Safety: Engagement and Escalation

A Rush to Act?


 As America explores its uneasy relationship with law enforcement, hopefully part of that process will be an excruciating review of the manner in which they engage and then escalate encounters with citizens.

Within the decisions which lead to engagement can be found, at least in part, the solutions to the current crisis.

The decision to engage is often entirely discretionary meaning the circumstances can be controlled so that they achieve two objectives: the interaction will not escalate and the outcome will be be peaceful.

Once engaged there is evidence of a tendency to escalate to violence, sometimes deadly, to resolve a situation that has spiraled out-of-control.

For sure, not all law enforcement responses allow for a “diplomatic” approach.


Policing is a dangerous activity in any event but none more so then when officers are deliberately targeted because of the uniform they wear and come under fire in a surprise attack as a result.

June 8, 2014: Jerad and Amanda Miller murdered Las Vegas police officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck as they ate lunch.

September 26, 2014: Eric Frein killed one trooper and critically injured another at a Pennsylvania State Police Barracks.

December 20, 2014:  Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot and killed NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car.

October 23, 2014: Zale H. Thompson attacked four NYPD  officers with a hatchet as they posed for a photo on a Queens sidewalk.

In these incidents and others officers were targeted and the outcomes were tragic and deadly.

But, what if it’s not a surprise attack?

Probable and Confirmed Violence

Everyday, police officers respond to hundreds of events where violence is being threatened or used.

From domestic arguments to drug deals and other felonies, officers must assess the situation in seconds and take actions to protect themselves and the public.

When a member of the public is brandishing a firearm or other weapon the stakes are deadly high.

Law enforcement has the right to assume that the weapon is loaded and will be used.

In those instances where law enforcement is called because of the threat of deadly violence and they are confronted with a credible and active threat they must act to protect the innocent as well as themselves.

Discretionary Stops and Non-Violent Complaints

Law enforcement officers often decide who they will engage and very importantly, the circumstances under which they do so.

From routine traffic stops to ordinary complaints they have near total control over the method and timing of engagement.

Given their flexibility in this environment, it is increasingly difficult to understand how so many routine or discretionary engagements result in deadly shootings by the police.

But, that’s not the only problem.

At least three police officers have been killed in the line-of-duty this year alone after they engaged under circumstances favorable to an assailant who pulled a weapon and used it.

In those incidents they had knowledge that the assailant was capable of violence.

In contrast, the arrest of shooter Eulalio Tordil, after he had shot several people in Montgomery County, Md, over several days in May, seems a model.

NYDN reports, “Officers swooped in on Tordil — who had threatened to commit “suicide by cop” — after surveilling him for more than an hour as he casually ate lunch at a Boston Market and made other stops just across the street from the most recent shooting scene.

Tordil Arrest

Tordil Arrest

De Facto Escalation

The decision to engage, especially in a stable situation, should only occur after adequate information and resources are available to ensure the intended outcome.

And, as a general principle, actions should not result in an unwarranted threat escalation.

At least part of the problem is a law enforcement culture deeply rooted in a proclivity to engage and escalate, somtimes recklessly.
That culture has no military or emergency response antecedent and has gone unchallenged by elected officials cowed by police leaders abetting a policy which results in unwarranted violence.




1 Comment

  • Bob Goodric says:

    (Once engaged there is evidence of a tendency to escalate to violence, sometimes deadly, to resolve a situation that has spiraled out-of-control

    What an ignorant comment to make, surely made by someone who know nothing of pólice officers. Everyday, officers respond to hundreds of thousands of situations where people are agitated, screaming, threatening people with weapons, etc. In the vast majoirity of these cases, officer DE ESCALATE situations and bring calm to the situation. Stick to fire topics or to something you know about.

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