Can we de-escalate an incident before officers even arrive?

Can we de-escalate an incident before officers even arrive?

At Relay, we're obsessed with the interactions between citizens and first responders. Although we know it's not the only thing that can help, we think technology is one of the tools that can be used to help facilitate safer, more effective, and stronger collaboration in communities.

Given our national narrative in the last decade, it's one thing to encourage more effective collaboration in crime-solving, but this pandemic makes the opportunities that much more deserving of a look. Communities are full of people all cooped up or extra stressed about the risks their jobs require, and tensions in general are extra high. Our fuses are short and it doesn't take much for people to blow up on each other.

Unfortunately, we're seeing this uptick occurring in the nature of the requests coming through to police on Relay since March– people have lost jobs or are stuck at home, so there's more domestic violence, acts of desperation like property crime on empty businesses, and so on.

And now the latest news cycle has brought us a fresh wave of this tense escalation: a number of officer-involved shootings, including the loss of officer Breann Leath in a response to a domestic disturbance and the exchange of gunfire between officers and Dreasjon "Sean" Reed here in Indianapolis where Relay is based and, perhaps most recently visible– the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. The topic of how to safely tackle these situations has never been more pressing.

A number of studies have been conducted to look at de-escalation tactics, which generally are defined as methods used in a situation that likely would not have ended safely, and instead did. One 2017 study of Spokane PD found that many opportunities exist in this area, but there are still universal truths, such as the concept that experienced officers know building relationships with citizens in their patrol area matters:

...Professional police officers on skid row make a significant effort to gather information and develop a rapport with citizens in order to decrease the chances they will be hostile or confrontational during officer encounters with police.

Relay has also heard this echoed widely in our sessions with first responders. In fact, this premise is one that weighed heavily in the conception of our platform by Chief Gebhart. The best officers have more information because they're better-connected to the communities they serve.

So much of the discussion around de-escalation is focused on what to do when officers arrive on scene. What about on the way there? Many calls for service that go dangerously wrong started as simple non-emergencies, so there's often time to build a plan– but only if responding officers have the best information about the scene they're about to drive to.

In addition to the pictures and pinpoint location Relay provides today, this is where we think the next feature we're working on will really make a difference: direct messaging.

We think that if people can feel like police are a button-press away, it creates opportunities to better inform first responders and dispatchers alike. If a responding officer– or even multiple officers and citizens– can collaborate in real time, a game plan can be established before any in-person interactions even occur.

De-escalation before putting the car in drive: it's a strange concept in an industry that runs on technology that's largely been built around the radio. But we think it's the future.

If you'd like to get an early preview of some of our prototypes, we're actively gathering feedback! Email We'd love to speak with you.