Maintaining Mental Calmness and Not Losing Our Cool

During a fight a soldier must keep his ability to think. He must not allow fear or anger to control his actions. ~U.S. Army Field Manual Combative’s

When we deal with individuals in our world, it’s often in conflicting situations that place a great deal of stress upon officers and the individuals we attempt to control. This control can be gained by simple verbal direction and compliance to a custody situation where a person’s freedom is temporarily removed.

During these engagements words are frequently exchanged between officer and subject that can lead to violence. The old adage of “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me” sounds nice in teaching restraint, but the truth is that words are powerful-- often so powerful they result in a violent response.

As law enforcement and security professionals it is imperative that we maintain our composure during these exchanges and keep mentally calm.

Scenario: You are in the station assisting in the booking process of a subject who just committed a domestic violence offense. You were the arresting officer and saw the subject’s wife, whose teeth were protruding through her bottom lip from the punch she received from the man that supposedly loves her. Your initial gut feeling and thought is “please resist” as you stare at the perpetrator. He picks up on the non-verbal queues you are giving and starts running his tongue all the way to the booking room.

You are extremely frustrated at listening to this guy talk about why his wife of 10 years deserved what happened to her and how he tried to tell her to stop nagging. You suddenly lose your cool and tell him “you coward and woman beating @##hole, try that on me.” He stops talking for a second and backs away a few feet and then tells you, “I will try it on your wife and your kids, I know where you live. You think you can take me out of my home and then give me lectures, you @#$%ing @##hole.

The rage and emotion builds up to a boiling point and what you learned growing up and in training “NEVER BE DISRESPECTED” is bouncing around in your thoughts. You know that allowing disrespect can be perceived as weakness.  You snap and begin to push and begin to push, shove which leads to punching the subject. Now the good guy is on the receiving end of an internal investigation which will likely cost you your job.

Staying Mentally Calm

How do we stay calm and defuse this type of all too often seen scenarios? The first step is simple to say, but takes hard work to accomplish…NEVER GET ANGRY! That is never get, out of control angry.

The first lesson in doing this is in learning to never take things personally. The people we deal with on the street are not our loved ones and what they have to say personally towards us should have no effect emotionally on us. I know this goes against all we have been taught about don’t let people disrespect you etc. This sounds great, in the normal world in day to day goings on, however in our world, a world in which we deescalate violence, regular people rules do not apply. We are professionals who resolve conflict and this takes a special breed of person who understands conflict and violence, its cause and effects and its give and take upon victims, perpetrators and ourselves.

Stop trying to prove yourself: There is a constant expectation that a cop must prove himself on a consistent basis. This constant feeling of proving you are capable of doing this job can be brought to unhealthy levels where ego becomes so powerful, it controls our every move. What will my brother and sister officer think if I allow this guy to talk trash? How will they perceive me? Will I be the brunt of jokes in the squad room? This is all peer pressure and B.S.

Instead proving yourself should come from consistently doing your job in a effective way. A way that shows a balanced approach to how you deal with others and the results you get. Most people dealt with, will require simple verbal directions, some will require debate and negotiation. A small percentage will require strong language and physical actions to gain control.  Your approach and tactics should be based on the situation and not on living your law enforcement life based on the opinion of others. Do what you know is to be the right thing and let no emotion or false sense of manhood control this decision.

When we have a better understanding of violence (adversarial and friendly side) then we are able, through hard work and training to control our emotions in a heated and emotional exchange.

Some tactics to avoid losing your cool

Walk away- When you feel yourself getting emotionally charged, go write a report. Get another officer to cover the booking officer and you go redirect your attention on more pressing issues.

Contact and cover- The contact cover principle is a tactic used to stay safe in the field during encounters, it can also be used in this setting where our fellow officer is becoming emotionally charged. If you are the cover officer and you observe the contact officer getting heated, step in and either switch roles or get another officer to cover. Our goal is protect one another this also applies to an officer override in a situation where our partner is losing his cool. Failure to intervene can cost all involved or their careers. Strength of character and doing what is right is key here.

Do not verbally spar- Sparring with a subject, to show who is in control is futile and unprofessional. We take control by our actions not by the jib-jab coming from our mouths. Language used to gain compliance should be our goal, not language used to prove your smarter or better than the guy in cuffs. You should know who is in control just by who is standing on what side of the booking room desk. Verbal sparring will only intensify emotions and the potential for violence.

Mental calmness comes from within and being self aware. To be effective at controlling emotions one must consistently train. Training can take place in conflict resolution and other workshops, but even more critical and effective is positive self-talk and conditioning our own minds not to REACT to words. Instead use a strategic and tactical mindset and words to gain compliance and control. If you want to challenge or prove yourself show it in your ability and effectiveness at controlling your own emotions and individuals by using de-escalation techniques balanced by your ability to escalate when condition change and more powerful words and physical force may be necessary.

We are professionals and hence cannot be going around handling people like we are in a school yard fight, chest pumped up, posturing, trying to prove we are king of the hill. That attitude and approach just may get you killed at the worst and out of work at the least.

We have a tough job to do and at times we will get emotional. Lean on one another and lets show our abilities based on skill and the positive attributes we possess to make sound decisions.  Stay the course and do what we know how to do…only better!

Stay Oriented!

Fred