In our popular new textbook, Street Survival II, we dedicate a section to issues related to compliance…and lack thereof. Compliance is extremely helpful to have but sometimes extremely difficult to get. Some suspects just won’t comply with commands. No surprise, right? But the way you approach that situation can have a crucial impact on the speed at which you gain compliance and the success you have in achieving it.
Some officers believe they can persuade reluctant suspects to cooperate by underscoring their orders with aggressive verbal threats. There are a couple of important things to remember if you choose to take that approach.
First, remember that threatening language can add fuel to an already volatile situation. The very language you’re using to try to increase your control can actually have the reverse effect.
Second, remember that what you say can and will be used against you in court and some courtrooms, threatening the unjustified use of deadly force may give a suspect a legal defense for acting against an officer. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. For example…
“If you reach for that gun, I will shoot you!”
“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to blow your head off!”
An attorney representing someone who was shot by police will likely use those words against the officer in an attempt to show ill will and an intent to kill, even though he or she was sincerely hoping to convince the suspect to submit to arrest.
The State of Wisconsin, as part of their Professional Communication System, developed a five-step approach for gaining compliance that has been effective for diffusing confrontations. When confrontations are in fact avoidable, this system has proved to be a defensible precursor to force.
The acronym for the system is: REACT.
Here’s how it breaks down:
REQUEST, initially, rather than demand. Asking for cooperation before issuing a command is a common courtesy and may help avoid escalation.
EXPLAIN the reason for your request, when time and safety permit. If the suspect questions you and, again, time and safety permit…
ALLOW for a choice of options. For example, if you’re on a call where a guest has become disruptive and the owner of the house wants him out, but the suspect won’t leave, you can give him this explanation followed by these realistic options: “Sir, this is not your house. The homeowners who invited you here are now insisting that you leave and if you do, that will be the end of it. But if you don’t, they will file a complaint for trespassing. It’s your choice. What will it be?”
CHECK the suspect’s decision after you and your partner have prepared to act as necessary should he refuse to comply. An option in the face of continued non-compliance could be to say something along the lines of, “I see you’re still not moving. Is there anything I can say to convince you to leave on your own?”
At this point, if the suspect responds, “So if I leave on my own, I won’t get arrested?” you know you’re headed in the right direction. But do NOT let your guard down.
On the other hand, if the suspect combatively responds, “No fucking way! This is total bullshit! You can’t…”
At the point the suspect reaches the middle of that sentence, you and your partner should quickly TAKE appropriate action to physically control the suspect and place him in custody.