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Crisis intervention training: Acting tips 

Shale LePage, an actor who’s helped train law enforcement in crisis intervention for nearly three years, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at CIT from the actor’s perspective.

click to enlarge Shale LePage
  • Shale LePage

Research is vital: Every time LePage is assigned a character to play in a crisis intervention scenario, he invests considerable time in not only character development, but researching mental disorders and trauma.

“I played a character who had just gotten back from Afghanistan, lost his buddies, and the police officer was called to the scene saying there’s a domestic disturbance,” LePage recalls. “And so what I do to get ready for that is I study PTSD [and] we have a conference call with one of our facilitators who’s researched it as well... So it’s pretty intense as far as actors are concerned and what we have to do to get ready.”

For another scenario when LePage played a rape victim, he studied witness testimony from a rape trial.

“Hooks” help: Crisis intervention actors are trained to offer “hooks,” certain information about their characters that can help law enforcement de-escalate a situation.

For example, LePage once played a newspaper editor with cerebral palsy who physically froze while crossing a bridge. “He couldn’t cross the bridge because water was crossing underneath it — because he had a childhood fear of it, he almost drowned,” LePage says. His character would repeat things like, “The water scares me,” to provide the officer in the scenario with a clue into what was really going on. 

Officers might find success in eventually getting him to cross the bridge by using that “hook,” and asking, “What scares you about the water?”

“Stings” redirect: In another scenario, LePage played a homeless man who was stuck on a bridge, but wouldn’t move because he had frostbite on his feet. An officer who was trying to intervene, figure out what was wrong, and de-escalate the situation made the mistake of clenching his fists out of nervousness. For LePage’s character, who was isolated and scared, that body language was a no-no.

“I freak out: ‘Oh, you want to beat my ass, you’re trying to fuck me up,’” LePage says. “So it forces him to step back and think about what he’s doing, and he released his hands, and he came back to me with a little more empathy: ‘I’m sorry sir, I had no idea. I didn’t mean to do that.’”

Connection is everything: Officers succeed in de-escalating situations when they find ways to personally connect with people in crisis. LePage says one of the most rewarding moments he’s experienced came when he was playing a veteran with PTSD, who was crying and reliving the deaths of his friends. The dispatcher training with him said, “I understand.”

LePage “stung” her for that, saying, “You don’t fucking understand what I’m going through. You haven’t been through what I’ve been.”

Then, LePage says: “She goes, ‘You’re right, sir. I don’t know what you’re going through. I’ve never experienced what you’re going through. But I will tell you this... I’ve experienced loss.’ 

“I go, ‘What do you mean, you experienced loss?’ 

“She goes, ‘About five years ago, I lost my husband in Afghanistan.’”

The intense moment became an opportunity for LePage’s character to connect with the dispatcher, he says, allowing her to de-escalate the situation and help his character to safety.

“It’s just all about making real connections,” LePage says.

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