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Body-cam review in Chesterfield, VA: How Insight Skills could have helped

In July of 2023, a Chesterfield, VA resident called 911 to report a man was trying to break into garages as well as the caller’s house, thinking it was his. The dispatcher called police to a reported breaking and entering and vandalism. By the time they arrived, Byers had a hatchet in his hand.  

“Hey, drop that now! Do it now! Drop it, do it now! Do it now, buddy,” officers can be heard shouting in the recently released body cam footage. The video shows the full 45-second encounter where Byers – a man with known mental health struggles – is walking away from police down a residential road before police shot and killed him. 

One of the several tragedies in this case is that the officers, in their genuine attempt to subdue Charles and prevent him from harming others, demanded compliance by shouting commands for him to stop and drop the hatchet. Not surprisingly, Charles was unresponsive to the officers' commands and continued to back away. His non-compliance got him killed.

What the officers missed here was an opportunity to get compliance through dialogue rather than directives.

Had they noticed Charles' decision-making - to not drop the hatchet - verified it by acknowledging it to him, and engaged him with curiosity around that decision-making, they could have discovered WHY Charles was holding the weapon, WHY he was backing away, and WHY he was distraught.

Asking questions to discover these “why’s” could have de-escalated the situation because they have the power to:

Activate Critical Thinking: Asking questions could have gotten Charles to pause and consider what he was doing and why, giving him the opportunity to change his behavior.

Establish Rapport: Opening dialogue and establishing rapport could have led Charles to see the officers as there to help and understand him rather than hurt him. This is a valuable step in all situations, but especially those involving mental health crises.

Inform Decision-Making: Getting curious could have revealed information to the officers that could have informed and enhanced their enforcement decision-making, where simple commands weren't doing the job.

Curiosity is often the most powerful tool on an officer’s belt. Using it to activate critical thinking, encourage dialogue, and establish rapport can turn an escalating situation into one that is safely under control.   

We send our deepest regrets to the Byers family and the officers involved in this case. No one wants to lose a loved one and no one wants to be the person who causes that to happen.


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