Published: Dec. 13, 2022

While students studied for midterm exams and completed class projects, CU Boulder police officers and the department’s professional staff gathered to further their training in de-escalation techniques designed to protect anyone involved in high-stakes situations, regardless of cognitive or physical abilities, race and ethnicity and previous experience with police.

CUPD completed Interacting with People with Disabilities for Law Enforcement, officered by Pulse Line Collaborative Training in partnership with the Autism Society of Colorado and CallBox’s Understanding Bias this fall semester.

Chase Cromwell with officers Gabe Ross and Dorie Schram at a Coffee with a Cop event

Chase Cromwell (left), a political science major and the CU Student Government director of legislative affairs, poses for a photo with Community Service Officer Gabe Ross (center) and Officer Dorie Schram (right) at a Coffee with a Cop event.

While CUPD engages in continuous training to sharpen a variety of skills, a conversation with a CU Boulder student who is deaf spurred the department to seek out an interactive, scenario-based training specifically designed and taught by a former cop who is raising two teens with disabilities. The training sessions were open to student leaders and members of the Community Oversight Review Board.

Chase Cromwell, a political science major who is also director of legislative affairs for CU Student Government, said attending the disability training offered a fascinating glimpse into the world of police officers forced to make quick decisions in stressful situations. 

“I got to see body camera footage shared by the trainer, and I thought about both sides,” he said. “Sometimes, officers have only a few seconds to make a decision that will have a lasting impact.”

Trainer Ali Thompson, a former law enforcement officer with more than 20 years of experience, teaches current police officers what she calls “anti-escalation” techniques, says she worries that her son, who has autism, may have a negative experience if he encounters police who have not yet taken her disability training. 

“We teach officers that, if there is no imminent threat to safety or life, to slow things down and attempt to determine if someone is non-compliant due to a disability, mental health issue, or by choice,” she said. 

“We teach officers tools and tactics to calm a situation and aid in communication with people with various disabilities and mental health issues. Our goal is to reduce unwarranted uses of force to better protect both our officers and our citizens with mental health issues or disabilities,”  she added.

Cromwell, who is also on a state commission focused on disability services in higher education, said CUPD officers were engaged, curious and comfortable enough to “ask the right questions” in the disability training. 

“It was great to hear discussions about various communication, cognitive and sensory processing disorders with the thought of, ‘Can we resolve this situation while still treating people with respect? Can we talk to people at their level?’”

Cromwell recently rode along with a CUPD officer to discuss the progressive training and possibly see it put to use.

In separate training sessions, Tyrone Campbell, a 32-year veteran of law enforcement with experience in investigations and hate crimes, worked with CUPD officers and staff on understanding implicit bias and learning to inspect previously held beliefs to increase the safety of everyone involved in interactions with police.

“The way that we interact with our public, the way that we respond to calls, has huge ramifications on the type of service they receive,” Campbell said. “This type of training is paramount right now. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure our communities know we are addressing implicit bias and maybe even doing more than they think we are.”

CUPD training sergeant Brian Brown, who helps research and select training for CUPD, agreed. “We are committed to continuous growth and development and offer an ever-evolving slate of professional development opportunities to help our team lead with integrity, compassion and respect for one another and for those who rely on us for their safety,” he said.

While police receive training in understanding bias and engaging with people with disabilities in police academies, this additional training introduces new perspectives and keeps knowledge fresh in officers’ minds. All CUPD officers, including cadets still enrolled in the academy, received both training opportunities.

“We are grateful for our relationships with students like Chase, and we remain committed to treating everyone with respect, dignity and fairness. We do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Safety and Chief of Police Doreen Jokerst