In the wake of the murder trial of Amber Guyger — a Dallas police officer who shot and killed her neighbor, Botham Jean, while off duty in September 2018 — questions about how and when officers use deadly force have again been raised.
Local law enforcement said they will continue to rely on training that teaches de-escalation first and deadly force as a last resort — a message that has been consistent from the start, they said.
“Officers are trained that deadly force is always last resort,” Paris Police Chief Bob Hundley said. “And they should have some articulable fact that, ‘I can’t just think I’m in danger. I’ve got to know.’”
“Nobody comes to work looking to get into a use-of-force incident. That’s not what we do,” said Tommy Moore, chief deputy at Lamar County Sheriff’s Office.
“Officers choose not to go there because number one, you’re harming somebody’s life. Number two, if there’s an easier way I can do this and do my job, that’s what I want to do,” Hundley said.
One way of doing so is known as de-escalation — the use of verbal and non-verbal communication to calm a situation and prevent the use of force. Guyger testified she participated in eight hours of de-escalation training, but said she could not remember anything from it.
De-escalation is not a new idea, and departments have been teaching it for years, local law enforcement said. Officers participate in eight hours of official training, but Hundley and Lamar County Sheriff Scott Cass said de-escalation also comes with the nature of the job.
“It’s to try and take situations and diffuse what could be heightened,” Cass said. “It’s not like a weapon you can pull. It’s communication, and communication is key — no doubt about it.”
“We called it ‘verbal judo’ back when I started,” Moore said. “‘The least amount of force necessary to control the situation.’ That’s what we tell the guys, and that’s how we were trained, 25, 30 years ago. It’s the same training they go through now.”
Hundley said 20 of Paris Police Department’s current 40 officers have completed de-escalation training so far, with others scheduled. The training focuses on communication skills and alternatives to gun use, such as pepper spray or tasers.
“The de-escalation training is there. But the idea of not wanting to shoot somebody has been there for years,” Hundley said.
As for how officers make the call to use force, multiple factors are considered within the limited time they have to make the decision, officers said. The person’s history, behavior and current actions are considered, as well as if they are armed or not. While the officer makes the final call, the interaction is “dictated by the behavior of the other person,” in Moore’s words. Cass and Hundley voiced similar positions.
“I know that all of us swore an oath to serve and protect. And that’s what we do,” Cass said. “And we want to do that to the best of our ability, and be as professional as we can be.”
Cass and Moore could not recall any incidents where a Lamar County deputy used force inappropriately. Hundley cited a case where he suspended an officer for two days for an incident in which the officer used more force than Hundley thought necessary. The case went to arbitration, Hundley lost and the officer received back pay, he said. Hundley did not name the officer or date.
“There is always a loser (in use of deadly force),” Moore said. “Nobody really wins when you’re in that situation.”