A deputy exiting his vehicleJune 9, 2022

WALTON COUNTY, Fla— De-escalation is a critical and life-saving skill for law enforcement.

Deputies charged with the difficult and often dangerous task of resolving tense or volatile situations can use de-escalation to reduce conflict before it develops.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office has long been teaching the practice. Now, WCSO will be fully funded for its efforts after being awarded a federal grant.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office was the first in the state of Florida to implement virtual reality/augmented reality technology for de-escalation training. For this reason, the agency was able to purchase VR/AR equipment through Apex at a significantly discounted rate in May of this year.

In July, the tech will be rolled out agency-wide and the grant, funded in October of 2021, will be retroactive for all training done by the agency dating back from September 2021 through August of 2023.

The WCSO training section applied for the Regional De-escalation Training Grant through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in July 2021  to build and maintain our deputies’ de-escalation proficiency.

The grant provides $188k to support de-escalation, implicit bias, and duty to intervene training efforts. This includes up to $42k in overtime for deputies participating in training programs and support for training officers attending nationally certified train-the-trainer programs.

In addition to the virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) technology, the grant will also fund use of force data analysis, after-action reviews, and the development of internal marketing/promotional materials, policies, and procedures.

“Our goal is to encourage a de-escalation mindset,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson. “This will take organization change to create a culture of de-escalation within an agency in hopes of empowering our deputies with the tools they need to do their job even more effectively.”

Training staff from the National De-Escalation Training Center – Regional Training Center at Fort Hays State University is providing the train-the-trainer instruction for WCSO using the VR/AR equipment beginning this summer.