An item indispensable in its potential to insure the safety of the officer and resolve incidents with people in the field to satisfaction is the officer’s tongue. The words used, when and how they are delivered, the tone of voice, body language, and eye contact are all part of the package. This verbal judo is the most powerful weapon that can be yielded because it has the capability of saving lives without taking lives.
Like all complex tools, it has to be employed in combination to work effectively. An officer must combine verbal skills with training, experience, and problem solving abilities so that each individual circumstance can be given the unique approach it deserves. No two people are alike, and no police encounter is identical, regardless of the similarities or the appearance of ‘routine’ that might imply otherwise.
Most encounters involve persons who are being reactive, they are responding to the actions of the officer. We are not talking about most situations. We have to approach it from the point of view of all situations. Therefore an officer must be objective and avoid making assumptions. This allows for flexibility, so that you can adjust quickly to whatever occurs. One method is for the officer to put themselves in the position of the person they are contacting. “What would I be thinking in this situation?” “What would I do under these circumstances?”
Officers make thousands of public contacts. Overtime they have catalogued a large volume of experiences with criminals whom they have investigated. So in a interaction involving suspected criminal activity, you could substitute the former examples with “What would a person committing a crime be thinking in this situation?” “What might that person do under the circumstances?”
Officers who avail themselves of these techniques are often willing and able to use words as a tool to disarm a potentially threatening contact, to catch someone off balance, to discern whether or not physical force is required. And if physical force is not required, choose a different tact.
One of the things an officer has to prepare for is the mentality of the person who is thinking in the following pattern. Why is the officer talking to me that way? Is he trying to intimidate me? Who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Why is he being so pushy? Where is the rude attitude coming from? The good news is that the officer can be prepared, and can prevent this person from having a negative interaction.
One final point. Everyday people can have bad days. They can be generally unpleasant. Officers see that and learn to compensate. By the same token, officers can have bad days. Some can be generally unpleasant. Let’s not excuse either of those behaviors. Because those officers find themselves all too often in situations that go bad, and everybody loses when that happens.