6 tips for dealing with difficult suspects
An unfortunate reality of police work is that inevitably you’re going to find yourself dealing with obnoxious people (no kidding, right?!). The other reality is that if you don’t do so in controlled, calculated and professional manner you can find yourself in a heap of trouble. Easy to do? Nope…especially in some situations. But as a professional law enforcement officer, it’s what you must do.
Here are a few tips for helping to prepare yourself for the moment when a suspect pushes your buttons.
1. Don’t take it personally.
This can be extremely challenging, but it’s crucial. Remember that many individuals—like it or not--view you as a “law enforcement officer”, not a “person.” Generally, obnoxious behavior fired off in your direction is aimed at the badge and what you represent, not at you personally. Even if you do know the suspect you’re dealing with, he will most likely know nothing about you as “John Smith, the good dad, husband, little league coach and all around nice guy,” nor will he care. He knows that you’re a cop, and that’s enough for him. If he’s firing off venomous comments or acting in an obnoxious fashion, don’t take it personally. Taking personal offense will only pressurize the situation.
2. Add “I will refrain from…” to your “when/then” thinking exercises.
Typically, when/then thinking is applied to situations like gunfights and other direct physical attacks:“When a suspect jumps out of a car and starts firing at me, then I will…”
Remember to apply that to other scenarios as well, like “When a suspect starts swearing at me and calling me an asshole and talking about how ‘cops are just a bunch of doughnut-eating blah, blah, blahs’, then I will…”
Then add “AND I will refrain from…” to the mix.
By doing this, you’ll be more prepared to act promptly, professionally and in a controlled fashion that’s in line with departmental policy, the law and professional common sense.
3. Be aware of your stress level and prepare yourself accordingly.
Everybody has bad days…days when it wouldn’t take much for you to just stand there and yell at the world. That’s understandable and human. However, it can also be dangerous if you’re a cop. If you know you’re running at about two seconds away from launching on the next guy who even looks at you funny, take steps to decompress and make sure that you don’t put yourself in an avoidable situation that could light your fuse. If some guy is being obnoxious and other officers clearly have the situation under control, don’t stand there increasing the boil. Step away for a little while. It could save your career.
4. Take proactive steps that can reduce stress.
You’ve heard about these stress-busters before, but they bear frequent repeating: Eat right. Work out to help burn off stress-related chemicals. Stay in shape. Get enough sleep. Talk to someone if something’s weighing on your mind. Leave your personal baggage in your car when it’s time to go on shift. If there are stressful things in your life you can eliminate, do it.
There are unique risks involved for police officers when it comes to controlling stress. If you’re consistently finding yourself just barely able to keep from boiling over, take action…don’t just figure it will blow over with time.
5. Be ready to help defuse other officers if necessary and let them know that it’s OK for them to defuse you.
Have you thought about what you’re going to do if a fellow officer loses it on a suspect? Do you watch for signs that an officer might be coming close to the boiling point and have you rehearsed how you’re going to help prevent a blow-out? If not, you should. It’s also important to let fellow officers know that if they ever see you in danger of getting close to blowing a fuse, it’s OK–and requested–that they let you know.
6. Take action when it’s justified.
You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—stand there and take a barrage of verbal or other abuse. Dealing with obnoxious people in a controlled fashion doesn’t mean just standing by and taking it. Know your rights and responsibilities as a police officer and take appropriate action to control an obnoxious person when warranted.