One of the best tools a policeman can use won’t be found on his duty belt or in his patrol bag. It’s not issued to him and it can’t be bought. This tool is his mouth. We’ve all heard of verbal judo, de-escalation techniques, etc. What I am referring to is less specific. Your voice, your inflection, eye contact, and even word choice can dramatically change the outcome of many situations, and could turn potentially ugly ones into peaceful encounters. In the academy we were taught that all people police encounter will fall under one of three categories; ‘Yes’ people, “Maybe’ people, and ‘No’ people. The Yes Person will comply with your request, peacefully and with no questions asked. The Maybe Person may or may not comply; this depends greatly on your individual command presence, confidence, and a few other factors. Many Maybe People are influenced by things other than command presence such as drug or alcohol usage, emotional or mental issues, etc. If the Maybe Person believes he can outsmart, outfight, or outrun you, then the Maybe Person will most likely not comply. The No People are the greatest threat; they will not comply, have no respect for you or what you represent, and have little or no fear of imprisonment or fines.
This article is in reference to the Maybe People. No People will always be a PITA, and there’s not much you can do to avoid that. Yes People do not want trouble, and will do what they can to comply with your orders. The Maybe People are the ones who can go either way, and the smart officer will learn how to persuade them into being Yes People. Many rookie officers, me included, begin their careers on the street with a hard core, ‘take no prisoners’, tough guy attitude. These are the guys who escalate rather than de-escalate, who make lots of paperwork for the bosses and who probably generate a lot of complaints. They become bullies, and expect others to bend over backwards for them because they’re wearing a badge. There are even some veteran officers who act this way as well, and maybe you’ve seen this at your own department.
Very quickly, I learned that it is not always necessary to be the ‘tough guy’. One thing I’ve noticed is how the older guys talk to people. What I learned from the old timers is that you don’t always have to be a jerk. For example, a loud music complaint/loud party. Option A: “Hey!! Turn that music off now or you’re getting cited!” or Option B: “Sir, we’ve received some complaints about the noise, please turn it down.”, or maybe “Hey man, do us a favor and keep it down, we’re getting complaints about the noise.” If you have ever taken any classes about Public Speaking, one of the key topics is to adapt your message to your audience. Smart officers will learn how to read people, and will adjust their message accordingly.
The senior officers explained it to me like this: It doesn’t hurt to be polite; you can always be a jerk later if you have to. They way you talk to people should be similar to the use of force continuum, escalating as the situation dictates. What really impressed me is how the guys who had the gift of gab were the most respected on the street.
On several occasions, people that we’ve arrested and run into later were willing to help us, just because we were professional during our original encounter. Proudly, many of my encounters, even those that ended in arrests, ended with the offender being pretty cordial, even as I took them to jail. Recently, I had arrested a female in connection with some outstanding warrants. Another unit conveyed her to jail while I sat and waited for the tow truck to arrive. Even though I had arrested her, I treated her with respect. Later, the other officers told me that she said I was very nice. I’m not trying to win any popularity contests, but a little bit of respect goes a long way.
Another incident comes to mind in which I had arrested a male. He had previous escape attempts, assault charges, and other offenses on his criminal record, but he was still treated with respect. In the end, we got him handcuffed and in the car without incident. When we got him to jail, there was a prisoner who was giving his arresting officers a hard time. Our prisoner leaned over to him and said “Hey man, you’re already here, just be cool. You ain’t making this any better for yourself.” Since this incident, I have run into this individual a few times on the street. There weren’t any hard feelings present, and if he saw me driving by he would wave.
The point I am trying to make is that nobody likes to be yelled at or treated like a child, and nobody wants to be treated with disrespect. If you’ve ever had someone you’ve written a ticket or arrested say “Thank you” and meant it, then you already know what I’m talking about. Like I said earlier, this approach will not always work, but it does help to control the Maybe People. There will be times when you will have to be a jerk, and there will be times when you have to go “hands on”, but these instances can be minimized by your command presence, confidence, word choice and your initial impression on the subject.
As always, remember your tactics, watch their hands, back each other up, and STAY SAFE.
Written and Submitted by Officer Daniel Celis