Over the last two decades, society has placed many additional job duties and expectations upon peace officers, such as handling calls for service involving people with developmental disabilities and people in a mental health crisis. The perception is that peace officers are trained to handle anything with which they are faced. The reality is that the training peace officers receive to prepare them has not grown proportionately to societal demands. Peace officers must make split-second decisions during circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving in order to gain safe control of the situation. Respond, Observe, Assess, React (ROAR): A Roadmap to De-Escalation, Field Dynamics and Decision Making fills the training and experience gaps that may exist. ROAR was created in 2016 as an integral element of the 32-hour Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Field Operations Crisis Intervention Skills (FOCIS) Training (previously called CIT) that focused on patrol responses to calls for service where citizens may be experiencing a mental health crisis. It was developed by LASD psychologists and sworn personnel who have extensive field experience, including, but not limited to, the de-escalation of psychiatric crises.
The complex duty of field response is compressed into four phases. The acronym ROAR refers to Responding to the call, Observing the circumstances upon arrival, Assessing exigency and Reacting. The first of the four phases is responding to the call. At this initial point, field personnel have been typically assigned the call and are en route. They may be receiving additional information from dispatch, searching for updates and corresponding by telephone with an informant/caller. The handling patrol unit may begin coordinating resources, such as positioning/staging other patrol units, determining the speed of intervention, generating a plan of approach, requesting supplemental services (S918/Aero), etc.
The observation phase addresses the observed behaviors of the subject and other stabilizing and destabilizing factors. Four areas, which are nearly universally present in field response, provide the deputy the possibility of situational stabilization and destabilization. They are deputy/self, subject/suspect, environment and informant(s). Elements of these four factors can contribute to the encounter escalating or de-escalating.
The assess(ment) phase determines the exigency of the situation and “how hot the call is.” The question that best applies to this phase is, “What do I have?” One or more of the succeeding concepts will apply to most situations. For example, “Do I currently have exigency and/or imminence?” Exigency (time) is consistent with “no time at hand,” immediate action is necessary to preserve safety. Dangerousness (typically associated with distance) is consistent with someone who poses a threat and is perhaps threatening, but due to containment and/or distance, there is the possibility of slowing down the situation, building rapport or modifying the environment to decrease the risk for violence toward self/others. Approachability relates to the ability to engage the subject verbally and/or physically. Verbal approachability suggests initiating dialogue for the purpose of attaining a better understanding of the situation. Such dialogue is usually very helpful in identifying additional stabilizing and destabilizing factors of the situation. It is a good data/intel gathering opportunity for patrol personnel. Verbal approachability is usually a precursor to physical approachability. While talking to someone (verbally approaching), it is natural to move toward them. Physical approachability could lead to physical proximity and detention. During this phase, the field responder is considering the “windows of opportunity” that will allow for the most favorable outcome.
The react phase can be summarized into two sections, “slow it down, if possible” or “speed it up, as necessary.” Immediate action may be necessary in circumstances that contain imminent/actual harm or the certain “closing of the window of opportunity” that may increase the possibility of a violent outcome. Intervention is necessary to either stop an attack in progress or to prevent the initiation of harm. A slowdown situation deals with circumstances that allow time for: building rapport, venting/tiring of the subject, changing of the environment (such as removing weapons of opportunity, closing access to dangerous locations/ledges, etc.). The react phase can move fluidly from immediate to slowdown or vice versa.
In practically all law enforcement responses, field personnel are “ROARing,” albeit, sometimes very quickly. Each phase produces unique opportunities for responding personnel. As elements of the call change in the presence of the deputy, ROAR is revisited to incorporate the new data and respond accordingly. ROAR is taught in the 32-hour FOCIS Training, and, to date, about 2,000 LASD personnel have been trained.
If you would like to learn more about any of these concepts in an individual meeting, please contact Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500. Our services are both free and confidential. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site at http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm.