Gender generalities and officer safety, Part 2
By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
In Part 1, Lt. Jim Glennon, a former instructor for the Street Survival Seminar for Women, shared research-based insights into the differences between males and females with an eye toward discussing the impact those differences have on police work and training.
Today, Jim concludes his series.
One of the things we talk about at length in the Street Survival Seminars for Calibre Press is the importance of communication and its relationship to keeping officers from becoming victims.
A question we always ask of our attendees is, “What do people do before they attack us?”
The answer is, “They tell us.” And there are two ways they tell us.
The first is, they say it (“I’m gonna kick your f # $ % ing ass Barney!”).
The second is they tell us through their body language. A clenched fist, shifting of the weight into a pugilistic (fighting) stance, clenched teeth, constant stare, flanking, looking around. The examples are endless.
So how does this tie into the gender issue? Well personally I don’t think there are any more obvious and overt differences in the genders than in the way they communicate. To put it scientifically and in academic terms, men stink at it and women don’t stink as much. But needless to say, they certainly communicate on different planes of existence.
Who do you think is better at listening, men or women? Never once have I had an argument from a female on the answer to that question. The women are better listeners of course.
In the seminars we have a lot of fun with the endless examples of how men communicate, or rather fail to communicate, when interacting with others of their species. As one woman said it succinctly, “When it comes to listening skills, men suck at it!” Her proof, she went on to say, “is in the guy I married.” This was a female cop by the way.
Now is this an indictment on all men? No, of course not. I imagine there are probably a dozen or so good listeners out of the estimated 3,213,110,190 men on the planet. I don’t personally know any of them, but I’m sure they are out there some where.
And as good natured as that last statement is meant to be, the seriousness of poor communication skills rears its ugly head when attacks on law enforcement officers are closely examined. How many times as trainers and students have we watched videos of police officers who have been injured or killed and noticed during the viewing that the perpetrators are communicating clues to the impending attacks.
And listening is not something just done with the canals of the ears; it is done with the eyes. An enormous part of the listening process is dependent on the eyes taking in and deciphering information. It’s in the observation of the other. And who are better observers, men or women?
Once again, it’s the female of the species. Studies done concerning observation abilities have been done numerous times. One such study had people sit in a room while they waited to be interviewed for a supposed internship. In the room there was a desk with up to 20 items on it. The subjects were then taken into another room where they were to asked to name as many things on the desk as they could. The women in this particular test were able to name over 90% of the items on the desk. The men weren’t even sure there was a desk in the room. No I’m just kidding, but they were considerably worse at recalling the items on the desk.
One theory about a woman’s ability to observe others centers around the belief that women look at people from a personal and emotional perspective. In other words, the other person matters, they have a level of worth and value. And even if the woman views the other person as having little value or they look at them from a negative perspective, that person is still a human being who exists. Men have a way of devaluing others in their mind. In other words, if the man has no need or use for another person, they disregard them. They deal with them only in the realm that they must deal with them.
Women also are also programmed, whether it be from nature, nurture or both, to protect themselves from others. This causes them from an early age to observe and evaluate those around them. In other words, they pay attention. They look for cues and indicators of deceit and danger.
But in reality, both men and women are exceptionally adept at reading other people. It’s a constant and innate process and skill. Gavin DeBecker speaks volumes about this subject in his exceptional book, The Gift of Fear. The problem for both sexes is that it is done on an unconscious level. We often “feel” as though something is wrong about someone but we can’t quite put our finger on it. We can’t bring our feelings to a conscious level.
Most women, when polled, actually do believe that they have a “sixth sense” or possess “women’s intuition.” Many researchers believe that women are biologically and naturally better equipped to notice things to which men are completely deaf, dumb and blind. As Anne Moir, Ph.D. wrote in her book Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women,
And when it comes to officer safety, picking up cues is what we need to be doing as we interact with others on the street. While women may have a natural advantage in this area whether honed by nature or practice, men can be just as observant if they choose to be and practice this craft. The problem with the males of the species is that they tend to ignore the less subtle cues exhibited by adversaries. And truth be told, they either ignore, or flat out miss, the obvious ones too.
