February 11, 2023 

A powerful moment at our ICAT conference in San Diego: How tactics and communication can impact use of force 


PERF members, 

One benefit of in-person meetings is that sometimes there’s an electric moment when everyone listens with rapt attention and you could hear a pin drop. Recently in San Diego, we had such a moment. 

We were holding the first national conference on PERF’s ICAT training program with over 180 police officials from across the country, and at that moment we were discussing the ICAT module on recognizing and safely responding to “suicide by cop” incidents. We called on Officer Timothy Roberts, who works for the Oxnard, California Police Department. In 2019, Officer Roberts responded to a call about a young woman, possibly under the influence or mentally ill, waiving a knife. The young woman, who turned out to be just 17, said “Kill me” as she came toward him bearing the knife. Officer Roberts backed up and repeatedly told her to drop the knife. She then charged toward Officer Roberts, and he shot her three times. 

Oxnard, California Officer Timothy Roberts

Officer Roberts had everyone’s attention, but the truly electric moment occurred when we called on the young woman, Alejandra, to speak. Now in her early 20s, she met with Officer Roberts less than a year after the incident and they’ve stayed in touch ever since. (The Oxnard Police Department released a 45-minute podcast about the incident in 2021 that includes interviews with both individuals. I highly recommend you listen to it.) 

This was a rare opportunity to hear the perspective of someone who survived a police shooting. “Before I approached the situation, I was thinking, ‘How can I present myself as enough of a threat to him to get what I wanted?’” Alejandra said. In a video recorded for our suicide-by-cop training module, Alejandra said, “When he pointed that gun at me, I kind of finalized my decision to go forth with it. . . . I was trying to provoke him. But when he pointed the gun at me, I thought, Okay, me provoking him is working, and Im going to get what I want. I just have to be a little more defiant towards him.’” 

Her comments reinforce the importance of providing officers with training specifically geared toward these incidents, which pose very different challenges than other use-of-force situations. Minor decisions can make all the difference. Pointing a gun at a person in distress instead of keeping it in a “low ready” position can make the person more anxious and cause them to run toward the officer. This insight could prevent a shooting if an officer identifies the subject as suicidal and knows how to adjust their communication and tactics accordingly, but the training that officers receive now may not reflect this invaluable information. The need for different tactics to respond to these situations is why we developed our module on suicide-by-cop incidents. 

That discussion was a particularly powerful moment during two excellent days spent discussing ICAT. Most of you are familiar with the history of ICAT. The program’s origins date back to 2015, when PERF published Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force, which included perspectives from two U.K. agencies: Police Scotland and the Greater Manchester Police. Later that year, I brought officials from 23 local and federal law enforcement agencies to Scotland to observe Police Scotland’s use-of-force training.  

PERF used what we learned in Scotland to inform our early 2016 report Guiding Principles on Use of Force, which featured 30 recommendations about use-of-force policy, training, tactics, and equipment. We came away from that project motivated to help agencies put that guidance into practice. We convened some 60 officials from more than 30 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies at the NYPD academy to discuss how we could develop a training program reflecting those 30 guiding principles. With the help of those experts, we drafted the initial version of the ICAT training program and pilot-tested it in six agencies. In October 2016, we published the training guide and shared it nationwide. 

ICAT instructors who attended the San Diego conference 

Senior Principal Dan Alioto, PERF’s lead ICAT instructor 

Tom Wilson, Director of PERF’s Center for Management and Technical Assistance 

Since then, ICAT has been adopted by agencies across the country. Our ICAT training team, led by PERF Senior Principal Dan Alioto, has tirelessly crossed the country conducting train-the-trainer sessions. Over 120 agencies in 33 states have told us they’ve implemented ICAT, as has the entire state of New Jersey. 

We’ve also updated our training materials regularly. In 2019 we added the training module on “suicide by cop” that covers situations like what occurred in Oxnard, and we continually update our case studies as people share new videos of situations their officers handled well, as well as those that could’ve been handled better. We are always looking for new videos, so I encourage you to send me any that you think may be a good fit for the ICAT curriculum. 

Research published in 2020 confirms ICAT’s effectiveness. A study by Professor Robin Engel and her team at the University of Cincinnati found that the Louisville Metro Police Department’s implementation of ICAT led to a 28 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents, a 26 percent reduction in citizen injuries, and a 36 percent reduction in officer injuries. 

Thank you to everyone who sent their trainers to San Diego. And a special thanks to Officer Roberts and Alejandra for sharing their experiences. 

Sad news of a death in the PERF family 

With much sadness we learned this week that Craig Fischer, PERF’s longtime editor and writer, has died after a short illness. A memorial service is planned for March 26. Craig was enormously influential in every major PERF publication during his 15-year tenure. He had an incredible work ethic, creativity, and an amazing talent for writing clearly. He was simply one of the best people I have ever known. We at PERF will miss him greatly. Our thoughts are with his wife Megan, his children Lincoln and Lily, and his granddaughter Natalie.  

Please take some time to read the final section of this March 2022 Trending, which congratulated Craig on his retirement and thanked him for his many contributions to PERF.