We’ve seen over the years how the types of situations police are called to respond to are constantly changing. On any given day, an officer could respond to a traffic crash, an overdose, a domestic disturbance, a person having a mental health crisis, a suicidal person, a violent person with a weapon, and more. Every situation is different and may require a different response by the officer, which requires today’s officers to have a wide range of skills. The evolution of the police training that teaches these skills is crucial to the continued safety of our officers, the legitimacy of this police department and the trust between this department and our community.
In 2018, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) visited the Arlington Police Department to present a new kind of comprehensive, scenario-based training to all of our command staff and officers. This advanced training, called Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics, or ICAT, is an advanced use of force training that is centered on the sanctity of human life as a guiding principle and aims to train officers in a way that reduces the need to use deadly force in a range of non life-threatening situations. Though Arlington officers complete de-escalation training along with refresher courses throughout the year, ICAT is an in-depth de-escalation training that teaches numerous skills and tools and how those skills can work together to change the outcome of a situation. We are one of only a few departments in the Commonwealth and one of less than 100 agencies across the nation to be trained in ICAT principles.
The ICAT training combines the principles of critical thinking, crisis intervention, communications, and tactics. It was specifically designed for critical situations where someone may be going through a crisis and behaving erratically, where behavior may be influenced by mental illness, substance use, or another condition that prevents a person from understanding or responding rationally to an officer’s order, or the person is unarmed or armed with something other than a firearm. In most scenarios where a person may be in crisis or appears to be a danger to themselves, a patrol officer is the first to arrive to the scene. A number of these situations involve persons who are behaving erratically and unpredictably but may not pose an immediate threat to the officers or to civilians. These types of calls are becoming more and more common and an officer’s response during the first moments on a scene often dictate how the situation is going to unfold. ICAT training gives officers a range of knowledge and tools to determine how they may be able to slow the situation down and think critically about their next steps when responding to volatile, yet not always life-threatening, situations.
ICAT training includes six modules that teach a range of skills including critical decision making through collecting information, assessing risks and identifying options; recognizing when a person may be in crisis; active listening and productive ways of speaking that may help to de-escalate a situation; and how different circumstances may allow for different operational tactics. Each aspect of the training is meant to complement each other and, in best case scenarios, eliminate the need for lethal force. However, de-escalation may not always be successful. Force will always play a role in policing and it is unrealistic to think otherwise. Because of this, officers will always remain proficient in the tactical training they need to save their life, the lives of fellow officers or the lives of civilians in the area. But, ICAT increases officers’ options when they respond to critical situations by making a situation more manageable and heightening the likelihood that everyone involved will go home safely without the use of force.
An important benefit to ICAT training is that it is scenario-based. While in training, officers are put through realistic scenarios they may face where they practice applying the ICAT principles they have learned. Officers practice slowing down a situation, communicating with the person and developing rapport, and assessing their options. APD has also partnered with the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office for the past few years to do further scenario-based training. Using the Middlesex Sheriff’s Mobile Training Center, officers work through simulations where they must use their critical thinking skills to make instantaneous decisions. Every step we can take to put officers in realistic simulation training helps them to practice how they will respond to similar situations and allows them to rely on these skills to de-escalate situations whenever possible.
In addition to ICAT training, Arlington officers also complete training on mental health response, diversity and inclusion, fair and impartial policing and police legitimacy. This training continues to evolve and we are constantly re-evaluating our training policies to ensure officers have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide the best possible service to the Arlington community.
Chief of Police Juliann Flaherty