A Systematic Social Observation Study of Police De-Escalation Tactics

Academic Article


  • This study analyzes 131 police–citizen interactions observed during Fall 2016 and coded through systematic social observation. We assessed how often officers use de-escalation tactics, factors associated with their use, and the relationship between de-escalation and calm citizen demeanor. We found officers frequently employed de-escalation tactics, including the “respect” tactic of treating citizens in a respectful manner, the “human” tactic of getting on the citizen’s level and reducing power imbalances, and the “honest” tactic of being up front about the facts of the situation. Officers were more influenced by citizen demeanor than demographics in their use of de-escalation. The use of several tactics, including “human” (reducing the power differential between the cop and the citizen) and “calm” (the officer making an effort to control his or her own emotions), was associated with calm citizen demeanor. Directions for future research on this important topic are offered.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Police Quarterly  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Todak N; James L
  • Start Page

  • 509
  • End Page

  • 543
  • Volume

  • 21
  • Issue

  • 4