WSU seeks better ways to handle tense encounters

The call came into 9-1-1 from a Spokane YMCA last October: A middle-aged man was threatening to break the kneecaps of an eight-year-old, because he said the boy could “ruin my NBA career.”

Corporal Jordan Ferguson of the Spokane Police Department responded, fully aware of the suspect’s antagonistic and unpredictable behavior. Ferguson’s body camera footage shows what happened next.

In the lobby of the YMCA, an employee first describes the man’s erratic statements. Ferguson tracks the man to the gym, who then walks away yelling. Rather than restraining the man immediately, Ferguson asks him questions and listens carefully and calmly, taking his time as the man vented and eventually admits to attacking several women on the local Centennial Trail earlier that month. The encounter resolved without hands-on force, in part because Ferguson had studied crisis intervention and motivational interviewing. Both are designed to help mitigate the aggressiveness of someone with mental illness.

“We were ready that this might be a violent struggle or we’d have to use some physical force,” says Ferguson. “However, using the motivational interviewing not only calmed him down, but we had him agree to get psychological help and had him agree to let us put handcuffs on.”

Following high profile, tragic shootings and assaults by police around the country, demand has grown for new training methods and better ways to handle tense encounters. Police require better tools—like crisis intervention training—to de-escalate confrontations in the communities they serve, especially when they interact with people with mental illnesses or when there’s racial tension.

Read the rest of the story in Washington State Magazine.