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Phoenix police training to focus on mental health and de-escalation

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department is trying out some new ideas for training this year in an effort to better prepare officers and recruits for work in the field.

“What we’re doing a little bit differently with the Phoenix Police Department this year is we’re focusing more on hands-on training, more grappling,” Commander Jennifer LaRoque told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

The department has faced criticism regarding its involvement in 44 shootings last year, a record high number.

Officers are also being trained on active shooter intervention and implicit bias, LaRoque said.

“This is the first time that we’ve actually done squad-based training and focus more on current trends,” she said.

The department also redesigned training for recruits with this new mindset.

“In the past years, we’ve always done more of a militant-style academy, and this year we’re focusing more on placing pressure and stress more when they’re doing proficiency skills, such as defensive tactics or they’re taking someone into custody or they’re conducting some sort of firearms training, and they’re able to identify targets better,” she said.

LaRoque said this year there will be six basic training classes with 50 recruits each, four mixed classes and two Department of Public Safety classes.

The first Phoenix class began last week, and the next will start in April.

“This year we’re going to focus more on communication, critical thinking and decision-making with de-escalation component to include mental health training scenarios,” LaRoque said.

She said the department will be working with a Mesa doctor who will evaluate how recruits balance the “emotional side” of the brain with the “cognitive side” to help train them in decision-making.

She said they will compare recruits’ brains to those of professional athletes in an effort to train them to work at “peak performance,” something that no other police department nationwide is doing.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report. 

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