NYPD’s New Strategy for Dealing with Stressful Interactions, Absurd or Realistic?

I have been reading up on the new retraining program for the NYPD. It advices “Cops should take a deep breath’’ — and close their eyes — when dealing with angry people. If you feel like cursing…take a breath mint. It just might help you from using foul language. Hell I would need a case of breath mints per week and probably dozens of mints a day, as foul language is part of my everyday language. I do not use foul language in an abusive way but I use it often. The exception is kids. It’s been part of who I am for most of my adult life. And no it’s not my parents fault. Perhaps the Marine Corps!!! Ok, OK! My cursing is my fault. With all seriousness, my cursing has helped me de-escalate more situations as a police officer than it has escalated and I mean by far. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in treating most people with dignity and respect, but if you know when to curse and when not to curse it can definitely be beneficial, especially in dealing with those folks who curse a bit themselves, as they see you as having something in common with, them. It actually helps you build a rapport. Obviously if you’re at the woman’s club, church bingo game or on school grounds you may want to real your foul mouth in or you will decay rapport. Simply put I do not see a problem using foul language when the situation calls for it. People curse at the police and police use foul language as part of our culture. As police we need to understand foul language. It has clear meanings, such as intent, a challenge, disgust, contempt etc. and absolutely effects our and our adversary’s orientation. Trying to tell cops not to curse or worse yet to ignore others using obscenities towards them, quite frankly tells me we have little understanding of human nature and therefore how to deal with emotionally charged people effectively.

Deep breathing or combat breathing has always been part of police training. Col Dave Grossman has been teaching it for years in his seminars and it’s valuable in helping cops stay mentally calm, under pressure. When you are mentally calm you are more able to make sound tactical decisions.

They said if you find yourself in a situation that’s getting heated, take a step back, close your eyes and take a deep breath,” “That’s pretty funny — that I would close my eyes in a tense situation.”

The closing your eyes bit does not make too much sense to me because you can combat breath with your eyes wide open. I highly recommend you adapt and breathe with your eyes open. The baby oil piece of this equation, I plead ignorance. I have no clue because it makes everyone slippery not just the protestors.

“Be nice”

My understanding is that a clip from the 1989 film Roadhouse as part of the training. In the scene, Swayze — playing a tough-guy bouncer, Dalton — teaches his goons at the rowdy bar Double Deuce how to handle unruly customers.

First, he spells out three rules, with the third being simply, “Be nice.”

“If somebody gets in your face and calls you a c–ksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you, and you’ll both be nice,” he says. “I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.”

 

When another bouncer in a cut-off plaid shirt asks if “being called a c–ksucker isn’t personal,” Swayze responds: “its two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.”

“Well, what if somebody calls my mama a whore?” the other bouncer asks.

 

“Is she?” Swayze answers to chuckles from the group.

 

The scene also includes Swayze’s most important message: “I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”

I don’t have too much of a problem with the movie clip being used in training. It is simply trying to illustrate the importance of not controlling our emotions. Note I did not say to be void of emotions. Just control them. Knowing when to fight and when not to fight takes the ability to stay mentally calm and that takes practice. It take developing our emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence and the core competencies EI discusses are involved in this game of human performance, decision making, problem solving and team building as well. We are feeling beings, who think, and hence we must spend time learning to control our emotions. Some of the core competencies of emotional intelligence are;

Self-awareness, without self-awareness, leaders cannot understand their emotions and the impact they have on the decisions they make or the effect they have on the people around them.

Self-management, means displaying honesty and trustworthiness to those with whom one interacts, being adaptable to changing situations, and having a readiness to take action when an opportunity arises.

Social awareness, With respect to social awareness, the most important component is empathy (i.e. that ability to sense the emotions of others, understand their point of view, and take a genuine interest in their concerns).

Relationship management is the ability to influence and persuade, and to provide feedback and guidance. Good relationship management is demonstrated by a capacity to initiate and manage change, and resolve disagreements.

I have long been a believer in police developing emotional intelligence and better social skills. Social skills; the ability, to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, the use of communication skills, and the art of listening, allow us to more effectively interact with people in a way that helps police develop more information about the ongoing situation and are then capable of reshaping the situation. “They want you to stop and think about everything before you do anything, but a lot of times cops have to make a split-second decision, and they don’t have the luxury of stopping and thinking,” Cops believe if they come on strong and take control of a situation they are less apt to be assaulted. Not necessarily! In the vast majority of cases even escalating situations police can use the strategic game of interaction to help them gain the advantage and win without fighting. Not always but more often than most cops, believe.

