San Francisco police train to de-escalate confrontations before using deadly force

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Here's the scenario: a woman tells police there's a man armed with a knife in a tree.

"Sir, if you could just do me a favor and drop the knife ok?" a police officer asks.

The cop talks in a firm but low monotone, trying not to aggravate him. It works. The man complies.

"As opposed to barking orders, I told him I was there to help him," an officer explains.

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A second scenario ends differently. ABC7 News reporter Vic Lee plays the partner of an officer.

An angry man steps out of a construction trailer. He's confrontational. Suddenly, he is shot with a gun.

What has not changed is the use of force necessary to stop a threat.

But officers are now training through dozens of these scenarios, learning how to de-escalate tense confrontations before they end badly. This comes after a recent series of controversial officer involved shootings.

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An anonymous viewer has given ABC7 News video showing the fatal police shooting of a homeless man in San Francisco's Mission District.

"Keep a distance and try to not wear out a suspect, but verbally persuade them with a greater distance of time, than perhaps outcomes could be different," said Steven Pomato, San Francisco Police Academy Training Supervisor.

At the shooting range, things are also different. For the first time, officers attend classes to talk about alternatives to lethal force. They train with bean bags and less lethal projectile launchers. Even the targets have changed.

"It may be someone with a gun and they have to stop that threat. It may turn and it may be a person with a shopping bag and they don't," explained Sgt Angelo Spagnoli with the SFPD.

It's an example of the emphasis toward de-escalation. Intentionally pointing a gun is now considered use of force.

For full coverage on the San Francisco Police Department, click here.

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