San Francisco Police Overhaul Tactical Response With an Eye to 'Diffuse and De-escalate' - NBC Bay Area
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San Francisco Police Overhaul Tactical Response With an Eye to 'Diffuse and De-escalate'

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    San Francisco police recruits and veterans are being retrained on a simulator – a big video screen on the second floor of the academy – where different life and death scenarios play out, and the old way of responding is now the wrong way. Mark Matthews reports. (Published Tuesday, June 28, 2016)

    The San Francisco Police Department has a message about its use of force.

    The department is under fire for the number of suspects who’ve recently been shot by officers. Former police Chief Greg Suhr resigned after the most recent one.

    On Tuesday, reporters were invited to the police academy to see how training has changed.

    Recruits and veterans are being retrained on a simulator – a big video screen on the second floor of the academy – where different life and death scenarios play out, and the old way of responding is now the wrong way.

    One scene occurred at San Francisco General Hospital, where a distraught patient pulled out a knife, prompting Sgt. Steven Pomatto to draw his gun.

    The purpose of the simulation used to be shoot or don’t shoot, but that’s changed, explained Pomatto, who used a less lethal bean bag gun.

    “We’re kind of reengineering the training to … fall back a little bit, take positions of cover and negotiate that situation – try and diffuse and de-escalate,” he said.

    The situation unfolding at the academy was mirrored at the gun range.

    In the past, officers would go to the range just to shoot. Now they come to change the way they react and to train with Sgt. Angelo Spagnoli.

    “I believe that this is a good change,” he said. “I believe that what we’re doing today is much better than what we were doing a year ago.”

    According to Spagnoli, it’s not the new recruits that are the challenge – it’s the veterans.

    “It’s really difficult to erase 25 to 30 years of training, but the only way to do it is implement new training and keep that training up and hit it at different angles,” he said.

    San Francisco police also said that the old imperative of keeping themselves, their fellow officers and the public safe, has been replaced with the goal of keeping everyone, including the suspect, safe whenever possible.

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