How learning to control fear in high-stress situations could help police reform

In Maryland, a program called Close Quarters Defense teaches law enforcement officers how to manage their emotions and make better decisions during intense moments.
6:40 | 04/16/21

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Transcript for How learning to control fear in high-stress situations could help police reform
Reporter: In Brooklyn center, Minnesota, a community still raw with grief and anger, mourners and protesters coming together to honor the life of 20-year-old daunte Wright, killed by police officer, Kim potter on Sunday. After she fired her gun instead of her taser. Daunte's heartbroken family demanding accountability. Can we get a conviction? Can we get something? Y'all see the difference? This is a taser. My nephew was killed with this. A Glock. Reporter: With the nation's focus once again on policing and use of force, some experts say training officers to control their fear might stop more incidents from ending tragically. In 2019, "Nightline" headed here, the Maryland eastern shore, to see a program that helps law enforcement officers better control their stress in tense situations. It's called "Close quarters defense." Once mostly reserved for U.S. Special operations and federal agencies. They have no idea what they're going into. Which is valuable because we want them to do exactly what they would do on the street. Hi, how you doing? Reporter: Duane dieter is the site's founder, guru, expert in tactical training. On this day a group of police officers and sheriff's deputies will be his students. We all love you, it's all about making you better, so all those trainees, come with me. Reporter: His program is all about subjects cops rarely share with the public or their families. Stress. And fear. Stress, not controlled, can make a person be aggressive to someone that's not necessary to be aggressive to. Reporter: Jackie Dalton, a U.S. Coast guard veteran on this day a rookie cop, fresh out of the academy. I adore my coworkers and my chief, I don't want to let them down. Reporter: One of the key tools in Duane's training, this simple cloth and rope called "The hood." Each time the hood comes up, the trainee encounters a new unknown scenario. Inches away could be a gunman. Or a pedestrian asking directions. So the hood teaches students to do what? To be able to react quickly, an ability to be aggressive, ssertive, or passive, compassionate. All has to be within split seconds as it applies. Reporter: Dalton suits up. There's ways to help build the stressors. In this you want stress, we need it. Stress is their friend? It will become their friend. At first it is not their friend normally. Reporter: Dieter observes her. She is verbalizing. De-escalating. Put the knife down! Reporter: Getting a baseline on how she performs under stress before his training. She's getting her gun, which is very common. Put your hands up! That would be a bad situation that happened. Her energy was high enough that she eventually shot the person. Even though the person was moving away? Exactly, was not a threat. Though he attacked her initially, he moved back. That's where we do not shoot. He's no longer an active threat. You can relax, just relax. Please just describe why you shot that person and used lethal I used lethal threat because I felt fear for my life, and they could have threatened either the person off to my left or myself or any other citizensfy let them get away. Did you see that he had any weapon or not, the person to your right? He had a gun. Did he shoot at you from that position? Or what did you see? He was aiming it towards me, he did not shoot. What she thought wasn't reality. Not even close. She actually saw a gun. Many of us were raised to believe the truth is always the truth. What we saw today, under stress, the truth can look different. The perceived truth, that's right. It's because they are not used to this level of stress. So their truth is very different, sometimes, than what truthfully happened. And they will say what they believe. Right off the bat. Because that's what they saw. Reporter: Dieter says Dalton isn't the only student perceiving things differently under stress. He was taking my gun, he actually had it. Reporter: Sharing these videos with us of others on day one. Can you train it out of a Absolutely, we do it every single time. You all right you did good, you did good. Reporter: Dalton is exhausted, drained, distraught that she shot an unarmed man. All right, way to fight, way to fight. You did great. Have you ever felt that before? No. In a little bit of training, this will be a comfortable thing you'll feel it. You'll feel you have the energy to respond to it and react have a seat, relax. All right, thanks. What do you think? It's stressful. It's emotionally draining. I sensed from him, you did a hell of a job. Well, I appreciate that, but sometimes it's not enough. You're shaking. Why? It's an important job. And I put a lot of pride in it, doing what I do. Get down! Reporter: Dieter's program can take weeks. I want you down on the ground in front of you! Reporter: Even after just one day of training -- She did better. Reporter: We witness a transformation in Dalton. Get down on your stomach! Get down on the ground! Now the person was complaining, they went for the gun, she was able to pick that up. Reporter: She aced it. Controlling stress, dieter says, improves decision-making. You're smiling this time. Yeah, I'm smiling this time. It was -- it felt less stressful, even though I was still going through kind of the same thing. I was able to focus a little bit better. What I saw from you this time is confidence. Right. Get back! Reporter: Building confidence for those split-second decisions beween life and death. And stop. That's good. Reporter: A vital step in America's long journey towards justice for all. Great work. Great having you. Super job. Super job. Be safe out there, everybody. Our thanks to Byron.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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