The PEER Center is a drop-in support and recovery center in Columbus, Ohio.  But when anyone and everyone can “drop-in” there is bound to be conflict, right?  Not necessarily.  Join our hosts Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard, as they welcome DeShawn Davis, our Director of Facilities and Security.     

DeShawn explains the surprising keys to maintaining a safe and secure space – using de-escalation techniques and showing compassion.  Join us to learn why an aggressive approach to security can do more harm than good.  DeShawn will also tell us how The PEER Center has managed to have only a handful of security threats in our over 11 years of existence.

Highlights of PEER Voices Episode Six

3:29 – “Ninety eight percent of the time, conflicts can be resolved just by talking it out.”  (Patience and understanding go a long way towards resolving conflict.)

6:55 –A lot of times people come in with baggage. They come in with things that are bothering them from way before they even heard about The PEER Center.”  (Those we serve have many issues they are dealing with.  Do not take it personally.)

8:27 – “Don’t pick up the rope.”  (Do not allow yourself to become engaged in conflict.)

14:27 – “Model the way. Model the way of recovery, model the way of life.”  (Our everyday behavior can have a large positive impact on those we serve.)

16:22 –  “they are only words, but there is power behind words and people’s feelings can get hurt.”  (try to be empathetic to those you are working with.  Issues may be more nuanced than they first appear.)

23:08 – “Some family members, we love them to death, but we don’t want to be around them.”  (Conflict is inevitable even under the best of circumstances.)

Transcript of  “ Safety & Security at a Drop-In Center: You might be surprised!”

Editor’s Note:  This transcript is computer generated and therefore may not be an exact match to the recording.

Announcer: [00:00:07] You’re listening to the PEER Voices Podcast. This show is for peers, by peers, and focuses on information that’s important to our community. Here’s your hosts, Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard

Gabe: [00:00:28] Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s PEER Voices. My name is Gabe Howard, and with me, as always, is Juliet Dorris-Williams.

Juliet: [00:00:34] Howdy.

Gabe: [00:00:36] And we are here with a very special guest, the Director of Facilities and Security for The PEER Center, DeShawn Davis has joined us. DeShawn, welcome!

DeShawn: [00:00:44] Hello, hello.

Gabe: [00:00:45] You are here to talk about how fabulous you are. We’re just gonna dedicate the entire show to how great DeShawn Davis is.

DeShawn: [00:00:53] Can’t complain about that.

Gabe: [00:00:55] If only. If we could do that, the whole show would be about how great me and Juliet were. So we actually have to have a purpose, and the reason that we asked you here today is not because we want to know about facilities, but because we want to talk about security.

DeShawn: [00:01:07] OK.

Gabe: [00:01:10] One of the things that brings to mind, when people think about security, is tackle people that are being bad. It’s always revenge motivated. It’s people being bad, and there’s usually some sort of physical force involved. And the reason we asked you to be on is because you have a completely different view of security than what comes to mind.

DeShawn: [00:01:28] Yes, we try not to tackle people at The PEER Center. It’s mostly about de-escalation. We deal with a lot of people who may be in crisis. People in recovery who just may not be having such a good day. And we get a little bit of everything. And we have to learn how to talk to people. It’s not about physically touching anyone. It’s all about talking.

Juliet: [00:01:53] And it’s all about modifying our sense of power and authority. We operate in a power neutral environment. And so, we have to use those types of words where people understand that we respect them and we’re not here to hurt them. That they’re safe. That doesn’t always work, but we we make every attempt to do so.

Gabe: [00:02:19] DeShawn, you’ve been in charge of security for The PEER Center, if I’m not mistaken, since the very beginning.

DeShawn: [00:02:23] Yes. Yes.

Gabe: [00:02:25] So you’ve seen a lot. Is it fair to say, because there’s going to be somebody listening to this who will say, “Really? Really? You never have to touch somebody? Somebody punches you in the face, and you just say, ‘hi’?”.

