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City Leaders Learn De-escalation Through Live Police Training

SPANISH FORK, Utah — With how police deal with crisis situations continuing to draw the local and national spotlight, leaders from a handful of Utah County cities got first-hand experience Tuesday with the types of scenarios officers face.

City council members and mayors from Springville, Mapleton, Spanish Fork, Payson and Santaquin joined their local police departments and Utah Highway Patrol as they went through several live encounters including a traffic stop, a transient encampment, a domestic violence case, a suspicious person and a suicidal teen.

“Today is kind of a day in the life of a police officer,” said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street. “Giving them that other side of the coin view of how it works as a front-line officer is going to give them great perspective.”

The leaders were given training weapons that fire blanks and had to work to resolve and de-escalate the various circumstances while attempting to avoid the worst-case scenario of a use of force.

It wasn’t easy.

Role players were armed with rubber knives and training weapons that came out if the situation wasn’t handled or de-escalated properly.

Spanish Fork city councilman Brandon Gordon said it didn’t take much for the adrenaline to start flowing.

“You start questioning if I’m always doing the right thing,” Gordon said. “It was good because they said, ‘hey, this is what we would have done differently, this is what maybe you should have done differently, this is what you did good.’ To be honest, I had no idea.”

Mapleton city councilman Jim Lundberg said the national discussion today only makes the training more relevant.

“I know there’s a big dispute in the country right now with regard to police officers’ ability to deal with mental illness,” Lundberg said. “That was a great experience for me to kind of see what police officers have to be trained for.”

Police said though multiple scenarios involved the potential use of force, they emphasized that interactions with the public in their day-to-day work are overwhelmingly peaceful.

Street said of Utah Highway Patrol’s 1.2 million encounters with the public over the past 5 years, only 141 have resulted in use-of-force situations.

“For the most part we know that if we’re dealing with somebody in an enforcement encounter, they made a mistake,” Street said. “If we’re dealing with somebody in a crash or call for service, they need our help. The hat we wear most of the time is that hat to serve and to provide that public safety.”

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