One may assume that the roles of officers are just to catch us when we’re speeding, write a ticket and move on to the next person breaking the law. It would appear that way too many of us, but there is more depth, in the way an officer presents himself. While we find it insulting for an officer to say “How you doing mam’” after catching us going 40 in a 20 school zone, we must think of how much more aggravated we’d be in this situation had the officer used sarcasm, or had a cruel tone.
Good Morning, Mam’” seems more respectable and when you begin to explore the pressure on an officer you begin to see why many of them try to stay positive and communicate effectively.
Verbal and nonverbal communication is reoccurring and a large part of the day in the life of a Law Enforcement Agent. On every single work day there is numerous face-to-face interactions between an officer and citizen, or a small group.
These interactions may occur in traffic encounters, interviews, media briefings, or conversations formal and informal.
For this very reason verbal and nonverbal communication must evolve into a mastered skill; as it’s important for each officer to represent himself in a respectable manner whether it is in in public, in the court room, with peers, employees, inmates and more importantly citizens of the community. When it comes to training with an officer it is more than just the physical training, but also the mental training, one must do to be successful.
A good law enforcement officer must be able to properly speak to the public, testify with confidence, and write a grammar free report.
A respectable image will make for a better public view of the officer, their departments and general attitude to law enforcement all together. (Pritchett, 1993) Police Situations Most police are not given adequate training in communication skills. Many understand to be kind, polite, firm when need be, how to recite Miranda rights and interrogate but also many fail to recognize how verbal and nonverbal communication works. Verbal communication involves a sender and a receiver conveying a message.
These messages can be spoken words but can also be body language that is representing a statement. In police situations this is can be a chore when it comes to interrogation ; a police officer must obtain important material such as who, what, where, how and why, which often times, the answers to these questions, can vary when dealing with two different parties on the same situation. It’s important that the officer can take proper notations so later he can write in his report recapping both versions of the incident, and get a better idea of what was going on.
It’s important that officers understand the situation and how it was told to them and how to retell this situation from the report in a court room setting. A police report is usually a beginning point of the court room scene and can determine the faith of an accused; it’s important the officer writes detailed notes so he can relate back to the event as well as provide accuracy. He must know the written work and have confidence as he verbally retells these events. An officer that comes off as insecure or insure of a situation may hinder a jury from a factual belief.
Likewise- many police must deal with important matters in front of the media on various occasions either through news reports, public speeches, or when running for a higher officer position; these situations as well require a sense of confidence from an officer. As stated, many officers must discuss important matters in the face of the public in attempts to calm a tense situation, or to be there to reassure and provide confidante within the community after a tragedy.
When we think back of tragic events such as The Columbine Killing, 9/11, or the Virginia Tech shooting, we are guaranteed that at one point, a police officer reached out to the public to reassure safety. When making a public speech an officer much consider how verbal and non-verbal communication will affect an audience. There are many elements to consider when making a public speech starting with nonverbal communication that generally speaks louder than that of verbal communication.
For example appearance, posture and the deliverance of a speech all help to convey the original message. A neat and professional appearance is usually mandatory being that it will make the first judgment of an audience. (Wallace, 2009) If an officer takes pride in his appearance than it can be assumed by the receiver that he takes pride in what he is saying. When giving a speech an officer must learn to make eye contact, use proper voice infliction and proper vocabulary when delivering a speech.
Correct word choices can impact an audience either negatively or positively so it’s important officers draft and practice speeches so that the presentation is close to perfect. Testifying Many police are required to testify in court and there impressions can literally be life altering. When jurors are questioned on why they may have chosen one verdict over another many relate back to the testimony of eye witnesses. Witnesses that don’t seem confident in their answers or even arrogant may make their responses non-believable to a jury.