DeShawn: [00:02:35] [Laughter]

Gabe: [00:02:37] And that’s part of the stigma of running a drop in center. People just assume it’s the Wild West and people are attacking everybody. So let’s put that aside. It’s been eleven years, right? The PEER Center has been in existence for 11 years almost.

Juliet: [00:02:51] Almost 12.

Gabe: [00:02:51] Almost twelve. How many times has it actually come to some sort of physical restraint?

DeShawn: [00:02:55] Very few.

Juliet: [00:02:58] I think two.

DeShawn: [00:02:59] Two? Maybe a couple more than that.

Juliet: [00:03:01] Okay, but not four?

DeShawn: [00:03:04] Nothing real serious. You’d be surprised, because we welcome everyone. Anyone and everyone who wants to come in, can come in. There’s no kind of screening process before they come through the doors.

Gabe: [00:03:15] That’s a drop in center. Come as you are right now.

DeShawn: [00:03:17] That’s right. Drop in. So you’d be surprised.

Juliet: [00:03:21] And we also don’t turn anybody away. Which is the drop in aspect. So people know the door is open, and people come in.

DeShawn: [00:03:29] I’d say, 98 percent of the time, conflicts can be resolved just by talking it out.

Gabe: [00:03:35] It’s actually much higher than 98 percent. If you consider that we’re open 365 days a year, including Christmas, as I’m fond of saying, we operate two centers, and Juliet’s number is 2. Your number is four. I’ll double it to 8. I’ll double that number to 16, and even that is not that high. But even if it was, that means that over a decade, every day, times two, and it’s come to some sort of physical issue a handful of times? I’m just pointing this out, because people listening think that security is all about grabbing people and forcing them into your way of thinking. And it’s not. And you’re on the, I don’t want to say the cutting edge of this because there’s lots of people that share your view, but so many people think that security is physical and it’s not.

Juliet: [00:04:26] And before you answer, I want to say that because we serve people with mental health issues and addiction issues people automatically assume that number is going to be higher. They automatically assume. And that’s stigma and all that.

Gabe: [00:04:46] And of course they automatically assume that they can’t be reasoned with, and you have found, and proven, over a decade the exact opposite of this. Talk more on that.

DeShawn: [00:04:57] Ok. A lot of our population, when they come in, the number one thing is that they voluntarily come in. They’re not forced to be there. Doors are wide open. They work the same way coming in as they do going out. So when they come in, they want to be there. That’s first and foremost. Also, if you think about people that are in crisis, or maybe have dealt with, or are still dealing with, trauma, a lot of them are tired. They don’t want more conflict. They’re looking for less conflict in their lives. And if we can present ourselves and offer, like Juliet said, a safe place for people to come to, that’s what they’re looking for. They may be a little frustrated, and they may act out. And when it comes to de-escalation that’s part of it. Sometimes, they feel the need to vent, and they’re more than OK doing that. And afterwards, that’s when we talk and discuss why. The reasons behind the actions, or the acting out, and we come to some kind of conclusion, and they find a friend. Most of the time.

Gabe: [00:06:03] So let’s back up for a moment, and talk about why you would have to intervene? Because that’s how this started. Security doesn’t get involved unless “something goes wrong.” So what are some things that make security have to get involved? Like, what are some things that people are doing wrong?

DeShawn: [00:06:18] It’s not necessarily anything they’re doing wrong. Because we have a drop in center, this is the most diverse group of people I’ve ever seen in one place in my life. And you have so many different people coming from so many different backgrounds. There’s conflicts at times, even if it’s over a cup of coffee or sugar or creamer. It could be the smallest thing. But we are there to act as mediators. We keep the peace. We present a peaceful place for people to come to and socialize, and we do that together.

Gabe: [00:06:48] So, if a conflict breaks out, that’s obviously step one. So now security walks over. What’s the first thing you do?

DeShawn: [00:06:55] I try to figure out what the actual root cause of the problem is. And 90 percent of the time, when there is a conflict, what a person might be saying is the problem, is really not the actual problem. A lot of times people come in with baggage. They come in with things that are bothering them from way before they even heard about The PEER Center. It helps a lot if you can talk to that person on an individual basis. Especially if you have more than one staff that intervenes, we can kind of split the two up and just have a personal talk about what’s really bothering them or what’s really on their mind.

