Dialogue: Why it's the best defensive tactic
In Law Enforcement, fundamentals matter—and the most basic fundamental of all is dialogue. Verbal direction plays a role throughout the use of force continuum, from cooperative subjects to lethal scenarios. It is always used. Verbal direction can take the form of:
• Advice/requests (“Please step out of the car”)
• Persuasion/commands (“turn around, put your feet together, hands behind your back, lean forward”)
• Warning (“Stop or you’re going to get hurt”)
Or a progression of all of the above. We talk to subjects to make them compliant, and skilled verbal direction can help avoid escalation to dangerous confrontations. Dialogue is the start and finish of all police interactions. Using the right words at the right time can slow down an encounter, reduce emotion and aid in the decision-making process. Words can definitely be mightier than the sword, as long as you use them correctly and effectively. Some tips:
Always maintain your professionalism.
Careful use of words and tone is a must. In my career, I've seen situations spiral out of control when an officer became rude for no reason, made a crude joke or other inappropriate comments. Fans of the movie Roadhouse will remember the wisdom of the main character, Dalton: “It’s a job. It’s nothing personal.” That’s solid advice.
Slow things down
Ever have a situation under control, and “that guy” shows up on your job, says a few things and all heck breaks loose? I was fortunate in my early career to learn from some of the old-timers who had mastered their Jedi mind tricks. They always seemed to be able to “talk them into cuffs,” and that’s ideal for all involved.
Avoid or reduce emotion
Staying professional and using reason in an unreasonable situation is difficult. However, we can reduce emotion by taking the time to learn what to say… or not to say. Listening is also an underrated but critical skill. Speaking with authority (your “police voice”) is very important, but how you say something is as important as what you say. Sometimes more so. In fact, even if you say something that is correct and appropriate, if you say it wrong, it still makes you wrong. A perfect and common example is the difference between
“Turn around, put your feet together, hands behind your back, lean forward”
“Stop right there [expletive]! If you [expletive] move, I’ll kick the [expletive] out of you… do you [expletive] understand me?!”
If you have been on the job for more than a minute, you can fill in the expletives—you’ve seen and heard them. Maybe even slipped into some of that behavior yourself at times. We are all human, and we’re doing a job with more daily stress than most people will ever encounter or understand. But self-control, discipline and proper verbal direction can go a long way towards reducing emotion, slowing things down, improving decisions and outcomes, and keeping everyone safe.
Chicago Police Department (Ret.)
ASP Trainer since 2011