As a rookie shortly out of the academy, I had to rotate to day shift as a continued part of on the job training. We didn’t have a formal FTO program as it’s known and practiced today.
Day shift! I didn’t want to work days! Old cops surround you, all the hard-core criminals are asleep and even the kids wave at you with all five fingers.
As it turned out, being assigned to day shift that early in my career was a positive learning opportunity. I had the privilege of working with one of the “old cops” on a downtown wagon, who taught me concepts that have served me well throughout my career. For the purposes of this article, I’ll call him Bill.
Undoubtedly, the most important concept he taught me was the fact that the most used and powerful tool you possess is your mouth (or to be even more accurate, your communication skills) and how you use them. Good communication skills can (in many cases, not always) diffuse violent altercations before they explode, get people to do what you want them to, and help to create a positive relationship with the public. Bill’s core concept of policing went something like this: Anyone can shoot or physically force a criminal into compliance. It’s an art to be able to gain it just by talking to them.
Do Unto Others
The first thing he taught me was to never verbally belittle anyone, and treat people with as much respect as they will let you. Gang members, in particular, are big on respect and not being dissed. Bill explained by showing a little respect to gang members, (as well as other criminals) can go a long way in the amount of information you get from them later in an investigation. Showing respect to someone who really didn’t deserve it has paid off on more than one occasion during my career.
He also emphasized that unless the situation dictated otherwise, (e.g. a known violent situation) to always start all contacts in an officer friendly tone of voice. As he explained, your actions can always escalate as necessary. However, if you start your contact with an unnecessary overpowering demeanor, you can never go back to officer friendly. He stressed that talking nice doesn’t mean dropping your guard. Bill told me to be nice and polite to people, but simultaneously have a plan and be prepared to physically neutralize everyone you contact. Listen to their words, but pay even closer attention to their body language.
One other important thing he taught me was to show empathy when talking with victims. Undeniably, we become hardened to the horrors of life. What may seem very routine to us can be a very traumatic experience to those we protect. Talk to victims the way you would want another officer to talk to your wife or child. There are so many times that we arrive long after the fact, and the reality is we can’t really do anything for the victim.
Just by showing a little empathy and compassion, people will be left with a positive impression of law enforcement that can go a long way in community relations. Sometimes it’s hard to do, but you must remind yourself occasionally as to why you wanted this job in the first place. Most of us took this job to make our cities a better place to live. Helping people cope when we can do nothing else for them does just that.
Bill is long retired now, and you’ll never get the chance to train with this wizard of words. However, police trainer Jim Glennon, the founding father of Lifeline Training, wrote the book that can teach you not only similar versions of Bill’s rules of communication, but it delves into many other must-know communication concepts for top notch law enforcement performance. It’s called Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.
Don’t under-estimate the importance of this communication book. It teaches you how to use communication as a real-world control tool, fully acknowledges there’s a time to talk and a time to fight and is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly entertaining, written in a cop-to-cop format and teaches you vital skills. From reading body language to avoiding physically dangerous and career-changing traps, the effective police officer uses “communications” far more than any other skill.
Think about the past 25 people you’ve had contact with. You may have been involved in a shooting, but probably not. You may have been involved in a use-of-force situation, but probably not. But you did interact and communicate with other people during every single contact, just as you will during every single call for the rest of your career. Now do you get the picture on how important good communication skills are and how often they are used?
With 28 years of law enforcement experience, I have to say that Bill and Jim are both right. Although I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what I learned from Bill as a rookie officer; there’s no doubt that it has helped me throughout my career.
I also have no doubt the lessons you can learn from Glennon’s book can help you as well. Having good communication skills and understanding how to effectively communicate and interact with not only citizens, but criminal minds, is vitally important.
It can keep you out of trouble, it can keep you out of unnecessary fights, and just possibly, it can keep you alive.
Arresting Communication is available at www.lifelinetraining.com