Gabe: [00:07:30] And there’s techniques for this. You’re not just trying. There’s actual techniques you use?

Juliet: [00:07:34] It’s CPI. We use CPI. And the first thing that he would do, that DeShawn forgets to say, is remove the audience.

DeShawn: [00:07:41] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:07:43] We remove the audience. Because having a crowd around can egg on the situation, it amps it up in ways that we do not intend. And so, removing the audience helps immediately to just calm it down a notch or two. And then DeShawn goes in and does his magic, and he is uniquely gifted for this position. It’s all about talking to people in a calm voice, and I like to call it exercising or activating – activating is a great word – activating the four agreements. Number one, don’t take it personally.

DeShawn: [00:08:27] Definitely do not take it personally. One thing one of my instructors always said was “Don’t pick up the rope.” Like in a game of tug of war. They’re trying to get you engaged at times in some kind of conflict. Don’t pick up the rope. It’s not you. You’re not the reason why they’re acting out. 90 percent of the time it was something outside of The Center that set them off.

Gabe: [00:08:52] So don’t take the bait?

DeShawn: [00:08:53] Do not take the bait.

Gabe: [00:08:55] And the second agreement?

Juliet: [00:08:56] Don’t make assumptions.

Gabe: [00:08:58] Don’t make assumptions? And why is that important? To not make assumptions?

DeShawn: [00:09:03] It’s important because all of us have implicit bias. We come with our own baggage, and instead of trying to put our own stuff onto other people, you just ask questions and figure out where they’re actually coming from. Because you don’t know, you can’t know. And we’re such a diverse population. You can never judge a book by its cover. We are trained at times, to see a certain image, or someone from a certain background, and we assume. And when we make assumptions and they’re wrong, it makes the situation worse.

Gabe: [00:09:35] You could make assumptions based on their race, their gender, how they’re dressed?

DeShawn: [00:09:40] Exactly

Gabe: [00:09:42] You can make assumptions about their intelligence based on the way that they look, or maybe the way that they’re talking. And this could become very problematic, quickly.

DeShawn: [00:09:51] Yes it can. So the first thing I try to do is listen more than talk. Because a lot of times some people come in, and their only problem is that they have no one to talk to. They have no one to get things off their chest. No one’s listening. So once they have an ear, a lot of times, they just spill everything. And they feel so much better for doing it afterwards.

Gabe: [00:10:13] And the third agreement?

Juliet: [00:10:16] The third one is be impeccable with your word and I’ll talk about that now. Don’t put DeShawn on the spot. It’s understanding that our words have power, and we have to be and should be intentional about that. Particularly when we’re talking about or talking to people who we don’t know. We don’t know what they’ve been through just before they come through our doors. We don’t know if they’ve had some altercation or some verbal tussling with someone in some agency somewhere? We don’t know if they’re homeless. We don’t ask. We don’t make those assumptions. Again, don’t make assumptions. And so we are careful about using words that could potentially ignite a situation. So that’s why we aim to be welcoming, always. From the moment people walk in the door, we provide a welcoming and warm environment. I don’t think this is in the book The Four Agreements, but there is also something about tone of voice which kicks it back to CPI techniques. You talk about that.

DeShawn: [00:11:27] Yes. I’ve seen people make worse situations whereas I’ve seen people make them better. When someone is yelling, or their voice is raised, sometimes it’s a natural reaction for us to raise our voice. But when two people are yelling at each other, no one’s listening, and nothing gets done. And I’ve learned very quickly that when someone’s yelling, if I lower my voice, their voice starts to lower. Even turning down the radio or turning down the background noise or, like Juliet said, eliminating the audience and eliminating any outside distractions. So where it’s just me and that individual talking in a low tone. There’s no need to yell if one person is talking low.

