Use Your Words, Not Your Fists

Officers rolled up on a scene in a known “troublesome” neighborhood. The streets are filled with people, all were just standing around at this time, some bloody. There had been a reported altercation. One officer immediately exits her vehicle and starts shouting at people “If you don’t shut up, you’re going to jail” and “get on the ground!” People are getting a bit riled up by the shouting and acting nervous.

A second officer exits his vehicle at the same time and assesses the scene from the outside of his car. Nobody is fighting. Nobody appears to have any weapons. Nobody is currently acting aggressive. There are some people trying to approach the officers shouting their side of the story, but not actively aggressive towards the officers. The second officer goes up to one of the shouting citizens, whose face is bloody, and calmly asks what’s been going on.

Police officers have a bad reputation, at times, for being too aggressive or confrontational. This is understandable considering the violence and negativity they encounter on a daily basis. Their guard is always up; it has to be if they want to help ensure they get to go home that night. I’ve known a handful of officers that had never been in a fight. They were laid back guys. They talked to people as if they were just people, rather than criminals.

Officer TalkingThese same guys also spoke of being “talked to” by higher ups, telling them that they are too soft; that they needed to be a bit more aggressive in their approach; that if they haven’t ever been in a fight they must not be working hard enough. But the truth is: these guys had been in many volatile situations with hostile people that had broken the law. These encounters could have easily turned into altercations, but they didn’t. People were still arrested, but the sequence of events leading up to the arrest was laced in words.

Communication is an essential part of most jobs, especially law enforcement. You need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively. You have to be prepared to force cooperation if it comes to that, but you can encourage cooperation with non-violent communication. You can go into a scene not expecting the people to be guilty; isn’t it said that people are “innocent until proven guilty?” There are three simple ways to practice non-violent communication that will lead to more cooperation with citizens; start by remembering to leave judgment at the door.

Firstly, when you arrive to speak with someone, simply start with stating what was reported and state what you are observing. Do this in a way that is judgment free. “There was a report of a fight going on. I see a few people have blood on their faces. Do you know if anyone has any weapons? Can you tell me what happened?” This approach allows the person to slightly let their guard down. When someone runs up pointing guns and threatening people, people are automatically going to be sent into panic mode causing them to fight, flee or freeze. This is a natural response to a threat, even if that “threat” is someone enforcing the law.

Second, state the feelings that you are observing without moral evaluation. “You are pacing; do you feel nervous?” They are allowed to feel agitated and nervous, nobody likes to be in trouble or in a position of feeling powerless.

Third, state your needs clearly and without being aggressive. “You keep trying to put your hands in your pocket and it is making me nervous. Could you keep your hands where I can see them?” By speaking to people like they matter too, and aren’t just a statistic, they will be more likely to cooperate.

There are many ways to approach a person when you are a police officer. Sometimes violence is required to keep yourself and others safe, but it shouldn’t be the immediate-upon-arrival reaction unless people are actively harming others. Once the scene has been stabilized with force, we can go back to non-violent communication.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Sam Milam

Sam Milam has been writing and running her own businesses for several years. She was a police and fire emergency 911 dispatcher for four years. She has received training for handling responses to active shooters, suicides, kidnappings, structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, tactical incidents, natural disaster emergencies and so on. Knowledge is power, and by passing on that knowledge she hopes to provide tools for others to avoid and protect themselves and those around them.
Sam Milam
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