The de-escalation strategy of the Christian Hall event

Latest post in a series on Christian Hall

The Monroe Co. video of the Christian Hall event

ref: Case Study of police shooting of Christian Hall ripe for good discussion
ref: Have you done your Christian Hall homework yet?
ref: Breaking down the YouTube video of the Christian Hall shooting by the Pa. State Police
ref: “CJ is responsible for his own death”
ref: Past time for the City to have “The Talk”

Gadfly has said that the Christian Hall shooting is a case study ripe for discussion.

You can see from the post of Bob Davenport and the comments (especially by Michele Downing) to Bob’s and Gadfly’s previous posts on Hall that we go quickly to the politics and the ethics of this case.

But Gadfly would like to hold off as much as possible (it’s hard) on that discussion for a short while.

Right now his primary interest is “academic,” that is, he seeks to know something about de-escalation strategy and training from seeing it applied and in action here.

Apropos of our previous post on trends in policing around the country and many previous posts here on Gadfly about reimagining public safety, Gadfly wants to look closely at the de-escalation techniques employed here in as much an objective manner as possible (it’s hard).

In his video of the event, the Monroe Co. District Attorney obviously is aware of the national conversation about more mental health and related training for police and about police collaboration with mental health professionals by the way he foregrounds the credentials of the two negotiators in the Hall event.

Hall was met initially by two first responders whose basic training for such a call is not commented on. Then the interaction is turned over to two negotiators, one for about 15 minutes, the other for about an hour. The video highlights the apposite training of both these negotiators. These are the right men for the job at hand. Here’s what the video says about negotiator #2 (called in the video Trooper #4):

Now the video is 30 mins. long. The event spanned 90 mins. We do not have the full video record.

But what can we learn about de-escalation strategy from what we have?

To prepare, Gadfly broke the video down into its parts several days ago.

He did another run-through over the weekend, however, adding more detail (so anybody who read the previous post should do it again), and, most importantly, he numbered what he thought he could see as verbal strategies for de-escalating the Hall event.

Gadfly identified 18 verbal strategies aimed at de-escalating a potential suicide.

Here they are:

1) come off the bridge, and then we can talk
2) you are not in any trouble
3) we will do you no harm
4) tell us what your problem is
5) we will find someone to help you
6) we the police are here to help you
7) we can say with confidence our help will produce a positive outcome
8) calls Hall “CJ,” establishing personal connection (not clear if the negotiators gave their names)
9) we’re concerned about your physical comfort/state/welfare (cold? hungry? tired?)
10) we see your pain (empathy)
11) I’ll come out into the open from behind the safety of the police car to talk with you
12) advances on Hall behind ballistic shield
13) I’m asking you to put the gun down
14) what I’m asking you to do is easy to do
15) name something you need, and we’ll get it for you
16) whatever is bothering you is really not as big as you think it is
17) let me remind you of the impact of your death on people who love you
18) you really don’t want to commit suicide

Now go back to the break down post.

To Gadfly these verbal strategies are applied scattershot. He sees no purpose, pattern, coherence in their application. Should there be?

What are the strategies most applied? Seems like #2, #3, #13. Why these?

Are there any strategies that don’t seem appropriate? #16, #18? Should the officer be suggesting that the reason Hall contemplates suicide is no big deal? Will it be effective with a teen who employed elaborate planning (as was learned later) to suggest he really doesn’t want to do this?

Is the approach here keyed to research and experience with an armed, non-aggressive, mostly non-responsive teen in mental crisis/distress contemplating suicide by cop?

Here’s what the video stresses as the key strategy:


We have seen this so many times in these cases. The subject is at fault for disobeying a police order.

But what does research and experience tell us about the efficacy of such a full-frontal strategy with an armed, non-aggressive, mostly non-responsive teen contemplating suicide by cop?

40 times. 40 unsuccessful times.

All Gadfly can hear is Dr. Phil, his favorite philosopher, saying, “And how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

Gadfly must admit that he is troubled by what he has been told is expert police action in this case.

Now with all self-conscious humility, Gadfly recognizes that “academics” are guilty of over-thinking sometimes.

But till better instructed, he is profoundly disappointed if this is an example of the best that training has to offer.

It’s not just that the attempt at de-escalation failed here and a teen was killed. That will happen. Can’t win them all. And Hall was determined to die.

But Gadfly doesn’t understand what the de-escalation approach was here and on what it was based.

As always, he invites enlightenment.

3 thoughts on “The de-escalation strategy of the Christian Hall event

  1. Thanks for this! And I plan to come back and dig in after work but there’s a reason #16 and #18 jumped out at you. Those 2 statements are actually mentioned in every suicide prevention training as things you should never say. As Licensed professionals we are required to take these training hours every 2 years (and I complain every 2 years about having to do so…..LOL!) but this is one glaring stand out difference between Trooper #whatever having an education and Licensed Mental Health Professionals. Nice catch Gadfly!

  2. Unless someone hits upon the magic words that will impact someone bent on suicide, I see lots of wasted time. I think CJ saw this and hurried things along.

    Not gonna happen, but it would be useful to have a mental makeup file for individuals. What are their critical points and what are their release points. Time, effort, money, privacy concerns et al,, and updates?

    How many mental institutions have been closed in PA, certainly not for lack of need.

    Family may have insights as to what would work but I doubt a success rate over 5% (wag).

    Early on one in my family had a characteristic of being stubborn, don’t we all have that to some degree, but silliness distracted that child and kept her growing stubbornness from overflowing. Could help or hurt if their is no sense of humor.

    Coping used to be taught at home, at school and at church. There have always been failures but they seem to be: if not more common, more visible.

    My experience is that rational, most of the 18 items, makes no sense to someone near or over the edge; and frustration builds in those attempting to draw someone back from the edge.

    Send in the support animals unless the individual is a Zoosadist; just look in the person’s psychological file.

  3. An aside, I’m an engineer by training but interactions with a trained professionals in the care field lead me to say that agendas can trump training. I’ll leave it to others to evaluate police actions in this case or alternative solutions.

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