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WSU starts national training center to reduce deadly encounters between police and citizens

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Wayne State University is reacting to the death of an African American man in police custody in Minneapolis as demonstrations continue across the country, including in Detroit.

On Friday, President M. Roy Wilson announced the establishment of the National De-escalation Training Center headquarters on the campus as he told students he would gather with them in a virtual meeting next week to mourn the death of George Floyd, who died Monday in police custody.

A protester yells at Detroit Police Special Response Team members as they back onto Trumbull.

"Yet again our nation is rising in anger and sorrow at another senseless death of a black man, this time due to brutality exhibited during an arrest," Wilson said in an campus-wide email to WSU students. "(T)he fear is real because far too often it feels like we’re living the same nightmare. How do we deal with it? We demand better of all citizens, particularly those we trust to keep us safe."

Wilson announced a virtual mourning to be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday via Zoom.

Meanwhile, WSU police announced the establishment of the National De-escalation Training Center headquarters on the campus, aimed at reducing deadly encounters between police and citizens.

The training, however, will differ from other de-escalation efforts by personalizing and individualizing responses to situations,  said WSU police Chief Tony Holt.

"It's not a one size fits all," Holt said, adding that the training will be based on numerous personality traits.

The WSU police have already begun de-escalation training of officers and have filed for nonprofit corporation status with the state. Holt said regional training centers will be set up in North Carolina, Florida and one other to-be-determined location.

"Our officers regularly receive training on how to act in all types of situations, with all types of people," Wilson said. "The training offered by the NDTC has been specifically developed and designed to exceed traditional de-escalation methods, with the goal of fostering positive interactions with citizens and reducing the number of needless and tragic encounters that result in injuries and deaths to both citizens and police officers." 

Floyd died on Monday after a police officer held him down with his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes after taking him into custody for alleged fraud. Floyd told the officers he couldn't breathe.  Protests erupted for days in Minneapolis and across the country. Four officers involved were fired and on Friday, the officer who held his knee on Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, was arrested. 

While students may feel about strongly about Floyd's death, Wilson urged students not to despair. 

"As a black man, I have felt personally the sting of racism," Wilson said. "Instead of feeling defeated by it, I have sought ways to stand up to it: by mentoring minority students, opening people’s eyes to the benefits of diversity and devoting my career to researching and addressing health inequities around the globe. I do so because it helps others, and it gives me hope that our country will find a way to reckon with the urgent need for change in how we treat and support one another. Let’s model that change, each of us, by treating each other with love and respect."