Gabe: [00:12:09] But it really seems to me like what you’re saying is that if you walk up to somebody and you yell at them, that you don’t get the best result?

DeShawn: [00:12:16] Yeah.

Gabe: [00:12:17] I mean, really? I can’t believe that! That can’t be true. You mean to tell me, that if you walk up to somebody and yell at them, that you’re not gonna get good results?

DeShawn: [00:12:25] A lot of us get this wrong, yes.

Juliet: [00:12:28] We get this wrong, and I have lost count of the many times that I’ve said to someone who is yelling, and I am trying to practice my CPI technique by lowering my voice, and I’m lowering my voice and they’re still yelling. And I finally have to say, “I’m not yelling at you. Why are you yelling at me?” And they get it. That gets them and that makes them at least stop and breathe for a minute. I’m not yelling at you. I’m not yelling at you. I’ve had to repeat it because people are hot, right? And so they do come down. They come down.

Gabe: [00:13:06] And the fourth agreement? DeShawn, do you know the fourth agreement?

DeShawn: [00:13:10] It is always do your best.

Gabe: [00:13:11] For security, why is always do your best important? I mean, what does that mean to you? Because it sort of seems like a nebulous concept. “Always do your best.” What does that mean? Especially when it comes to security?

DeShawn: [00:13:22] Well, this is my place of business. And I really want a peaceful environment. I honestly try to do my best to maintain that peaceful environment. So I’m going to do my best at that. But also, when you are half doing any job, people notice. And when you’re trying to actually help someone, and you’re trying to get across to them that you actually care about their well-being –

Juliet: [00:13:47] You can’t fake that.

DeShawn: [00:13:49] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:13:49] You can’t fake caring. People know.

DeShawn: [00:13:52] And people have tried and it’s obvious that you don’t really care. And it comes across very disingenuous, and makes the situation a lot worse than it was to begin with because –

Gabe: [00:14:03] They figure if you don’t care about them, why should they care about you? And if both of you don’t care about each other, then why care about The Center? Why care about the other people there? There’s a snowball effect where who cares?

DeShawn: [00:14:14] Exactly.

Gabe: [00:14:16] And once you stop caring, it’s really just open for everything. So you’re leading. You’re setting the tone for how everybody behaves. You are modeling the way! That’s Juliet’s modeling the way.

Juliet: [00:14:27] It’s not. Well, maybe it is Juliet’s, but it’s The PEER Center’s unofficial motto.  Model the way. Model the way of recovery, model the way of life. If you know at that moment what life is. Sometimes we have these brilliant sparks of intelligence. They don’t last, unfortunately. But at that moment, model the way. Moment by moment.

DeShawn: [00:14:52] And set a good example. A lot of our folks, or some of our folks, that come in, they’re not used to structured environments. You know, where there’s actual rules. We have a Code of Conduct that we expect everyone to follow, and most of them are about respect. But it’s the structure aspect of it. And if we’re not following the Code of Conduct, how can we expect anybody else to?

Juliet: [00:15:15] Sadly, many of the people that come through the doors are not used to people being kind to them. And that is….

Gabe: [00:15:23] So they’re defensive?

Juliet: [00:15:25] Well, they’re very defensive, right? Yeah. Right off the rip they’re defensive And then they don’t trust it, if they don’t believe it. And so we have to model the way. We have to model it consistently, to get them to believe it. We’re not here to get them. They are safe here.

Gabe: [00:15:44] It’s not a trick.

Juliet: [00:15:45] It’s not a trick.

Gabe: [00:15:46] We’re not gonna let them down.

Juliet: [00:15:47] That’s right.

Gabe: [00:15:49] So, DeShawn, many people hear, and I want to talk about this for a minute, many people hear, “OK, security is not about physical violence.” And it’s not, and I hope that at this point in the show, people are understanding that there’s de-escalation. There’s other tools. We’re not saying don’t get involved, we’re saying that you have a better way to get involved, but sometimes consequences have to happen. So even our consequences, of course, are are non-physical. There are consequences at The PEER Center for breaking the Code of Conduct or for not calming down. Can you talk about some of those consequences? How we implement them and what the entire process is?

