Locally developed police de-escalation method gets national certification

Jacob Beltran, Staff writer San Antonio Express News

Dec. 25, 2021

A method for de-escalating confrontations and restraining people — designed by a retired San Antonio police officer’s company to prevent incidents like the one in which Minneapolis police killed George Floyd — has received a national certification and is now being taught in other states.

Called the CALM Approach, the technique for subduing unarmed subjects was examined in November by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training and passed “with flying colors,” said Rick Smith, president of Con10ngency Consulting, which provides training for law enforcement, other first responders and civilians.

“It’s huge,” said Smith, who was a hostage negotiator before founding Con10ngency in 2016. “It’s taking us to the next level. It gives validity to the program and to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

CALM is an acronym derived from communication, active physical control maneuvers, lateral recovery restraint and monitoring. The “M” previously stood for minimization, which was changed to monitoring based on feedback from civic groups, Smith said.

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The monitoring component of CALM involves officers ensuring that a suspect’s condition remains good throughout an encounter, he said. Officers are taught signs and symptoms of breathing problems, along with how to intervene medically when needed.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for EMS to start providing care if officers can do something,” Smith said. “Seeing officers take a more proactive approach and realizing there’s a need for first aid is important too.”

Self-monitoring is also a big part of the CALM approach, meaning officers are taught to check themselves with a focus on not letting their tempers drive their actions.

“When officers get in a confrontation, it’s an emotional event. When it’s over, they have to monitor their emotions and bring it down,” Smith said.

A key physical element of the approach is a technique known as lateral recovery restraint, the “L” in CALM, which aims to promote continued de-escalation when an officer must detain an unarmed subject. It does not put pressure on the subject’s back, chest, abdomen or neck, allowing the person to breathe better while also preventing the person from moving. If a person resists while in this position, officers are taught to apply pressure to the subject’s knees instead.

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Con10gency developed this safer way of restraining a suspect with help from medical professionals and self-defense experts.

Pete Hardy, a self-defense expert and owner of STW Krav Maga in Balcones Heights, helped develop the restraint with gym instructors serving as test subjects. He said they learned that putting a knee on a person’s back after a strenuous event, such as a brief foot chase, restricts breathing, prompting a restrained suspect to fight for his or her life.

“Within three seconds, they’re wanting to fight because they can’t breathe,” Hardy said, adding that they briefly demonstrate the wrong way to restrain a subject on all trainees. “It’s always the same result. Within the same three to five seconds, they can’t breathe.”

Smith said Con10gency has been in talks about teaching the CALM approach with agencies in North Carolina and the Portland, Oregaon, area. Several classes are expected to be taught in February.

The company’s headquarters are outside Portland, while its sales and operations are based in San Antonio.

In Bexar County, lateral recovery restraint is taught to officers at STW Krav Maga, paid for by the 100ClubSA, an organization that provides funding to encourage and promote effective law enforcement and firefighting in Bexar County.

Smith served in special operations and hostage negotiations during his 27 years with the San Antonio Police Department, and he was a tactical medic. He started developing and perfecting the CALM approach in the months after Floyd’s death.

In the year since being adopted by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, the approach has been taught to other local police departments, including the UT Health Science Center San Antonio police department, Smith said.

Detention officers at the Bexar County Jail have also been trained, Smith said.

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A national nonprofit called Police 2 Peace — which works to promote reform from within police departments, in part by reminding them that they are peace officers — took an interest in the CALM approach.

The nonprofit recently hosted community listening sessions between the communities and area authorities in Portland and Pasquotank County in North Carolina.

Lisa Brodcerick, executive director of Police 2 Peace, said the CALM approach should be adopted by other departments not only because it promotes de-escalation, but because it is reform that police and the communities at odds with them can accept.

“When community members first hear about it, it’s hard to make the leap from people who ask, ‘Well, why do you have to lay hands in the first place?’” she said.

Broderick said public safety exists so that community members are safe. If an officer must physically restrain a person to help them or because they pose a danger to themselves or others, such as someone experiencing a mental breakdown or drug overdose, the CALM approach goes a long way in addressing that, she said.

“We may never see George Floyd happen again,” Broderick said of agencies adopting the training. “It’s tremendous for this country in terms of healing, and we’re all about healing between community and police.”

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