Being prepared begins with people being comfortable with who they are. Only when they are at peace with themselves can they properly handle the task at hand. This comfort level with themselves will help them be patient and maintain professionalism so that they can successfully address the initial perceptions and reactions of any individuals involved. Patience and professionalism are required if law enforcement officers are to absorb and accept the resentment shown toward law enforcement and remain calm while being tested. After this resentment is received, it can be redirected to something common and relatable, which will allow subjects to see the law enforcement official as an individual doing his or her job.
Conversation is the key to success, and conversation requires active listening in order to be effective. When you arrive on scene, assuming the circumstances allow for this and you aren’t entering an active shooter scenario or something of that nature, start a conversation about a neutral topic based on something you observe at the location, whether it’s a hobby, a sports team, a picture of kids, or anything else you can personally relate to. Once the individual responds and even begins discussing this topic with you, he or she is more likely to see you as a person and not a government official. This makes you more likeable and increases the probability that the individual will speak to you about the current situation and might even cooperate in other ways as well.
When individuals cooperate with you, it makes your job easier and creates a more positive environment for everyone involved. You need to give people a reason to cooperate and the choice to cooperate. Often, this means giving them a moral victory and allowing them to salvage some pride. This might mean refusing to be provoked into the type of “FU” battle talked about below. It might mean allowing them to say good-bye to their kids or taking them out to your car before you cuff them so that they aren’t arrested in front of their family. After the individual has salvaged some pride, you can present them with your problem, whether it’s locating a suspect or getting some much-needed information on a case. If you’ve given suspects a reason to cooperate and the choice to cooperate, they will be more likely to surprise you with the information you need because of their newfound respect for you.
Ensuring Future Success
Previous encounters affect current encounters, and current encounters affect future encounters, which means tomorrow’s success is determined by how we handle today. Law enforcement officers need to remain calm when being tested. They must never engage in, much less try to win, what I call “the FU battle” with individuals. Many subjects try to provoke law enforcement officers into verbal fights. This only exacerbates tension and aggression on both sides; it never helps. Law enforcement officers need to maintain patience and professionalism so that they can change the perspectives of suspects and bystanders alike. It is vital to reward people for their positive behavior. This reward might be as simple as telling them you appreciate their choice, patience, or whatever is relevant. Just saying “thank you” can go a long way towards forming new perceptions about law enforcement officers.