized the gravity of the situation they could have told Ms. Gaines they would come back at another time of her choosing and left a card for her to call them. Then perhaps, if warranted, withdraw out of sight and monitor the situation. Ask her to be careful with the firearm around the children and neighbors.

Emphasize to her that they have no intention of forcing their way in the apartment. The warrants are not so important to risk anyone getting hurt. They are not there to arrest her and their primary concern is for her safety and the children’s.

At the same time, ask her if she would like to contact a relative, friend, minister or social worker she might know that could be helpful. This may help her feel as if she has a say in the situation and may relax the emotional tension she is feeling. Whether or not she accepts the offer, officers should locate such persons who might talk with her, problem solve and negotiate. Someone connected to law enforcement will not be trusted.

The fact that time and again in such deaths we find that officers escalate the situation is reason to demand that citizens have jurisdiction over rewriting the rulebook. For example, if we apply the above de-escalation ideas to the recent killing in Milwaukee of Sylville Smith, Smith would still be alive and the city remained calm. The officers simply could have let Smith, who allegedly had a handgun, run away. According to police reports, he was not a threat anyone.

Perhaps when the officers stop the vehicle Smith just wanted to avoid being caught with drugs or an illegal handgun. Why persist in trying to apprehend him when it is likely to endanger the officers and the public?

Instead, according to the mayor, the police officer “ordered the individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun…and the officer fired several times,” — just 20 seconds after the traffic stop. The rulebook may say officers have a duty to apprehend someone fleeing, but the rulebook must be revised if it justifies such an avoidable death.

Here in our own city, Minneapolis officials recently announced revised standards for the use of force. We need to ask of them would such revisions mean Jamar Clark would be alive today. Philando Castile? Terrance Franklin? If not, these are words, without substance.


Wayne Nealis welcomes reader response to