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Cell stops: Best practice for making initial contact

Last week, I had the privilege to teach a Tactical Communication for the Correctional Professional Instructor Class at the Idaho Department of Corrections in Boise, Idaho. Since the Idaho DOC has been using Verbal Judo® at their facilities for years, this was both a recertification class for existing instructors and basic instructor class for new instructors.

The class was made up of experienced correctional professionals that represented mid-level managers and first line supervisors, as well as line staff members. This made it possible to take the class to a level not possible with a less experienced class.

Several innovations were made in the class that will be used in future training programs. One of these innovations was the modification of the traditional Tactical 8 Step Tactic that is used for making initial contact with subjects who are often unknown to the officer. This tactic was initially developed years ago by Dr. George Thompson of the Verbal Judo Institute for initiating traffic stops and looks like this.

  1. Greeting
  2. ID Self / Department
  3. Reason for Stop
  4. Justification for Stop
  5. Driver’s License
  6. Registration & Insurance
  7. Decision
  8. Close

Unfortunately, correctional personnel don't make a lot of traffic stops. Since they make cell stops, it makes sense to modify this tactic to take in the realities of the correctional experience. It should be noted that these changes work well for all police, correctional, and security officers who often time know their audiences and are known by them.

This modified Tactical 8 Step Tactics looks like this and can be used whether you know your contact and/or if the contact knows you. It looks like this:

  1. Appropriate greeting with name, if known
  2. Identify yourself / assignment, if unknown
  3. Explain reason for the contact
  4. Any justifiable Reason for… if needed
  5. Ask for identification if unknown / required
  6. Additional information
  7. Decision stage
  8. Appropriate close

This is how you use this modified tactic:

  1. The first step has been changed to "appropriate greeting" because all greetings are not alike. The first words out of your mouth will depend on the nature of the contact. A normal, everyday situation greeting will differ greatly from a potentially dangerous, stress filled event. Nevertheless, how you initiate contact will often determine how the rest of the contact will go. Remember, if you know your contact's name, you should use it to help establish a professional, respectful interaction.

Example: "Good morning, Mr. Jones."

  1. If you know the person that you are dealing with, there is no need to introduce yourself to them. If you don't know the individual, a police officer would normally identify his/her department to answer the question, e.g., who do you work for? In an institutional setting, if the person doesn’t know whose care and custody s/he is in, you already have some real problems. Inside an institution, a better tactic is to tell the person what your job functions is to help justify the reason for your contact.

Example:  "I am Officer Jones, the Transport Officer." This would legitimize the offier's contact since the inmate has to go to court today.

  1. You should explain the reason for your contact to answer the age old question of why you have contacted the person in the first place. This step helps to eliminate this question from subject before they come up.

Example:  "The reason I am here is to conduct a daily cell inspection that we conduct every day at this time." Notice the "daily" cell inspections that we conduct "every" day at this time.  Whenever possible or, if asked, answer questions in advance that could deal with accusations that you are picking on someone or dealing with them differently. Inquiring minds want to know – let them know first and save questions and not have to deal with negative energy later.

  1. If needed, ask if there is any justifiable reason for the person for doing what s/he is doing. People want to tell their side of the story and will waste valuable time doing so if you don't give them the chance to do so first. Ask them first and control the contact.

Example: "Is there any justifiable reason that you didn’t take your medication when the nurse first issued it to you?" Although you may not be able to think of one, there may be a reason. If there is a justifiable reason, you want to know it before you get in an argument over the hoarded medication.

  1. If the person is known, there is no reason to ask for identification unless identification is required in a certain situation such as an inmate being required to show you his ID wrist band or ID badge.

Example: "Since I am new to this unit, I don’t think that we have met before, may I ask your name and could I see you ID wrist band?"  Notice that you request (ask) for him to identify himself and to show you his ID wrist band. Start out with a request because it makes cooperation for the subject easier. You can always go to commands later but the light touch does help to "generate voluntary compliance."

  1. If you need additional information, it is now the time to request it. Some staff members like to ask the inmate this question, "How are you doing today?" This is where this question fits – not in the introduction. “How are you doing today?" is a very personal and potentially explosive question. Ask it after you have set the stage for a professional Respectful contact – not at the beginning of the contact when you are still feeling out the person and the contact could very rapidly go bad.
  1. Once you have as much information as you can get, it is time to make a decision on how to handle this situation.
  1. The nature of the contact will dictate the type of closing that is required. Obviously, the appropriate close should be based on your decision – a negative contact will dictate a much difference closing than a positive one.

The instructor / student interaction in this class made it possible to further clarify just how the correctional (institutional) environment requires a modification of the traditional police traffic stop based Tactical 8 Step Pattern.

Our thanks to the Idaho Department of Corrections for helping the Verbal Judo Institute better serve its correctional and institutional professionals.

For more information about the Verbal Judo Institute’s Tactical Communication for the Correctional Professional Training Program access www.VerbalJudo.com

Also, check out this ASLET article on Verbal Judo.

About the author

Gary has been involved for over fifteen years in the development of both training & duty trauma protective equipment. He is currently employed by PoliceOne.com as a Use-of-Force subject matter expert, researcher, program developer, and training specialist where he continues to provide tactical communication skills and defensive tactics training. His collaboration with the Force Science Research Center, Team One Network, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Verbal Judo Institute, and Purposeful Development Associates allows him to bring the most current tactical and instructional insights into his training programs. He is the lead instructor for Verbal Judo's Tactical Communication for the Correctional Professional training program.

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