DeShawn: [00:16:22] I’d say the rule that’s broken the most is rule number one. It is just disrespectful communication. No disrespectful communication at The PEER Center.  Which is that yes, they are only words, but there is power behind words and people’s feelings can get hurt. We do not condone that type of behavior in The PEER Center. First, we ask you, if there’s a certain behavior that’s against the code of conduct, we ask you to stop the behavior. If you can’t maintain yourself and you can’t do that, we try to talk to you. To give you as many chances as possible. But when discipline has to be enacted, the first thing we do is ask you to leave for the day. Because maybe you need to cool off. Maybe today was just a bad day. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.

Gabe: [00:17:08] So it’s one day out and you can come back tomorrow? No questions asked?

DeShawn: [00:17:11] Exactly.

Gabe: [00:17:11] OK.

DeShawn: [00:17:12] And in severe cases, where [the behavior] kind of crosses certain lines, we do suspend people from The PEER Center. We have what we call the Associates’ Governing Board, which we hold twice a twice a month. And you come in for this meeting. It has staff representatives; Juliet is there, our director. We have associate representatives who are members, and we have a conversation on what caused the behavior. What happened? What’s going on? Sometimes is it’s just as simple as having a bad day, and you never see that type of behavior from them again. Sometimes it’s a little deeper.

Gabe: [00:17:53] So somebody is suspended. And they can’t come back until they come to an AGB meeting, which is the Associates’ Governing Board. And they have to make that appointment. They come, and they kind of sit in front of the board, and everybody talks, and then it’s determined whether or not you can come back. And most of the time people can come back, right?

Juliet: [00:18:09] Yes, it’s hardly ever that we do not reinstate people. What can cause people to not be reinstated is people not taking responsibility for their their behavior. And recovery is all about accountability. I mean, it’s not like an inquisition. It’s where we invite people into the space, and we introduce ourselves. We explain what the process is about, and we try to make sure that they understand why they were suspended. Because sometimes it’s confusing in the heat of that moment. And so, once we all get on the same page about why they were suspended and all of that, we ask what was going on that day? The worst thing that people can do is say, “I didn’t do anything.” Or they blame it on, “That person caused me to throw something at them.” Or, “They caused me to to say those disrespectful things to them.” And so we try to get to a common understanding of what is acceptable behavior at The PEER Center. And we remind people to abide by the Code of Conduct. And again, depending on how they come in. If they come in with a chip on their shoulders, and they’re still angry, and still wanting to accuse everybody else, or just taking responsibility for their part of it, not even the whole situation. Because they could be completely reacting to whatever the situation was. Maybe somebody else instigated? Just taking responsibility for that piece, for their part is saying, “I could’ve handled that differently.” So if we just get to a common understanding, we almost always say, “It’s OK. Welcome back.”

Gabe: [00:20:03] And then they’re reinstated. They can come in and it’s like it never happened, right? This is kind of the final step. It’s something happened, you got suspended. You got reinstated now. Now the slate is wiped clean. As security, you’re not following the person around saying, “I’m waiting for you to fail again.”

DeShawn: [00:20:19] Oh, no.

Gabe: [00:20:20] That doesn’t work, right? Let’s talk about that a little bit. Because that’s security. You know who has been suspended before?

DeShawn: [00:20:26] Yes.

Gabe: [00:20:26] You know who is likely, maybe? So how do you avoid making them feel like you’re just waiting for them to fail? Because this is something that our associates talk about a lot. They don’t want to feel like we’re waiting on them to fail, so we can pounce. But as security, you can’t ignore that knowledge. What’s the balance there?

DeShawn: [00:20:47] Well, first of all, there are many different roads to recovery, and many different levels of recovery. Some people are just not ready to be at The PEER Center. That’s one thing we have to understand. Working in a field like this, you kind of want to save everyone. But, you know, everybody’s not ready for recovery.