“To be kind does not mean to be passive. To be compassionate does not mean to allow others to walk all over you, to allow yourself to be destroyed. You have to protect yourself and protect others. If you need to lock someone up because he is dangerous, then you have to do that. But you have to do it with compassion. Your motivation is to prevent that person from continuing his course of destruction and from feeding his anger.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn

Words are powerful. I believe that to be true. Words have caused more violence than any push or shove. But I also believe it’s not the words you use alone that cause the problem BUT instead how they are used. Your words alone account for only 7% of overall communication, while how you say what you say, your pitch, pace, volume, and emotion account for 38% of our overall communication. While non-verbal communication, things like eye contact, postures, gestures and facial expressions account for 55 % of overall communication. It’s important as we interact with people to be aware of verbal and non-verbal communication, both yours and theirs.

Col John Boyd has important insights in his briefing titled; The Strategic Game of ?and? “Interaction permits vitality and growth while isolation leads to decay and disintegration. The point of interaction is to shape or influence the moralmentalphysical atmosphere that we are a part of, live in, and feed upon so that we not only magnify our inner spirit and strength, but also influence potential adversaries and current adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success; yet be able to Morallymentallyphysically isolate our adversaries from their allies and outside support as well as isolate them from one another, in order to: magnify their internal friction, produce paralysis, bring about their collapse; and/or bring about a change in their political/economic/social philosophy so that they can no longer inhibit our vitality and growth.”

As we interact we must pay close attention to what’s being said (verbal) and done (non-verbal). Our strategy is to do that which persuades an individual or group of individuals to do what we want them to do. Meanwhile, understanding in all likelihood our opponents are trying to enforce a similar program on us. Interaction helps to build harmony and trust and harmony and trust once built, helps to reshape and de-escalate the situation. In short people begin to see your point of view and come around to our way of thinking. Through the interactive process they are persuaded to voluntarily de-escalate and comply.

Understanding de-escalation is an Interactive process where the goals are to guide an individual to a calmer state of mind and get to solution based thinking is a powerful tactic to employ. Establishing and facilitating mutual interpersonal communication that does not compromise safety is the focus of our efforts as we interact. It allows us to build rapport with a person in order to decrease behaviors that may result in physical confrontation and instead Increase the safety of all persons at the scene. Verbal De-escalation tactics adds tools to an officer’s toolbox.. De-escalation techniques are not meant to replace officer defensive tactical training, quite frankly de-escalation techniques have always been and will always be part of any sound tactical options.

Cops always lose sight of tactical realities when the talk goes to de-escalation techniques. After all the mental side of sound tactical decision making is not dressed in black or camouflage and does not have that distinct sexy sound of Velcro being ripped off. They think it’s weak and wrapped full of political correctness. Sadly they are in too many cases correct, as all too often these sound tactics have been taught half-heartedly and separate from all the other critical skills necessary in dealing with conflict and crisis. Maintaining officer safety and environmental safety in crisis situations is paramount and always should be. Combining strength with all the arts of persuasion, guided by superior information can we have strategic success of winning on the moral, mental and physical dimensions? Winning at low cost for police is all about balancing persuasion and force.

It has been said, “The police in our time are full of fear, anger, and stress, because they have been assaulted many times. Those who hate the police and insult them don’t understand the police yet. I the start of their shifts when the police put on their uniform and guns, they are not sure that they will return home alive in the evening. The police suffer very much. Their families suffer very much. They don’t enjoy beating people. They don’t enjoy shooting people. But because they do not know how to handle the blocks of fear, suffering, and violence in them, they also can become victims of society like other people.”

The news articles I have read said 80 percent of the cops going through the NYPD training program gave it negative reviews and have called the training a waste of time. “It’s three days, it’s boring and there’s no real tactics,” “They’re not putting them in scenarios.” Unrealistic parts of education and training, like baby oil, breathe mints and close your eyes as you’re face to face with an adversary can kill a program fast and furiously. Lecture only can kill a program. It sounds like that’s what’s happening here. We police facilitators should be experimenting first with our thoughts and ideas for training. We should also be relying more on the case study method and experiential learning which is based off the ancient Chinese Proverb; Tell me - I forget. Show me - I remember. Let me do - I understand.

Stay Oriented!

Fred