But, not to just pick on the masculine gender of humanoids, the women have their own problematic tendencies. One of the most glaring is the females need to avoid hurting the feelings of others. The most dramatic example was what one female police officer said after she was severely beaten by a subject. She indicated that she “didn’t know he was a bad person” though there were numerous indications he was during the traffic stop, including the fact that he was wanted and just out of prison. Part of the problem for that officer may have been the fact that the criminal had his daughter with him. Perhaps the Officer decided that he was more of a father than a violent offender who was planning on killing the officer.
All Police Officers, but in my opinion, especially the males, absolutely need to sharpen their people reading skills. They need to understand that they are all body language and communication experts. They just don’t know it. And the reason they don’t know it is because 99% of our communication exists in our unconscious. We communicate to others and evaluate the other’s intent and meaning out of our conscious awareness. Now that doesn’t mean that this 99% is in some secret subliminal world where we can’t access it. We certainly can, we just have to take some time to understand that our unconscious rules the conscious, not the other way around.
How many times as a police officer have you gotten a feeling in the pit of your stomach while dealing with some miscreant? The feeling is so strong that in the middle of your interaction you whip the suspect around, do a pat down and come up with a weapon or drugs. It’s happened to most of us.
As a supervisor it’s interesting to listen to a very confused officer who has one in custody, a gun and drugs in his hand, and no explanation for why he did a pat down without “reasonable suspicion. I’ve had rookie officers especially, look at me in a panic and say something like, “You know Jim I just had a hunch and I was right you know, but I know a hunch ain’t good enough, but I know I was right, and look I have the proof that I was right, but I know it wasn’t technically ‘reasonable suspicion’, but I’m obviously right, he is a dirt bag, cuz’ he had these drugs and the gun, so I was right, but I’m not sure he did anything to give me, you know, reasonable suspicion, but I was right, right? I’m screwed. Do I have to give him the drugs back?”
What is interesting is that when you slow the officer down, get him to bring the unconscious to the conscious, it most often works out. All I have to do is help him bring the encounter to a conscious level and I do this by using questions. As I ask things such as, “What did he do when he saw you? Where was he looking as you spoke to him? What was he doing with his hands? How did he respond? Did he answer the questions you posed? Did he repeat questions or give half answers?”, the light bulb goes off in his head. As the interaction is replayed in the brain and verbalized the officer sees that there were an abundance of clues and his decision wasn’t made on a hunch but on keen observation. In other words it wasn’t a feeling, it was the picking up of signals.
The brain simply can’t process all of the information it is receiving at a conscious level. It trusts the unconscious to do that work. Our problem as police officers, whether male or female, is that sometimes we ignore these signs because of routine. Because of routine the unconscious is not always our friend. While it may be picking up danger signals as we deal with someone on a traffic stop, our unconscious is also aware that we may have made 1000 traffic stops in our career and no one has ever attacked us on one of them. So, traffic stops are nothing to be alarmed about and unless something is exceptionally overt, we have trained ourself to ignore the more subtle signals being communicated by our eventual attacker.
In our job we can not deny the impact of the unconscious. We, both male and female police officers, must understand the signals that we are receiving but also the signals that are being sent by our own selves. Do we communicate that we are aware of our surroundings? Do we communicate that we are victims? Or do we communicate we are professionals and in control?
The discussion about the natural abilities of men and women in law enforcement can go on forever. And it is both an interesting and necessary discussion at that. But for the individual officers working in this profession, it is necessary to understand your strengths and weaknesses, whether it be because of your gender or your individual personality, and hone the skills necessary to do this job effectively and safely. As we constantly say in the Street Survival Seminar, it is up to you, and no one else, to keep you safe.
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