Juliet: [00:21:07] And we’re about self directed recovery. And so if you can’t self direct, that might mean you might not be ready for this.

DeShawn: [00:21:17] And the people that have been suspended, these are the people that I purposely will go to if I see them coming to the center, and I know we’ve had issues before. I will purposely try to make friends. Try to form some kind of bond or connection, just to kind of keep an eye on them. Just to check in with them and see where they’re at. So that we won’t go through that again. And some people, because of whatever condition they’re going through, or whatever crisis they’re going through, they may feel alone. And it makes people feel that much better when they have someone else that they can bounce things off of. Even if it’s something that shouldn’t have set them off. You know, maybe, they just want to talk about it, or talk it through with someone. And it always seems to help.

Gabe: [00:22:02] So rather than single them out for extra guarding or extra watching, you single them out for extra care or extra communication or extra help?

DeShawn: [00:22:13] Support.

Gabe: [00:22:14] To give them that. Yeah, “support” is actually, probably, the best word. You should be a podcasters.

Juliet: [00:22:19] And they will tell us when we’re having difficulty getting the message across. We’ll ask them, “Is there somebody here at The Center that you have a good relationship with? That you trust?” And we’ll try to pair them, like a buddy. Like a peer buddy.

Gabe: [00:22:36] Nice, nice. So everybody working together, using their words. And speaking in a reasonable manner, and being their best, has allowed The PEER Center to go on for almost 12 years with, and it’s beautiful, five incidents that are noteworthy? Which is amazing, considering, as we started to talk about at the top, that people really think that people with mental illness and addiction and trauma and a drop in center must have people swinging from the chandeliers. And that’s really not been our experience at all.

Juliet: [00:23:08] Not at all.

DeShawn: [00:23:08] It’s amazing how you get random people in the same room, whether it’s five people or 30 people. And if everybody’s treating everybody with respect, it kind of is like being in a family environment. And we all know that even some family members, we love them to death, but we don’t want to be around them. But it’s just like one big happy family.

Gabe: [00:23:31] And conflict isn’t inherently bad.

DeShawn: [00:23:33] Right.

Gabe: [00:23:34] And it sounds to me like that’s the other big thing. It’s understanding the difference between conflict where you’re getting on my nerves and conflict where something bad could happen. And smoothing those things over, and getting everybody on the same page, and just really taking time to learn people’s needs, wants, triggers, and concerns, and providing it for them in a group environment. Just keeping everybody safe.

Juliet: [00:24:00] And we send people to the Handling Conflict group if we can.

Gabe: [00:24:04] There you go. There you go. Well, thank you, everybody, for tuning in. To DeShawn, thank you for being here.

DeShawn: [00:24:09] Thank you.

Gabe: [00:24:10] You are really, really good at your job. I’ve been a super fan of your security methods ever since I started here. Because you know, on my first day, I was like, “Oh man, there’s a place with security. It must be dangerous.” Because, after all, that’s what you think of when you think of security. And then I was like, this isn’t dangerous at all. And DeShawn is very laid back and so are all the other members of the security team. We just picked you because you’re the best one.

DeShawn: [00:24:36] Thank you.

Gabe: [00:24:37] All right. Thank you everybody for listening. And we will see you next time here on PEER Voices.

Announcer: [00:24:41] You’ve been listening to the PEER Voices Podcast, sponsored by The PEER Center with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. To learn more about this podcast, please visit To learn more about The PEER Center, please visit We encourage you to share this podcast with other peers in our community. Thank you for listening, and see you next time on PEER Voices.


Deshawn Davis is the Director of Facilities and Security for The PEER Center, a consumer operated wellness, recovery, and support drop-in center.  As a 12 year veteran of The PEER Center, he has always taken pride in assisting with almost any issue someone may bring to TPC.  DeShawn is happy to help with anything from creating a resume to knitting a scarf, and from casual conversation over coffee to offering support to an individual in crisis. DeShawn is a certified CPI instructor, a Tai Chi instructor, and college graduate with a degree in Computer Electronic Engineering Technologies.