A deep dive into the Indiana University Police Department’s approach to resistance and officers’ use of force has resulted in substantial changes in training, the use of data and the less-lethal tools – both mental and physical – provided to officers.
A cultural shift is underway, says Benjamin Hunter, associate vice president for public safety and institutional assurance and superintendent of public safety, and Natalie Hipple, associate professor of criminal justice at IU Bloomington and a member of IUPD’s De-escalation and Training Commission. The final report of the commission’s work was completed in October, and the data that Hipple collected and analyzed showed that IUPD officers generally do not use force on students, and do not want to.
Officers said during focus groups that they wanted more options for dealing with heated situations and the kinds of resistance they encounter in nonstudents. New training and equipment to support this is being implemented at IUPD divisions on all campuses.
“We serve communities that have a lot of young people, who don’t always make the best decisions,” Hunter said. “We want to help them succeed, so we owe it to them to make sure we’re following best practices and de-escalating intense situations as our first option.”
Indiana University Police Academy
IU students attending the IU Police Academy began benefiting from the commission’s work last summer, when the academy began offering courses in Fair and Impartial Policing, procedural justice, and Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics, a use-of-force training approach for addressing people who are volatile but unarmed. Hunter said that elements of ICAT are incorporated throughout the academy’s 14-week curriculum to show cadets how they can be used in various situations.
The academy graduates about 40 IU students each summer, who go on to work part time as fully sworn officers for their campuses while completing their IU degrees. Some join IUPD full time after graduating; many go on to serve on local police agencies throughout Indiana. Changing the IU Police Academy curriculum to emphasize such key topics will have an impact on the profession of policing in other jurisdictions.
“These curricular changes produce well-rounded officers, which benefits our campuses, the communities that host us and other agencies if our graduates go elsewhere,” Hunter said.
New training, new tools
IUPD leadership decided that all full-time officers should take the eight-hour Fair and Impartial Policing course, which required several training sessions across the state from August to February to accommodate about 200 officers.
All officers also will take a course in mental health first aid, which helps officers address volatile situations with someone who may be having a mental health crisis. New training for IU Police Academy recruits and full-time officers also will help them address situations with someone who is upset and uncooperative.
IUPD purchased a use-of-force simulator for academy recruits and full-time officers to practice responding to various scenarios. The simulator does more than traditional police “shoot or don’t shoot” scenarios; it focuses on de-escalation training to diffuse volatile situations while reinforcing communication skills.
When the commission’s work began in 2017, less-lethal options for officers included hands-on compliance, verbal de-escalation techniques, pepper spray, batons and firearms. Officers said during focus groups that they wanted to stop carrying batons because they rarely, if ever, use them as intended; if they did, it might result in injury for the community member or the officer.
Informed by data
Hipple expected to analyze officer use-of-force data when she joined the commission. But she didn’t realize how challenging it would be to collect it from the IUPD campus divisions, where the information was essentially stored in paper files.
The lack of electronic data slowed down the commission’s work initially, but it spurred development of an electronic reporting and storage system. The new system will allow Hunter and others to see and analyze data in near real-time, helping them spot trends, problems and best practices to further refine training.
“It helps them look at where they can improve but also where they’re doing well,” Hipple said. “If one campus does really well with a particular situation, IUPD can translate this to other campuses.”
IUPD has not had any officer-involved shootings. The commission was formed because of the national discussion about police use of force and Hunter’s desire to make sure IUPD adhered to best practices. The commission also reviewed IUPD policies; they were determined to be sound but in need of fine-tuning, which is underway. Hunter said elements of the commission’s work are discussed at each one-on-one he conducts with his staff.
“We’re not seeing that officers are using force improperly, but it’s nice to have a data system like this,” Hunter said.
Hipple said that research about university police departments – and use of force in particular – is limited. She and Hunter are presenting the findings from the De-escalation and Training Commission’s work at the annual meeting for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in late June.