The Justice Department is funding an unusual national training program to help police deal with an increasing number of volatile confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.
Developers of the pilot program, to be launched at 15 U.S. sites this year, said there is an "urgent need" to de-escalate crises in which even SWAT teams may be facing tactical disadvantages against mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare.
"We just can't use the blazing-guns approach anymore when dealing with disturbed individuals who are highly trained in all kinds of tactical operations, including guerrilla warfare," said Dennis Cusick, executive director of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute. "That goes beyond the experience of SWAT teams."
Cusick, who is developing the program along with institute training director William Micklus, said local authorities have a better chance of defusing violent confrontations by immediately engaging suspects in discussions about their military experience -- not with force.
The aim, Micklus said, is to try to reconnect them with "a sense of integrity" lost in the fog of emotional distress.
"You can't win by trying to out-combat them,'' Cusick said. "You emphasize what it means to be a Marine, a soldier to people who now feel out of control."
There is no data that specifically tracks police confrontations with suspects currently or formerly associated with the military. But an Army report issued this year found that violent felonies in the service were up 1% while non-violent felonies increased 11% between 2010 and 2011.
During that time, however, crime in much of the nation declined.
"What we're seeing is that the volume (of violent incidents involving military personnel off base) has ratcheted up to a level we have never seen before," Cusick said.
Much of the anecdotal evidence reads like the report of the Jan. 13 standoff between Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, 30, a veteran of multiple combat tours, and Fayetteville, N.C., police and firefighters.
A 911 call from an apartment complex manager revealed that Eisenhauer was allegedly barricaded inside one of the apartments exchanging gunfire with police.
Although the suspect was not specifically identified as a soldier, the apartment manager told a police dispatcher that the suspect was "under psychiatric care," according to the 911 call.
According to Fort Bragg records, Eisenhauer had been assigned to the post's Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit for soldiers who have been wounded or suffered other illnesses as a result of their deployment, Womack Army Medical Center spokeswoman Shannon Lynch said.
Eisenhauer, who was wounded in the standoff along with two police officers, is charged with 30 criminal counts, including 15 counts of attempted murder.
Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities (Police) Chiefs Association, said the type of training proposed by the Justice Department represents "one piece of the challenge'' in dealing with an increasing number of mentally ill suspects.
"This has been a challenge for a number of years in our communities," Stephens said.
Copyright 2012 Gannett Company, Inc.All Rights Reserved