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Using the “scarcity of time” ploy

Advertisers well understand the power of the “limited-time offer” in motivating consumers to take action. You often can use the same psychology to influence the behavior of suspects.

Cst. Dan Fraser, an instructor in strategic communications for the Calgary (Alberta) Police Service, explained how this works during a class on verbal manipulation at the ILEETA annual training conference and elaborated later during an interview with Police1.

“The key is to create a sense of urgency in the subject to cooperate with you by leading him to believe that time is running out before things get worse for him,” Fraser says. “In other words, there’s a window of opportunity that’s closing, so it’s important to act now. This draws on the principle that when there seems to be less and less of something — time, in this case — it becomes more valuable to take advantage of.

“Say, for example, that you’re dealing with a suspect who’s hiding in a shed. He doesn’t want to come out, and you don’t want to go in after him. You might tell him that K9 is on the way or SWAT is on the way and let him know he has the best chance of avoiding injury if he surrenders to you before they get there.”

“Before the dog gets here”…“Before the tac team gets here”…“Before my supervisor gets here”…“Before the tow truck gets here”…“Before you get down to the jail” — depending on the circumstances, any of these allusions can be effective in creating a “scarcity of time” in a suspect’s mind, Fraser says.

You want him to believe that once that looming eventuality happens, “you will no longer have any discretion in dealing with him. He’s got limited time in which you can cut him some slack or do him a favor in exchange for some action or information you want. Once that time is up, the situation is out of your hands.

“The fear that something more serious is going to happen if they don’t deal with you now can often soften the resistance of even the most stubborn subject.”

Charles Remsberg has joined the Police1 team as a Senior Contributor. He co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos.