3 ways showing respect can advance your investigation

Failing to show respect to people may prevent you from getting information essential to your investigation


Showing respect is one of the most powerful tools we can use in our effort to establish a rapport and obtain cooperation from victims, witnesses, and suspects during investigative interviews and interrogations.

Everyone wants respect from others — from the poorest person sleeping on the street to the most powerful person in society. What is respect? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines respect as “A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious or valuable and should be treated in an appropriate way.” Treating a person with respect is to show deference to them, their family and their way of life.

As a law enforcement officer, wherever you go you are in charge — people are required to obey lawful orders of a police officer. We do not have time to explain or argue with a person in an emergency. In an emergency, time is of the essence. Unfortunately, some officers carry that “I’m in charge” attitude with them in all their dealings with the public. This attitude is disrespectful to others, and can be detrimental to the investigator getting the information they need to complete the investigation.

There is a quote which is useful here: “To get respect, give respect.” So, how do we show respect to others? Here are a few recommendations.

1. Use proper manners.
Growing up, my parents taught me the basics of courtesy and respect when speaking to others, using words such as: please, thank you, yes ma’am or sir, no ma’am or sir. Until invited to use a person’s first name, address them by their last name with the appropriate title (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., military rank, etc.). Doing this verbally shows respect.

2. Ask for permission.
When you want to enter, search or speak to people ask for permission when possible. This has a dual purpose; it shows respect and avoids disputes later. Here are some examples:

May I speak to you about…?

May I look in your car/house?

May I come into your house?

Permission is an important issue in some cultures. If you want to talk to a member of a person’s family, ask for permission. If you speak to a wife, child or other member of the family without permission, certain cultures can sometimes dictate that they are not to speak without permission of the head of the family. Ask the head of the family if you can speak to the wife, child or other family member. It shows respect to the family leader and the culture. Some officers argue we are not required to ask permission. True, but failing to do so may prevent you from getting information essential to your investigation.

3. Demonstrate value for culture and leaders.
The United States is a melting pot of cultures. Many people have brought their culture, customs and beliefs with them. Be familiar with the cultures in your area and show respect. When entering a Holy ground for the culture, respect the rules and apologize when you make a mistake — it shows that you want to give respect to their culture.

Most groups of people have a leader, whether formal or informal. This goes for churches, businesses, gangs, or neighborhoods. Showing respect to these leaders will build a rapport with the leader and through the leader of the group.

A Real-World Example
In one instance, there was a small, low income neighborhood occupied by the normal mix of people — some with regular jobs, others on government assistance, and others involved in a variety of criminal activity.

In this neighborhood was an individual referred to as “Redbone.” He had received the name because of his reddish brown completion and red hair. He was the leader of a drug dealing organization and was considered the defacto leader and controlling force of the neighborhood. People would not talk to the police nor go against Redbone’s wishes for fear of reprisal.

In several instances where drug cases had been made in the neighborhood, law enforcement had to proceed with caution. In fact, there had been several occasions where officers tried to make arrests and found themselves fighting a neighborhood.

I was working a case regarding the molestation and rape of a 12-year-old girl. The perpetrator was an adult male in his thirties, living in the neighborhood. There was a possibility he may work for Redbone. I was advised that I would have to battle the neighborhood to make the arrest and ultimately the victim and any witnesses would not cooperate.

Knowing that the sexual assault of a child was frowned upon even by most criminals, I took my case directly to Redbone. I informed him that I was not there about any of his activities. I was there regarding the molestation and rape of a 12-year-old girl that lived in the neighborhood. I explained the case and asked that his people not interfere in the arrest.

The person I needed to arrest was actually in the crowd gathered in front of Redbone’s house where we were talking. Redbone thought for a few moments and told me to go ahead and make the arrest. He then pointed to the perpetrator and motioned him to my car. I walked over to the subject, put the cuffs on and made the arrest. At the same time, Redbone announced to the crowd not to bother us as we went to the car. He explained the arrestee had raped a 12-year-old girl. No one bothered us and we made our case.

In this case, the respect I afforded to Redbone was returned and the arrest was made without incident.

Respect works.

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