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Peace warrior-defender: Philosophy & tactics, Part I

Part I: What we don’t teach, but should
Part I of a 2-part series

By Dr. George Thompson
President and founder of the Verbal Judo Institute

As I read one incident after another about police officers saying or doing the wrong things, I’m reminded that there are reasons why they do this, some of which reflect on the level and breadth of the instruction they’ve received. Without wishing to attack what we teach in the law enforcement training academies across the country, I want to suggest there is an entire area that we do not teach but should — in fact, must. If we want our officers to be community-oriented, peace-making forces, we must teach them a philosophy and a set of tactics that enable them to make a difference peaceably.

The philosophy for which I’ve long advocated can be summed up as follows: People are safer because of our presence. A Peace Officer must “walk the walk and talk the talk” of peace, not conflict. Put another way, each officer must exude, by their presence and their delivery: There will be no violence where I walk.

Where do law enforcement officers learn such an approach? Definitely not from American movies, from Clint Eastwood and Steven Segal to Denzel Washington in American Gangster. Not from the general American culture where a “never back up, take no crap” philosophy dominates. And not from most families, social groups or athletic teams. Peace- keeping is just not stressed.

Using Peace Stories

The reality is that the law enforcement community — and especially law enforcement instructors — need to foster a unique “Peace Warrior-Defender” ethos for our culture. For police, this can start in the training academies, where, at present, the currency tends to be war stories, a reservoir of examples of force well-used. I argue that instructors should also introduce “peace stories,” meaning, stories showing officers peaceably solving street problems — examples of the power of the word well-used. These techniques would instill recruits with a mindset that words can and do work most of the time when skillfully employed.

Five ways to assist officers in developing into a Peace Warrior-Defender and include:

  1. Introduce the concept and importance of peace stories.
  2. Learn how to use peace language to soften resistance.
  3. Learn how to help people save personal face.
  4. Learn how to close encounters on a positive note.
  5. Learn how to skillfully interrupt a person when necessary.

Watch some examples of Peace Stories (videos) on Police1

Indeed, this is the truth of the streets, but rarely suggested or articulated in our training! My own research shows that non-verbal and verbal interaction is 97-98% of all police work, and the latest IACP report suggested it was as high as 99.5%, yet where is our training to handle the job this way? Uses of force, from escort/ compliance holds all the way through deadly force, account for a maximum of 1-3% of what we do as officers, and yet most of our training is on that 1-3 %, with a bare minimum given to verbal and non-verbal instruction! In far too many departments, instructors are lucky if they can get eight hours total for such instruction, and often much of that is unrelated to teaching officers verbal tactics.

In many academies over the years, indeed, we have taught, knowingly or unknowingly, that words don’t work. Especially older officers can think of the scenarios we went through — most all made us physically react. Rarely was a solution verbal. And over the years that has not much changed.

In Verbal Judo/Tactical Communication (Tac Com), by contrast, we present as many as 30 Peace Stories that illustrate how and why verbalization can work to minimize violence and generate voluntary compliance. Students are taught to “make it happen” the peaceable way. Scores of videos show officers talking people down using verbal and non-verbal tactics.

Using Peace Language

Along with a reservoir of Peace Stories, officers should be taught Peace Language (PL), which, as I have defined in earlier articles, is language, shaped to soften another’s resistance level. By its nature, it is just the opposite of Natural Language (NL). Contrast such statements as, “Can you go along with the program today?” (PL) with “Do it or else!” (NL). The first allows the subject to save personal face in front of others even while complying: “Yeah, maybe today, but don’t count on it every day,” for example.

If you get a chance, read my longer article on it Talking the Talk of Peace.

So we have now two things that need to be taught: Peace Stories and Peace Language.

Helping people save personal face

Here’s another: How to help people save personal face so they can comply with the officer! One example is how we speak, as in the above instance. Another method is the “Cut & Herd” (or “Divide and Conquer”) tactic. Yes, we do address this whenever we teach officers contact and cover strategies. We also try to teach officers to separate people before giving orders or directions so they can save face. Officers who bark orders at people in front of family, for instance, make it almost impossible for the subject to comply. “Sit down!,” shouted at someone in his own home is likely to be met with verbal, if not physical, resistance. I, for one, would not sit for anyone who spoke rudely to me in front of my wife or children. My response might be, “It’s my living room, you sit!” Had the officer instead taken me to one side and asked me, I would have sat. Note here the peace phrase, “Could I ask you to sit?” coupled with the separation tactic, makes my cooperation almost guaranteed.

