In Calibre Press’s best-selling book Street Survival II, authors Jim Glennon, Dan Marcou and Charles Remsberg share two pieces of advice that can help you avoid inciting an attack if that otherwise may have been avoided. In instances where an individual is absolutely determined to attack you, there may be little or nothing you can do to diffuse their violent intent. However, what you can do is develop the pre-attack detection skills Street Survival II includes and the popular Calibre Press course Spotting Pre-Assault Indicators teaches.
When it comes to deterrence, here’s what Glennon, Marcou and Remsberg have to say in SSII:
Don’t incite, provoke or inflame violent behavior. While there is virtually never an excuse for someone to resist or attack a police officer, as professionals we need to recognize that often our nonverbal and verbal behavior may incite violent emotions from the person with whom we are engaged. This can be simplified by saying it comes down to the way we treat the other person.
Again, this does not justify an attack, but police officers should be experts in dealing with the emotions of human beings. We’ll say that again. We need to be experts at dealing with human beings and their accompanying emotions.
A person who is angry at the outset, for whatever reason, must be recognized as a potential threat to the responding officer. Minimize antagonizing such a person; this should be obvious. However, police officers seem to ignore the fact that some words and behaviors are of a calming nature and others incite. “Why are you being such an asshole?” for example, would not be an appropriate opening when attempting to engage positively.
In the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement, the art of developing rapport is addressed at length. It explains why rapport-building is a necessary ingredient in establishing a positive understanding and collaborative interaction. At the very least, officers should be aware of their approach and delivery.
Not making a bad situation worse by contributing to the negative emotions is a must. To do this, officers need to focus on their professional goal and not be diverted by personal emotions and values. Police officers should be proficient at reading body language and at developing the ability to consciously recognize the behavior, tone, words, etc. that indicate a person is experiencing unstable emotions.
Once that ability is established, an officer needs to know how to tailor his communication style to minimize someone’s emotional instability. He/she needs to communicate this recognition of the other person’s worth and value.
Deter violent behavior and intent. “I’m going to kick your ass, you motherfucker!” Every veteran police officer has encountered people using such language indicating violent intent. Some have heard this kind of vile rhetoric hundreds of times.
Contrary to media hype, most officers are very successful at calming the irrational and avoiding physical violence to control or defend against a subject. Officers do this by using the appropriate words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. Some officers are better than others and many are great at deterrence. However, this skill is acquired through both experience and education and each is dependent on the other.
Some officers seem to have an innate ability to size up others accurately as well as interact suitably for the situation in context. While experience is a great teacher, the skills can and need be acquired through studying as well.
Understanding body language, the paralinguistic (voice tone, inflection, rate of speech, amplitude, pitch, etc.), statement analysis, and the general reading of people, however, is not an exact science. This makes it difficult to teach in the formal, limited settings found in law enforcement training.
Balance is the key, but there is no specific balance point. There are no words you can definitively use to calm someone. No body language that always means a particular thing. When it comes to communicating effectively, everything is contextual. Too weak and you may encourage an attack. To authoritarian and you may do the same.
While we can’t describe the quintessential facial expression that conveys supreme confidence, we can definitively say that the ability to deter begins with recognizing the would-be aggressor’s intent and communicating that such behavior would be ill-advised.
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