Tampa researchers say de-escalation training at top of community's police reform wish list

Policing changes are at the forefront of the nation, and Tampa researchers are studying what’s at the root of these issues and working with police on how to fix them.

Tuesday Tampa’s citizen review board heard updates on progress to improve policing, and the first results from a community-wide survey show de-escalation training ranks at the top for how they feel about interactions with police.

"We found that across all of the different things that we asked citizens, that they felt most strongly that their relationships would be benefited and they would feel better about police if police received de-escalation training," said Bryanna Fox, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida.

In the last week, there have been three police shootings nationwide that have sparked community protests as the country approaches the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis by ex-police officer Derek Chauvin.

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"I think that people really are looking for a new way forward with policing," said Fox. "De-escalation as a philosophy is critical. It’s not enough to go to an hour-long training, like that’s going to change our viewpoints. We really need to emphasize that there are so many other options and when feasible we need to use de-escalation."

Citizen review board members said transparency about the police department’s process is important with body cameras, interactions and more. Fox said building community trust with police won’t happen overnight, but there are steps the Tampa Police Department is making to move progress forward.

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"I think it’s not a check the box type of thing where once they do the training, everything will be alright. I think it’s a long-term commitment to always make sure the police maintain the community’s trust," said Fox.

De-escalation training is part of 17 changes for TPD that came out of a community task force last year. Fox said TPD checked off most of them, but the department still needs to do ICAT de-escalation training, which is a nationally recognized and researched method. TPD also still need to complete training for a new coordinated response to mental health calls with providers.