One columnist J. Navarro states “How people testify and how others perceive them are as important as their testimony. ” (Navarro, 2004) To avoid making a jury skeptical of what is being said and make a reliable testimony, an officer must reevaluate how they communicate both verbally and nonverbally. According to an article in FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, “Jury surveys and research in communication provide guidance to law enforcement officers on how to be more effective in court, whether sitting at the prosecutor’s side as the lead investigator or testifying as a witness. (Navarro, 2004)
In these surveys various jurors analyze the appearance, communication skills, behavior and the ability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally to effectively persuade jurors. Jurors are searching for the truth so if an officer cannot make eye contact, stutters or appears unconfident in his own words by a simple gesture of the eyebrows showing confusion, a juror will perceive this as dishonesty. While confidence will win the audience it must not go to the extreme of arrogance, this as well can put off a negative vibe.
As the article states displaying openness alone can help a jury to really believe what the officer is stating. Free flow communication and confidence help show honesty while tenseness has the opposite effect. Simple things like gestures should be kept minimum and more emphasis on tone should be used versus defensiveness or the raising of the voice. (Navarro, 2004) A simple tone infliction helps to catch the juror’s attention and explain where the importance is in the conveyed message. The best way officers can improve these skills is by watching a more skilled professional testify as they observe in the audience.
Also practicing infront of a mirror or another officer can help make their testimony a more confident and stress free one. Corrections/ Juvenile Facilities It can be a prison environment or even a juvenile facility, either, or, an officer must be prepared to go a bit further with effective oral and written communication. The way the justice system works an officer is constantly being monitored on the things he says and the way he portrays them. In these environments, they are communicating with inmates, co-workers and other employees.
With co-workers and other employees within a facility an officer must portray courtesy but must also remember the rising accusations of sexual harassment. In many work places it has become a motto to keep the talk of sex, religion, and politics out of the work place. Over the years the number of sexual harassment cases in work places has shot up even within law enforcement. In a police department outside of Los Angeles this past October there are multiple encounters of harassment and the consequences of possible job loss within that department due to this type of behavior.
Most harassment cases are due to racial jokes or sexual orientation which again should be something left outside of the work environment to avoid making any employee or fellow officer feel uncomfortable in the work atmosphere. In this one particular case the allegations varied from: “A sergeant presenting a black officer with a cake topped with a slice of watermelon and a piece of fried chicken, The same sergeant sending racially sensitive text messages about an officer who is of Mexican descent and The sergeant removing one officer from an overtime detail and putting his wife, another officer, in that spot. (Okarocha, 2001)
Officers can avoid this by keeping those personal conversations or even opinions outside to the workplace as well as respecting fellow co-worker’s personal boundaries not making gestures or mimicking one another. Also peer activities tend to keep the bond between officers and staff and make for a healthier work atmosphere as everyone tries to achieve the same goal of diminishing crime. While working with inmates these same rules of harassment applies; there is also an ongoing struggle and broken relationship that makes any type of communication difficult between police and inmates.
As far as it can date back children have played cops and robbers and it’s a wide speculation that cops are good guys and inmates (both adults and juveniles) are bad guys. This type of assumed relationship can make the environment a tense one for both parties and should be addressed to learn how to better communicate. Many inmates feel hatred toward cops and may say rude things to a police officer or guard in attempts to intimidate the guard. A guard or officer in a prison type setting must learn to not show that this bothers them and they must learn how to acquire respect amongst prison walls while still keeping professionalism.
A police officer cannot let emotional barriers get in the way of their job to treat inmates as citizens of the community to help them. Summary As you can see an officer’s job and role in the community requires various times where nonverbal and verbal communication are required; An officer may spend little time or a full day in one of the discussed settings such as a police situation, maybe a traffic stop, in the courtroom testifying, or in a correctional facility. To communicate effectively police officer must evaluate the different scenarios he is faced with and how to properly convey a message within in those situations.
By learning appropriate and professional communication techniques officers will be more favored within his department and community. This favoritism can lead to advancement in the department, and one day play a role in the larger picture of decreasing crime. Poor communication can be avoided and is encouraged. Many officers must understand their poor attitude and poor communication skills can not only affect them as an officer but the department as a whole. By forcing training departments to include studies on effective communication, Law Enforcement can train better police officers who will succeed and better the criminal justice system.