"Verbal Judo" Dispatched In Lakewood

"Verbal Judo" Dispatched In Lakewood: Program aims to improve communications

LAKEWOOD — A day spent verbally sparring in the classroom yesterday afternoon will ultimately help new Lakewood police officers, the department and the community, according to James Shanahan, an instructor with the Verbal Judo Institute. He is also an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The institute, which has taught more than 100,000 police officers throughout the country learn communication skills over the past two decades, was brought to Lakewood by its new director of Public Safety, Alfred D. Peters. Lakewood is the first municipal police department in Ocean County to use the program, he added.

It was taught at the State Police academy in Sea Girt, where Peters was commandant.

He said Verbal Judo was a communications skill being offered to his nine probationary police officers, their training officers and supervisors.

"We are giving them another tool for the toolbox, to reach in and use it when they need it," he said.

"It's based on an old policing philosophy. I've known a lot of police officers and their greatest skill was communication," he said. "Over the years that's been lost. We're trying to bring it back.

"People are afraid to engage in conversation," he added. "That's how you are going to find out what's going on."

The $2,000 cost for the program will be insignificant when considered in light of what it will accomplish, said Shanahan.

The goals of the program are to reduce the number of civil complaints against the police, decrease the number of lawsuits from those complaints, enhance safety and reduce the stress level police officers experience at work.

It also aims to raise the level of professionalism in the department and increase safety awareness.

"It is a communication curriculum matching up Eastern and Western philosophy as it relates to conflict resolution for law enforcement," Shanahan said.

Effective communication is a component that is missing in today's police academies, he added.

"I have worked with cops in my career who could talk a dog off a meat wagon," he said. While it was not his intent to pass along that skill yesterday, he did want to arm the probationary patrolmen with a tactical skill set that would generate voluntary compliance by offenders in a confrontation.

Shanahan used a concept he called "entertrainment" to teach the lessons of Verbal Judo.

"It is the nexus of training and entertainment," he said.

Rebecca Torosian Guzman, a New York City actress, accompanied Shanahan and performed the part of a distraught woman caught up in different scenarios. The probationary patrolmen had to deal with her using methods they learned in the day's training.

"Practice makes permanent," he told them. "Under stress you'll fall back on your training."

He taught there are eight steps police should follow in a traffic stop:

  • the greeting;
  • identify yourself and your department;
  • tell the reason why you are stopping the person;
  • ask if there is any reason why the person violated the law;
  • ask for the person's driver's license;
  • ask for the car's registration;
  • make a decision about your course of action;
  • close the encounter.
He said there are situations where that course of action must be abandoned, such as whenever there is danger to the police officer, the people or property under his or her control or whenever a suspect is fleeing a scene.

"I think it will definitely make better communications," said police Sgt. James Van de Zilver during a break in training.

He said many of the things being taught he learned on the job over the past 10 years. But there were new things he learned, too.

"I assumed people knew right off that we were police, but there is justification in telling people that," he said. "We are able to control the situation by taking that initiative and by explaining why we stopped them."

"A class like this could be good for the public, too," he said. "They would learn there are steps we take and why we do them."

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