July 28, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Ask Lt. Patrick Crowe, training officer of the Hanford Police Department, to describe one of the most powerful tools available to his officers in a crisis situation. His answer might surprise you.
“It’s listening,” the 16-year law enforcement veteran tells “You and the Law.”
“Paying attention to what the people we speak with are saying, showing that we care, are concerned, want to understand the reason we were called and how to help resolve the problem.”
Crowe gave us an insight into how the public reacts when it appears an officer wasn’t listening.
“Across the nation, by far the most frequent complaint is that when officers show up, they offer a solution without really listening. ‘If they had just listened to me: I needed someone to simply listen to me and not immediately suggest a solution,’ is the typical comment.
“But when the officers are interviewed, in most instances they actually were listening, listening intently, but their body language didn’t reveal it,” Crowe points out.
Empathy: The key to understanding
“If you are looking for one important cooperation- and compliance-building concept which is essential, both to our lives as cops and daily life in so many families — especially with teenage children — it’s empathy. We call it ‘tactical empathy.’ It is so logical and natural, yet for a lot people, it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone is upset. Here’s the idea:
When I understand — or at least show you that I am trying to see this problem the way you do — automatically we feel better about each other, begin to collaborate and work towards a solution.
“Let’s say a police officer arrives on scene, met by a person who appears in crisis, highly animated, wanting to get their story out right now and can hardly take a breath. At that moment, venting is their mode of communication. Oftentimes, it is best to let them tell the whole story uninterrupted and then follow up with questions.
“We want to de-escalate that crisis, and one key method is by showing that we are listening, paying attention and care. Our body language can easily send that message; simple as nodding your head, saying uh-huh, yes, I follow and by so doing, this becomes what is referred to as ‘active listening.’
‘Do as I say!’ should be your last resort
“Whether you are a father, mother, or an officer with a badge,” La Crosse, Wisc.-based Lt. Dan Marcou tells You and the Law, “we can get to a point where we have the authority to insist, ‘Do as I say.’ But that approach can get us so locked in that we think it is our only tactic. ‘I tell you what to do and you do it.’ So often this becomes the first tactic, instead of the last.”
“It should be a last resort,” he maintains, adding, “Every police officer absolutely wants any possible confrontation to end at the level of dialogue. Likewise, every parent should also want it to stay at the level of dialogue.”
“Lt. Dan,” as he is known professionally, is a nationally recognized police trainer, author and highly decorated police officer with 33 years in law enforcement.
“Since 1974,” he notes, “there has been a nonstop movement to develop better communication skills, providing officers tools to keep potentially bad situations in the realm of verbalization, one significant result being that officers know they will have to fight much less, because these tactics really work.
“But, even if it does get physical, when it’s all over, don’t be surprised to hear a cop transition back to the verbal, and ask, ‘Are you OK?’
From confrontation to something else
“After a foot pursuit, I used to always say, “Are you OK?” And then I would give them ‘The Speech:’
“It was your job to get away. That didn’t happen. It is my job to catch you, and that did happen. So, let me reintroduce myself. I am Lt. Dan Marcou, call me Lt. Dan. Are you OK? Now from this time on, I know we can get along, because it wasn’t anything personal.
“Usually from there, I got cooperation, I got statements. ‘The Speech’ appeared to change the level of confrontation. It went from confrontation to something else, something positive.”
Advice from the heartland for families
There was one last question I needed to ask Lt. Dan. “What is your advice for parents who are reading this story?”
With the sound of his grandchildren’s laughter in the background, he said, “Take the time with your family to see what’s going on, to hear what’s going on, and to understand what’s going on, or you are going to miss opportunities to fix problems, and more importantly, to enjoy life.
“What situation in the family when a child is growing up isn’t bad when it is happening, but a few weeks, months or years later, doesn’t become one of those moments you laugh at?
“Don’t wait to enjoy what’s going on. It goes by too fast.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.