By Sgt. David L. Ferrante
Parma, Ohio Police Department
As the weather breaks and summer approaches, we need to be mindful of what we say and how we say it. We all know that warmer temperatures correlate to an increase in a police officer’s contacts and exposure. Let’s spring-clean our vocabulary and our image.
Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk
Unfortunately, our natural body language and natural voice will solicit complaints from the public we serve. We are on-stage everyday that we lace up our boots and head out on patrol. A long time ago, Chief Patrick Oliver (Ret.), an instructor at academies across Ohio, told my class of police recruits, “For every one person you see, fifty will see you.” In this era of video phones and YouTube links, thousands may see and hear you.
What does this mean? Be aware of your tone of voice and your body language. Tone is more important than the content of what you say. As a police officer, you should politely influence people everyday. There is a time and a place to raise the intensity of your delivery. According to Dr George Thompson, founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, 93 percent of successful communication is delivery style.
A warm smile, a helpful demeanor, and an open stance (not a bladed tactical stance) is useful when giving directions or taking a report from a victim. Those are our voters, witnesses and jurors so treat them with respect and with genuine concern. We need them on our side. Some experts call it “selling” while others say it is “acting.” Regardless of what you call it, professionalism is keeping your temper in check while accomplishing your mission. Conveying a positive image will yield you and your department big dividends.
I know it’s hard to be pleasant all the time but try. Surviving the streets is more than maintaining your fitness and shooting skills. We hone those skills; we should hone our personalities. Ask your colleagues and family to evaluate you honestly. Be prepared, you may not like what you hear but learn from what they say and make adjustments.
Empathy is Strength
When you are handling a volatile situation, remember to be empathic. You will not be perceived as weak. Remaining calm and understanding another’s state of mind will bring the agitated person to a more comfortable level. Remember to ask better questions. You are now part of that person’s situation. Ask these types of questions, “How can I help here?” or “What can I do to resolve this for you?” These are good open-ended questions.
Avoid the knee-jerk reactionary questions such as, “What’s your problem?” or “What do you want me to do about it?” You are a professional police officer and are capable of handling problems and managing crisis. Police officers, regardless of their formal education, are masters of common sense. Take a moment before you respond to think about your words. Use your common sense skills that got you hired and you will be successful.