Another peace phrase that helps people save personal face is, “Thanks for doing what you were asked.” We require people to do much that is embarrassing, often in front of family and friends — we search them, we bend them over, make them sit down, spread eagle etc. — and nothing takes the sting out of such public embarrassment as this phrase. One doesn’t have to say it, but when you do you soften the others’ resistance and make your next meeting with him perhaps less hostile, hence safer — all good for you the officer.

Closing the encounter on a positive note

Where do teach officers how to “leave people better than you found them at their worst”?

If officer safety — going home at night — is really our most important goal why do we not routinely teach how to soften others up for our next encounter with them? If we leave people angry and embarrassed, they are more difficult, even more dangerous the next time! Further, such people see nothing, hear nothing and know nothing the next time they are asked by the police. Insult not only strengthens resistance, it cuts information and field intelligence. I tell officers there is no situation in which this principle cannot be applied, even if you had to fight the person. To suggest, for example, “Hey, next time let’s talk; violence is no good for either of us” is to almost guarantee a better encounter with him next time because it was you who suggested fighting was not necessary!

Note, only the Peace Officer can suggest “Let’s not fight” and only gain in prestige and credibility. Everyone else in almost every culture would lose personal face even to suggest it. We are paid, if you think about, to say that sentence over and over — yet where is that taught? Where in the academies is that even suggested?

How to skillfully make an interruption

So, officers should be taught how to close a street encounter. It’s an art. So is skillfully making an interruption. Where do we teach officers how to interrupt without causing greater resistance? We don’t!

Often we must interrupt people, both on the phone — 911 calls for example — or on calls for service. Every officer should know that the phrase, “Excuse me, let me be sure I heard what you just said,” shuts people up immediately. Why? Because you are about to express their ideas (not yours) and no one listens harder than they do to their own ideas! Indeed, the more the other thinks you won’t get it, the harder they listen to prove it! In Judo terms, you have just used the other’s negative energy — you wouldn’t understand — to make them better listeners!

Officers do not have to sound ‘touchy-feely’ here either, as this phrase has countless variations, all of which work:

  • “Whoa, let me see if I got that. . .”
  • “Let me be sure I heard you. . .”
  • “Let me see if we are on the same page here. . .”

When this “sword of interruption” is used, people quiet down and the officer takes control of the verbal encounter. Moreover, it makes the officer sound and look like he or she is trying to understand the other, a crucial projection for nothing has a more calming influence than this perception! The officer now can employ tactical paraphrase and control the direction of the verbal encounter.

Interrupting others is one skill, but so is handling someone when they interrupt you.Too often officers, engaged in a police call, are quick to bark at anyone who tries to interrupt them, possibly losing crucial intel and angering people in the area. Once, when I was 18, I tried to interrupt two officers who were investigating a hit and run. I had seen the ‘get away’ car and wanted to share that information. I said, “Excuse me,” and one officer turned and barked, “Butt out, we’re busy!” So, being 18, I did, and walked on, vowing never again would I try to help a cop.

A simple phrase like, “Is this an emergency, Sir?” would have got me to say “yes” or “no,” and the officer could then have either listened or said, “Be with you in a moment, busy now, but will listen when able!” It’s natural to be irritated by an interruption; it is tactical to handle it well. And in our work, you never know when good information may come from the strangest places.

To summarize, then, there are five specific things we can do today to help officers evolve into Peace Warrior Defenders:

  1. Give them a well spring of Peace Stories or examples that will help shape their street responses.
  2. Train them in the creation and use of Peace Language, language that is clearly different from Natural language and the necessary mode of speech for street encounters.
  3. Train officers to think that helping people save Personal Face is important and giving them the tactics to ensure it happens on every call.
  4. Demonstrate and train officers to Close Encounters on a positive note, enhancing both their safety and their professional goal(s).
  5. Teach and train officers to Interrupt others when necessary, but doing it in such a way as to be safer and more productive, and to handle people who interrupt them.

We cannot expect young men and women to walk and talk peace naturally just because we tell them they should.

We must train them to be different from the civilians they will protect — elite, if you will — and such training demands a coherent philosophy and set of tactics they can learn and use. Officers should ideally have to qualify on their abilities to exude Peace and use Peaceful tactics, just as they presently have to on their other force options.

Please add your own police and correctional Peace Stories to the Comment Section of this article or you can contact Dr. Thompson directly with them at

Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a tactical training and management firm based in Auburn, NY. He has trained more than 500,000 police officers and his Verbal Judo course is required in numerous states. The course has been tailored for Corrections, and all kinds of businesses and other organizations.