GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As police departments continue to face more scrutiny, many are emphasizing de-escalation training aimed at helping officers end conflicts without the use of force.

On Monday morning, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office gave News 8 and other media a closer look at its own use of force training. The sheriff’s office has given the same presentation to county commissioners and area chambers of commerce.

“We have to encourage (deputies) to take the training seriously so that when they’re confronted with these types of realities, they perform to the standard we expect them to perform,” Deputy Anthony Ysquierdo, who helped lead the training, said.

With a real Taser in hand, I went through the same de-escalation training as deputies. The scenario was to take a felony domestic assault suspect into custody. The suspect was portrayed by Ysquierdo, who wore a special suit to protect himself. With a warrant approved, my “partner” — another media participant — and I were let into the suspect’s home. He was in the corner of his basement, armed with a knife, threatening to harm himself if we didn’t leave.

“We want to help you,” I told the suspect. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

I continued to try and talk the suspect down.

“We need you to drop the knife,” I repeated. “We need you to drop the knife.”

I threatened to fire the Taser if the suspect did not comply.

“I’m gonna use this if you don’t drop the knife,” I said. “Drop the knife. Drop the knife.”

Despite several verbal warnings, the suspect continued to threaten harm. I fired the Taser from several feet away, first warning him, “I’m using this, Anthony, I’m using this.”

The Taser was effective. If the scenario had been real, the suspect would have been under neuromuscular incapacitation, temporarily stopped for five seconds. That’s when deputies have to quickly race in and handcuff the person before he regains control.

“I think you did really well,” Lt. Randy Kieft, who has 24 years of with the sheriff’s department and now works with the training unit, said after the simulation was done. “The whole purpose of this is to prevent the subject from hurting themself, get everybody into custody without any injury. So if I had a critique, I would say deploy the Taser a little bit sooner.”

A modern Taser has two cartridges inside, one for close quarters and another for stand-off situations. Kieft said the goal is to shoot one prong above the belt and another below the belt, essentially “splitting the hemispheres.”

“Any large muscle groups,” he said. “You try to avoid the chest and the groin area. So anywhere in the abdomen, in the thighs, primarily; in the back would be ideal if it presents itself.”

A Taser is one of many tools police utilize to stop suspects who are resisting. Other tactics include using pepper spray, pepper ball launchers and K9s, Ysquierdo said.

“These dogs de-escalate a ton of scenarios simply by barking,” Ysquierdo said. “We have a couple of deputies here that are notorious for saying, ‘Hey, the dog’s coming,’ but there’s no dog coming. And people are like, ‘Wait, there’s a dog? I don’t want no part of the dog, I’ll come out.’ De-escalation at its finest.”

Those tactics often come after verbal attempts to de-escalate, which Ysquierdo called the best way to end a conflict.

“At any point during the encounter, they can drop whatever weapon they have or may not have,” Ysquierdo said. “They can put their hands up in the air and peacefully surrender. That is 100% ideal situation.”

In 2022, the sheriff’s office responded to nearly 64,000 incidents and fewer than 1% required using force.

“I’m a very firm believer that the body can’t go where the mind hasn’t already been,” Kieft said. “We try to immerse our officers into these high-frequency events so when they get into those events, the stress level’s lower. They’ve pictured themselves being there through visualization. We’ve put them through realistic de-escalation scenarios.”

The sheriff’s office trained more than 700 employes last year, holding more than 250 training sessions. Deputies from road patrol, corrections, court security and even marine patrol learned what they can do before using lethal force.

“Our ultimate goal is to not let anyone get hurt,” Kieft said. “Not the subject, not the officer, not any innocents. Take as many precautions as we can.”

The training has changed in recent years to focus on real-life scenarios.

“Traditional training was you’re going to go in and shoot this target with your Taser,” he said. “That was your training. That’s not real-life. We don’t go into calls knowing, ‘Hey, when you get there, you’re going to have to Tase this person.’”

“Years ago in a situation like you saw here, the officers would’ve probably just charged at the subject and put themselves in harm’s way to save that person’s life,” Kieft added. “Technology has advanced so much that we had to adapt training to the technology that we have.”

The training unit says they approach de-escalation training as though it’s under construction: It evolves over time as policing continues to change.

“If you’re doing it wrong, find a way to do it better,” Ysquierdo said. “That’s the way we approach training.”