Integrating Experiences and Evolving Perspectives on the Use of Force in De-Escalation (Unrestrained Episode 56)

When a traffic stop escalated into a tragedy, crisis responders were pushed to a critical paradigm shift about understanding violent behavior.

Though his career has crossed nearly five decades, a single incident seems to stand out to John Clark when he’s asked about the point where crisis prevention training became a critical element in his career.
He recalls an August afternoon in 1997 when a state trooper pulled into a grocery store parking lot and attempted to cite a motorist in the little town of Colebrook, New Hampshire for the state of his vehicle. Five hours later, the civilian and the state trooper were dead.
Clark explains to Unrestrained host Terry Vittone how the situation escalated in those five hours—how an angry motorist ended up killing four people, wounding three more, and inflicting a lasting trauma across his community.
It’s an event that Clark attributes with pushing law enforcement and crisis response agencies across New Hampshire into a paradigm shift regarding their approach to violent behavior.
“We needed to start looking for tools and we needed to start looking for things to help people understand human behavior much better than what maybe was being understood or what was being identified,” he says.

A better understanding of crisis development and supportive responses to escalation can deepen law enforcement perspectives on the use of force.

Clark’s Unrestrained interview is a uniquely candid look into the continuum of force that law enforcement officers employ when responding to a crisis. And he shares a perspective that feels essential to guiding the current practice of American law enforcement to a safer and more constructive relationship with civilians, which is of particular importance to him, because he now works for a major firearm manufacturer.
Since retiring from law enforcement, John Clark has joined Sturm, Ruger & Company. At Ruger, he incorporates CPI curriculum, such as our Prepare Training® program, into his training of safety and security officers. But his first experience with CPI training stems back to his time in law enforcement, in the wake of an inciting event that brought the need for de-escalation training into stark focus.
For Clark, memories of the mass shooting at Colebrook, and the way it changed crisis response perspectives, have clearly influenced how he has worked to facilitate meaningful violence prevention in the public and private sectors.
A better understanding of supportive responses to escalation can deepen #lawenforcement perspectives on the use of force.

The common values of violence prevention tie us together—and make constructive conversation possible.

You might wonder why a podcast that explores nonviolent de-escalation is talking to an executive from a gun company. On the surface, we couldn’t seem more different. But Clark’s perspective is one that CPI shares—that we all have a role to play in violence prevention, and that training is the foundation of taking meaningful action in our roles. His voice is one that is critical in decoding the way that the experiences of de-escalation and the use of force are inexorably integrated. Understanding the one can prevent the deadly application of the other.
John Clark’s thoughts about violence between law enforcement and civilians, expanding our collective understanding of the use of force, and uniting to understand and communicate accurately about behavior so that we can more safely respond to it, make this episode a must-listen.

To learn how verbal de-escalation training resulted in fewer injuries, reduced litigation, and less paperwork for officers in a Minnesota sheriff’s office, listen to Episode 66 of Unrestrained, a CPI podcast series. ​

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Guest Biography

Since 2012, veteran law enforcement professional John Clark has acted as the Corporate Chief of Security for Sturm, Ruger & Company, currently America’s largest firearm manufacturer. John’s extensive career in law enforcement began in 1984 with the Concord, New Hampshire police department, where training became a primary focus of his service. From 1998 until he accepted a position with Ruger, John served in various law enforcement and academic roles, including Chief of Police for the Town of Bristol New Hampshire, and Chief of University Police at Plymouth State University. He was also an adjunct faculty member at PSU from 2004 through 2011, where he served as an instructor for the university’s criminal investigation and homeland security course. Today, in addition to his duties at Ruger, John remains active in law enforcement as a special deputy sheriff for New Hampshire’s Grafton County Sheriff’s Department. John holds a dual master’s degree in communication and educational law from Plymouth State University, including a master’s certificate in business administration.
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