Another well-known training program, Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB), emphasizes empathy in much the same way that Verbal Judo does.
"We try to use empathic listening and statements, meaning we emphasize to officers to try and [act] as if they were in the same situation," says Michael O'Malley, president of Personal Protection Consultants Inc. Training. "Not all circumstances allow for this with extremely violent people; however, our approach may be a somewhat more compassionate method. If there is a need for further escalation, we emphasize more assertive measures. Some of the programs rely on a more defensive posture from the beginning."
MOAB training details signs that officers can use to predict where an encounter is going, including the stages of conflict and how to manage it, body language, cornering and listening. These are taught with regard not only to the subject, but also to the officer. For instance, as O'Malley explains: "When we corner people they will fight twice as hard compared to [those] not being cornered. Officers make five cornering mistakes when approaching people: angular, contact, surround, exit and psychological. Many times officers and the individuals they are trying to control are injured because of cornering practices."
A subject's verbal and non-verbal cues go hand in hand with the officer's training and experience to help determine the direction of an encounter. "Just because someone is being verbally aggressive does not mean that they are going physical," O'Malley explains. "I believe some of the philosophies being taught in the academies and other training disciplines do not emphasize this enough and officers automatically assume it is going physical. That is where we differ from other programs. We go into detail about recognizing, reducing and managing anxious and/or aggressive behavior. We try to build officers' confidence in dealing with those situations. By predicting the behavior, the officer has a better chance for it to come to a safe and successful conclusion."When tactical communication fails
The key to tactical communication is that, as Thompson explains, it comes from practitioners — not universities. That's important because, as O'Malley points out, "MOAB can be used in any potential or violent situation; however, not all situations can be de-escalated without using physical control. Some people communicate by getting physical, and that will not be avoided. Some medical problems do restrict the successful use of MOAB like any other similar program because the person may not be of right mind."
Verbal Judo teaches the S.A.F.E.R. technique. An officer must revise priorities if a subject:
- Threatens the security of others, or property in the officer's control.
- Threatens the officer's personal safety.
- Engages in excessive repetition, trying to engage the officer in a game of "who's right" rather than be persuaded to comply.
Anyone can use Verbal Judo, says Thompson; however, not everyone can learn it: "Bullies don't want to learn it," he explains. "They can be turned, but it's difficult."
Fragile egos are too weak to project the kind of strength needed to deflect verbal attacks and help people. "The police are there to think for you the way you would under better conditions," says Thompson. "But they have to be strong enough to do that to begin with."