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Gainesville Police chief’s goal: Triple de-escalation training hours for officers
Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish answers a question from the audience Thursday, July 2, at the Newtown Florist Club’s open-air conversation. The chief responded to concerns submitted by members of the public such as minority hiring, transparency and training. - photo by Nick Watson

Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said he hopes to get his officers to a minimum of 30-40 hours of de-escalation training each year, at least tripling the amount officers in the city currently undergo.  

The chief said he hopes to have a training plan in place by September. 

“Some of this stuff we’re already doing. We’re going to roll a good bit of it out in our fall training, and then we’re really going to start measuring it Jan. 1 when our new training cycle starts,” Parrish said. 

The chief announced policy changes and goals for the police department during a Gainesville City Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 4, including the 300% increase in de-escalation training time. 

The remarks by Parrish and City Manager Bryan Lackey come one month after an open-air conversation hosted by the Newtown Florist Club, where members of the judiciary and law enforcement officials spoke to the community. 

The events were sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed in late May during an encounter with Minneapolis Police. A video circulated widely of an officer putting his knee on Floyd’s neck. 

The Newtown Florist Club submitted a list of policy concerns to leaders including Parrish and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch, such as body cameras, officer accountability and training. 

Officers are currently getting anywhere from five to 10 hours per year, the chief told the council. Parrish said he took a course this year on use of deadly force and de-escalation that was nine hours long. 

“What we’re looking to do is move more to a hands-on, simulated training model, meaning we’re doing orchestrated role-playing,” he said. “So, if we’re teaching (the) Taser, we’re not just teaching how to tase. Incorporated in that training before you start training to deploy the Taser, the student has to do everything they can to try to de-escalate the situation before going to a (use of) force option.”  

That also will translate to firearms, according to the chief. Instead of just providing firearm training to show the officer is proficient with the sidearm, the ideal training program will involve a “dialogue to deescalate the situation,” Parrish said. 

The police department in previous years has used a simulator for what is commonly referred to as “shoot/don’t shoot” training, where an officer must assess the situation and determine if force is necessary.  

The Georgia Public Safety Training Center currently offers four online courses related to use of force and de-escalation. 

Crisis intervention trainers and mental health clinicians will help oversee the training, the chief said. 

“In all of these training things that we have to do, (we) do what airline pilots do,” Parrish said. “They’re in a simulator. … We’ve learned that simulator training is great for adult learners. It’s a great way to immediately address whether somebody is doing something wrong or right and how to make it better.” 

In terms of overall training hours, Georgia requires 20 hours of continuing education, according to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. All sworn law enforcement officers are required to receive training on use of force and de-escalation, according to the training center. 

The training center also said officers have a two-hour community policing training requirement annually. 

The U.S. law enforcement average for annual in-service training hours is 21 hours, according to the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform. 

Parrish also announced plans to build a committee of 10 to 15 community members, who will assist in creating a three-to-five-year strategic plan on what the community believes the police department needs to do regarding police-citizen relations, he said. 

“In five years, where do we want to see our police department and its role in our community? Writing that strategic plan would be step one. What happens after that with the committee, I don’t know. I think that would be incorporated into what plans we come up with,” Parrish said. 

The chief said he has identified some members he would like on the committee but has not yet made any formal invitations. 

The department received seed money from the North Georgia Community Foundation last year to hire a mental health clinician to consult with Gainesville Police officers on community encounters.