New Jersey

New De-Escalation Training Brought to NJ Police Departments

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New training methods deployed at the Bergen County Police Academy designed to improve the next generation of cops are taking root as national conversations surrounding police violence are further charged by the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

A typical training day at the Bergen County Police Academy, even to the untrained eye, is pretty much what you'd expect: firearms instruction on the shooting range, tactical entry drills, easing tensions in a domestic dispute -- all standard procedure in any police training.

"What we can't be is what generations before us have been; we can't be the authoritative 'because I said so' type of police, we have to soften the edges," Deputy Chief Jason Love of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office says to a room full of recruits training at the police academy.

It's a first-of-its-kind lesson for police recruits in Bergen County that's been triggered by months of protests and civil unrest directed a law enforcement agencies nationwide.

"So there are people, most notably in Minnesota and other places, they murdered someone while wearing a badge. I don't think they're bad cops. I think they're bad people who became cops," Love says to recruits.

police sit before instructor at bergen co. academy
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Police from neighboring New Jersey counties train at the Bergen County Police Academy with a new focus on de-escalation.

George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis Police two months before this diverse group entered the academy, but Bergen County was already aiming to forge a new template of racial sensitivity and de-escalation training.

"We didn't have many racial conversations in previous classes. We spoke to how to treat people fairly but we didn't specifically tie it in to some of the current events," Love adds.

Officials caught notice of 27-year-old Dorian Dawson when he addressed a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Hackensack. The ex-Marine, who works as a security guard and want to wear the police badge himself on day, was invited by the county prosecutor's office to speak to the academy.

"We all have our bias, but we can unlearn if you want to unlearn," Dawson says before a group of trainees. "It's bigger than you."

Amid demands for defunding police departments, Bergen County is investing in equipping recruits with a different mentality.

"If you mess up, we mess up now. We spend so much time building equity in our community and it goes away instantaneously if you don't respect the profession," Love adds. "The community is driving all of this. If we are going to be as good as we claim to be, we have to be compassionate, and we have to be mindful of how our community sees us."

Those recruits are from Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties and will take these lessons learned back to their respective departments. The hope is to have all 3,000 law enforcement officers in the county get this training within a year or so., and that it will be a model for police department statewide.

The new model in Bergen County is not a textbook example of academy training, but its one organizers hope will turn the page on modern policing.

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