Police Review Commission learns about de-escalation techniques for Berkeley police

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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Sgt. Spencer Fomby of the Berkeley Police Department came to the special Police Review Commission meeting Wednesday to give a presentation on a de-escalation training program for police officers.

The presentation involved the explanation of various tactics used to de-escalate a situation, both verbally and situationally. Many of these tactics include principles such as taking cover by shielding oneself, having fewer officers directly engage with a suspect, identifying escape routes and assigning the appropriate number of officers to a situation.

“Two years ago, our chief sent me to a meeting in D.C. … They came back with their guidelines for use of force. … I presented to the chief and some of the command staff some of the guidelines — one of them was de-escalation,” Fomby said during his presentation. “There was only an online class. … What was really missing from the trainings that I found online was scenario-based training.”

Fomby, who has served on BPD’s special response team for 14 years and who serves as an instructor and consultant for the national SWAT organization and the National Tactical Officers Association, said he noticed a lack of in-depth de-escalation trainings for officers. He created a course that is taught to BPD and whose curriculum has been shared with the Police Executive Research Forum, Los Angeles Police Department, Oakland Police Department and Raleigh Police Department.

At the meeting, Fomby spoke about the less lethal options available for detaining subjects. These options included a device called the WRAP, which safely constraints suspects using a harness and a leg restraint. Another less lethal option included a gun called an FN 303 that uses foam and plastic projectiles.

“Police in the U.S. do not use rubber bullets,” Fomby said during his presentation, “(The FN 303) uses foam and plastic projectiles. The level of force is equivalent to a baton.”

Another less lethal method of detainment discussed was the use of spit hoods, which are hoods placed over suspects to prevent them from spitting into officers’ ears or eyes.

Commissioner Andrea Prichett voiced her concerns about the safety of the spit hoods, citing that it may be hard to see if a suspect is breathing properly through them. Prichett acknowledged that diseases such as tuberculosis can be transferred through saliva, and thus officers’ health is put in danger when they are spit on.

“There is no mental health professional that would recommend putting a hood on somebody’s head. If somebody is already mentally dissociative, … that does not help them,” Prichett said at the meeting, “If the police are so concerned about officer safety, then I recommend that you all mask up.”

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.