In the criminal justice system, a police officer’s ability to communicate is one of the most important traits an officer can have. Police officers communicate with everyone from the public to peers, arrestees, victim and suspect families, and court personnel. A police officer must determine the most effective way to communicate, using several different methods, with everyone without offending or sounding weak. Public Announcements to the Press
Police officers deal with the public on a constant basis. Many times, police officers will have to address the public in a professional, staged appearance. Public announcements can be in person, often live in front of news cameras, or a written statement the press uses to publish in the print media, website, or news broadcast. High-profile cases, riots, or inmate suicides are reasons a corrections officer may need to provide an announcement to the press. Upon making a public announcement, it is important for the corrections officer to speak directly to the audience and keep sentences short to avoid confusing the audience (Wallace & Roberson, p. 71, 2009). Usually, when giving a public address announcement, the press will follow up the message with questions of their own to clarify the remarks, or in an attempt to get additional information if the message is too vague.
When a police officer speaks to the media publically, it is important for the officer to know his or her facts and be very keen on the topic (Wallace & Roberson, p. 79, 2009). If there was an officer involved shooting, the public and the media could care less to hear about the new patrol cars or k-9 unit. It is important to be punctual and understand the timeframe the speaker has to present his or her information to the media. The speaker should prepare him or herself by having notes or an outline to follow, it is not a good idea to “wing it,” especially if the purpose for the public announcement is serious.
A speaker’s appearance is important because the media and public could be critical and doubt the sincerity of the speech if the speaker fails to take the time necessary to look presentable. When a police officer provides a written announcement he or she needs to be as professional as possible. It is important to avoid the use of legal or technical jargon, slang, or words the audience may be unfamiliar with (Wallace & Roberson, p. 73, 2009). The print media may not have the time to contact the speaker and ask for clarification so it is important to use clear and concise language when providing written statements for the media.
Testifying in court
Effective communication in the courtroom is a necessary cog in the wheel of criminal justice. As a police officer, it is important to understand the importance of effective communication while presenting evidence or testifying in court. Defense attorneys will try to confuse try to make the officer second-guess his or her actions or the content of an incident report. An ill-prepared corrections officer may become impatient and exasperated if challenged by an aggressive defense attorney (Wallace & Roberson, p. 111, 2009). Police officers commonly make errors because of the lack of preparedness prior to taking the witness stand (Wallace & Roberson, p. 71, 2009). Police officers should meet with the attorney they are being summons by in order to read over their report and refresh their memory in preparation for the stand.
If a police officer is set to testify during a trial, it behooves the officer to communicate with the prosecution to prepare for questions the Prosecution will ask, and potential questions the defense attorney will ask. When a police officer writes a report, it is essential to include important and necessary information. Police officers write various types of reports. However, the information contained in each type of report must be clear, concise, and honest. Future court cases may depend on information contained in an officer’s report as evidence in a criminal case (Miller & Whitehead, p. 4, 2011). Disciplinary review boards may rely on an officer’s incident report to determine if an officer operated outside his or her scope of duty.
Prior to the court appearance, the police officer must analyze his or her report to enhance his or her preparedness for the trial. The court will not wait for the corrections officer to fumble through his or her notes. Preparedness will enhance the officer’s credibility with the jury; whereas, an unprepared and confused corrections officer may look incompetent to a jury, which may cause the jury to questions the validity of the events recorded in the report and the officer’s testimony. When a police officer testifies in court, it is not only essential but also the law to be honest in everything said. If the corrections officer does not know the answer, saying, “I do not know” is appropriate.
If the police officer does not remember a specific event, it is appropriate to ask the judge to review notes or a copy of his or her report if he or she has one (Wallace & Roberson, p. 115, 2009). However, reading the report word-for-word or taking too long to locate the answer to a question may cause the jury to doubt the truthfulness and competence of the officer. The jury may think, “you were there, how could you not remember?” The officer must never assume the next question, but wait for the defense or prosecuting attorney to ask the questions and provide an honest answer in a clear and loud voice.
Effective communication applies to the back and forth conversation the police officer has with both the prosecutor and defense attorney. It is important for the police officer to understand the questions the attorneys ask (Wallace & Roberson, p. 115, 2009). It is appropriate for an officer to ask for clarification if he or she fails to understand the wording of the questions (Wallace & Roberson, p. 115, 2009).
A police officer must remember the court records his or her testimony in a written transcript, and sometimes by audio recording. The officer must master communicating orally when testifying in court because a stenographer cannot and will not type hand gestures, nods, shrugs, etc. (Wallace & Roberson, p. 115, 2009).
