Vermont trooper training includes increased focus on de-escalation

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 6:28 PM EDT
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PITTSFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - Law enforcement’s response to mental health calls -- and the occasional deadly results -- has been a growing source of concern in recent years. The Vermont State Police say that they are on pace for over 600 mental health-related calls this year, which has been the trend every year since 2018. Our Ike Bendavid visited the Vermont Police Academy to learn what new troopers are learning when it comes to de-escalation.

Training to become a Vermont state trooper is a grueling process. “The job itself is stressful and we have to know how to cope with that stress in a positive way,” said 31-year-old Greg Mills, one of the 13 new troopers finishing up a three-week basic training, a prelude to a 16-week course at the academy in Pittsford. “I wanted to be the best of the best. That’s why I’m here.”

“I have always wanted to do law enforcement,” said 26-year-old Verdall Cole, another recruit.

Both are entering a profession that is increasingly in the spotlight when it comes to police use-of-force tactics and interactions with people of color and those suffering from mental health issues.

“There was a stronger driving power when I saw the current climate with law enforcement to make me even more eager to get into this profession,” Cole said.

VSP officials say the basic training this year included a bigger focus on reacting to mental health crises and de-escalating incidents to avoid the use of force. Vermont State Police Lt. Steven Coote, the director of recruiting and training, says it’s a direct response to public criticism. “We have heard what they are saying. We want to be better at our job. We want to be part of the solution and we are looking at ways to make our troopers better prepared when they hit the road,” he said.

Part of the new training forces recruits to look inside themselves and use tools that are not on their belts. “You deescalate yourself. Sometimes a situation doesn’t even escalate,” Cole said.

“Whether they’re in a mental health crisis or just having a bad day, stress can be overwhelming for a lot of people. Being able to cope with that situation in the right way is very important,” Mills explained.

The full contingent for the Vermont Police Academy’s 111th class begins on Monday.

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