Debbaudt recommends that any law enforcement agency seeking training do thorough homework first. "Ask for their course materials, as well as information on the trainer's background. Check with references. And if possible, scout a class." Ultimately, he says, an agency looking to save money must question whether the cheaper course is really the best use of time and resources.
For police departments lacking funds, Thompson recommends spending enough to send an instructor through training. "That person can then return to the department and train the rest." O'Malley agrees. "When there are in-house instructors, the training costs are minimal and agencies have the discretion when, where and how long to train," he explains. "It could be done in pieces or full sessions. There is a lot more flexibility when the agency has its own instructors." Besides, he points out, "A simple training class in de-escalation may save numerous costs in liability issues and injuries. I think the investment is a good risk when you may save millions [compared to] a few hundred or thousand dollars."
Finally, tactical communication must continue to be taught as a matter of protocol, not just as a one-time event. "Communication is a perishable skill," says Thompson. "Verbal Judo is a physical skill, because it deflects abuse." Ideally, opportunities to practice via scenarios and debriefings will be presented throughout an officer's day, as well as during in-service training; Verbal Judo instructors are required to be retrained every three years.
The RAND study notes: "An unarmed officer possessing well-honed communication skills would in many cases be a more potent law enforcement implement than an officer with poor communication skills but expert in the use of weapons. The ideal combination, and the legitimate objective of department training, is a balance between these two extremes: officers who are both skillful communicators and proficient in the use of physical assets."
Thompson puts this idea in simpler terms.
"The American eagle, as shown on the dollar bill, holds a spear in one talon and an olive branch in the other," says Thompson. "This is the image of the peace warrior—what every police officer should also reflect. However, most police training focuses only on the spear. Tactical communication training focuses on the olive branch."
Christa Miller is a freelance writer who specializes in public safety issues. She is based in southern Maine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Verbal Judo, or tactical communication as it has come to be called, allows the officer to work effectively with individuals regardless of the kind of day he is having, circumstances in his personal life, or other influences both positive and negative, says founder and president George "Doc" Thompson.
Scenario B in the introduction is one of many examples in which Verbal Judo can work for police officers. It's part of the S.A.F.E.R. 8 to 5 technique, a cornerstone tactic of Verbal Judo that can be adapted to just about any law enforcement contact — including with people who have special needs. The eight-step process works for officers making initial contact; a five-step hard-style process is for those encounters where a subject continues to resist the officer's requests. Here, the officer would step up the language of respect, including lengthier reasons — what Thompson calls professional context — for the stop.
Options provided to subjects should be based on what Thompson refers to as the greed principle, in which the officer uses whatever people have to gain or lose. "Explain how if the subject complies, he'll get to go home tonight, but if you have to arrest him, the tow will cost $300 and he'll be late for work, maybe even lose his job." This is the art of persuasion, which Thompson says blends ethical appeal with personal appeal. "First you get them to buy that you care about them. Then appeal to their sense of their best interest."
These tactics are taught in Verbal Judo courses. Learning effective tactical communication begins with professionalism, or "learning how to communicate better than the people you serve," says Thompson. This is followed by tactical theory, or the ideas behind the practice of better delivery. Finally, the tactics are taught. "We teach officers to become who they have to be to respond to a scene," Thompson explains.