It is important for the police officer to remember they are in a court of law, and he or she represents his or her agency. The police officer must show respect for the court, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney. A jury may look poorly upon a rude, belligerent, and disrespectful officer. Disrespect for the court could result in administrative reprimand or contempt charges. Appellate courts use written trial transcript when they review a lower-court ruling. The appellate courts do not review or see new evidence; therefore, it is imperative for a corrections officer to do his or her part in practicing effective oral communication.
A police officer appearance is also important when testifying in court. An officer’s appearance is the first thing a jury sees, and the jury will judge the officer on his or her appearance. An officer should have a clean, wrinkle free uniform shirt and trousers. The officer should have his or her shirt tucked in and shoes shined. A sloppy looking, unkept officer will look unfavorable on the jury, who may use that negative first impression when deciding the believability of the officer’s testimony.
Communicating with Peers and the General Public
Effective communication with peers in the general public is not only necessary but also life saving. Police officers tend to use their own “lingo,” or “cop-talk” to communicate with each other. Most non-law enforcement people are familiar with the term “Code 4,” which can mean, “Yes, okay, copy, etc.” Code 4 is one of a normal range of 13. Each number represents a message an officer uses instead of explaining word-for-word what they need. This abbreviated form of communication is known as “common code.” In police departments within the County of Boulder, Colorado departments use the common code. For instance, “code 4, code 5 with one” means an officer is okay with one person in handcuffs. Code 13 would mean “I need one additional officer as fast as possible.”
Communicating with superior officers is also important. Higher-ranking officers in a police department supervise the officers. If there are ineffective rules or policies in place, it is the responsibility of the officer to follow the chain of command and provide feedback and possible suggestions on how to improve the ineffective policies.
Police officers see the world differently from non-law enforcement citizens. Police officers spend most of their day running from call to call. Experienced police officers have a different perspective on humanity; they often share and agree with those jaded views of society with fellow officers (Gilmartin, 2002). This can cause poor communication methods when speaking to the general public. It is easy to look at an arrestee and judge him or her as a “loser, a drug addict, or pervert.” Not all arrestee are guilty of their charges; everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, it is important for a police officer to put aside feelings of contempt and communicate with arrestees in a respectful and professional manner. Gilmartin (2002) stated, “Officers control 100% of their integrity and Professionalism.
Everything else – policies, uniforms, required procedures, budget, assignments, organizational goals, and just about every other central aspect of the officer’s role, is controlled by someone else” (p. 80). Communicating with arrestees is different from communicating with people who are not under arrest or detained. Arrestees are under a great deal of stress because of their limited freedom and the unknown future that awaits them. Although difficult, it is important to remember the current situation of an arrestee when communicating with them, especially telling them they cannot do certain things. Many arrestee are not accustomed to somebody telling them “no.”
Communicating with Peers and Juvenile Arrestees
Communicating with peers in a juvenile arrestee situation is quite similar to communicating with peers in an adult situation. Clear and concise lateral communication is impotent between officers over radio transmission as well as face-to-face communication. A juvenile arrestee situation can be a dangerous setting even though the arrestees are usually under the age of 18. An officer must use careful consideration when dealing with juvenile offenders. Juvenile minds are not fully developed. Juvenile minds may also lack the comprehension to understand the seriousness of their actions. Most of the offenders do not think and act as adult offenders do; therefore, officers must try to communicate closer to their level. A police officer has to remember that a juvenile offender attains certain special rights when detained.
The juvenile cannot be questioned without a lawyer or parent present. Many officers forget this note in many state laws and end up losing a case because admitted evidence is thrown out during trial. In conclusion, police officers have a duty to themselves, their peers, arrestees, the courts, and the public to be effective communicators. Verbal and nonverbal communication skills are important to learn, and continue to improve upon. A police officer who learns to apply effective communication skills in his or her occupation will become a valuable asset within his or her department. The community will have more confidence in a department if they have confidence it the officers who represent it. Officers who communicate with different types of people will also gain the respect and trust of their peers and supervisors.
Gilmartin, K. (2002). Emotional Survival For Law Enforcement. Tucson, AZ: E-S Press. Miller, L., & Whitehead, J. (2011). Report writing for criminal justice professionals (4th ed.). Retrieved from University of Phoenix eBook Collection database Wallace, H., & Roberson, C. (2009). Written and interpersonal communication: Methods for law enforcement (4th ed.). Retrieved from University of Phoenix eBook Collection database