Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine perceptions of de-escalation among police officers who were nominated by peers as the most skilled at this strategy. Design/methodology/approach: A peer nomination process identified eight skilled de-escalators in one department. Interviews were conducted with the officers individually. Additionally, in a focus group, the officers watched and debriefed body-worn camera videos for themes related to de-escalation. Findings: Officers defined de-escalation as bringing calm to a conflict using the least amount of force possible. They said it could also be used preventatively. They identified de-escalation tactics, characteristics of skilled de-escalators and situations in which de-escalation is less effective. Originality/value: This study initiates research into a much discussed but rarely researched topic. Future studies should continue to work toward a definition of de-escalation and understand how it can be used in policing to reduce violence, protect life and enhance police legitimacy.