To stay cool is to be cool
The first person at every scene you must control is you
This article is being updated with suggestions from Police1 readers. Make sure to keep reading for more suggestions on staying cool and submit your thoughts at the end of the article.
Letting someone “get under your skin” usually results from being under-prepared for the moment and can lead to an over-reaction. Make no mistake about it, there is nothing wrong with a proper reaction, which may mean making a legal, well-performed arrest. However, an overreaction serves no good purpose.
Here are few tips on how not to lose your cool and prevent an overreaction. Share your suggestions in the box below.
1. Remember, a reaction is what they want
If you lose your temper and over-react, that is for them like winning the lottery. Don’t give them what they want. Stay cool.
2. You have response-ability
No matter what the stimulus is, you have the ability to respond to it any way you want. Prepare yourself through training and honest post-call self-debriefs to improve your ability to defensibly respond to every stimulus as your career progresses.
3. Control yourself first
To be effective at every scene, the first person you must control is you. Your ability to stay calm and react effectively in the midst of chaos is what makes you a pro.
4. Know how to effectively and legally control others
By training to be able to physically lay hands on someone and control them instantly when you have legal justification to do so, even if they do not want to be controlled, gives you valuable confidence during all contacts.
In short, when you are able to effectively react, chances are you will not overreact.
5. Know and control your triggers
Identify words and sentences you are hypersensitive to before they are hurled at you. After identifying your vulnerabilities in advance, put a safety on those trigger words. Say to yourself, I will never let that cause me to overreact when I hear it because I am a professional and an over-reaction is what the suspect is after.
6. Realize nothing is personal
Nothing they say is personal, so don’t take it personally. Obnoxious people are yelling at the uniform. The uniform has heard it all and the uniform can take it. Can you?
7. You are not absorbing insults, you are gathering evidence
Possess a clear understanding of what constitutes grounds for an arrest in your jurisdiction when you combine what is said and the conditions in which it is said. Armed with this knowledge, you are no longer absorbing insults, you are gathering evidence. Remember, what was said, who said it and what the circumstances were in the environment that made what was said a violation. After you make a legal arrest, document it all in your report.
8. Maintain a tactically sound position and train extensively
You can prevent an overreaction by having the backup you need and by using sound tactics.
9. Train in making calm team arrests
The positive advantage of making team arrests while being calm and looking calm is that it impacts positively on the crowd watching, the media reporting and the jury if the suspect takes the case to court. You can look like the good guys and gals while you are using force to overcome resistance if you train to approach, arrest and control as a team.
Two highly trained officers can effect an arrest more smoothly than 10 poorly trained officers working as individuals.
10. Train in officer override: “They are calling you on the radio”
A signal should be worked out in advance for when a cover officer sees that the suspect is getting under the skin of the contact officer and an overreaction may be imminent.
The cover officer says, “Partner, they are calling you on the radio.” Hearing this, as pre-trained the contact officer should step aside and let the cover officer take over the contact.
11. Specifically train to withstand and prevent an overreaction to agitation
In training, split into teams. One team is the police line, and the second team is assigned to insult them with commonly used (pre-arranged) taunts and chants.
After each break in the action identify which person(s) in the simulated crowd took a leadership role and was worthy of arrest. Discuss how it would have been best to tactically effect each arrest and even physically walk through these arrests. Then switch.
The biggest benefit to this exercise is it inoculates officers against those words and prepares them to remain calm and professional in the face of verbal taunts.
12. Use the overreacting officer demonstration-discussion
Have actors following a script role-playing as contact officer, cover officer and a suspect during which the contact deteriorates to the point that the contact officer overreacts physically (this should be specifically scripted and rehearsed to avoid injuries). When this happens, the cover officer intervenes to stop the over-reacting officer (this intervention is also scripted and rehearsed).
At this point, stop the demonstration and discuss:
- The tactical problems created for both officers by the contact officer overreacting.
- The tactical advantages afforded a suspect when an officer overreacts.
- The control problems for an officer who has to control a suspect and a fellow officer at the same time.
- The dilemma created when a report has to be written on this incident if it leads to an arrest.
- The legal dilemma for both officers if they don’t write an accurate report.
- The civil dilemma for both officers when they do.
I would like to end by sharing words I have never forgotten from my time on the street: “The man who angers you conquers you.”
It was true then and even truer now. To stay cool is to be cool.
P.S. Here’s a new remix of an old poem you have all heard since you were young adapted for our profession.
The Sticks and Stones Remix
When they call you a “gas-hole,”
Remember, you’re the real pro.
Bullets and knives will take lives
And sticks and stones will break bones
But remember, your job is like no other
Words can’t hurt you or your mother!
If you get mad, it will make them glad
And when they sue and win, you’ll be sad.
Make ’em look like a fool, just keep your cool.
And when you’re on the street, you will rule.
Police1 readers and LinkedIn Group members respond
Speak low, calm and firm. What is the situation? Is it involving emotions? Shooting, death, accident? Explain your intentions of helping. Is it a disturbance or riot? Do you have instigators inciting others to follow? Swift and firm arrest and transport ASAP. I always told my shift, the calmer we are and professionalism shines, the more the foolish person will become tired and leave. When cameras are rolling, don’t give them what THEY want! It’s hard holding up the thin blue line, but if we all maintain the integrity of the profession, we ALL win.
On a good day, you recognize the trigger points and you just smile and walk away from those trying to poke the bear, it’s on the bad days that you need to keep breathing and don’t let those baiting you get the better of you. Just remember, that person isn’t worth your job.
After Code 3 driving to a scene or maybe just clearing from a fatal MVA or high impact call for service, it is not always easy backing down your posture, tone and body language. People react to all three based on how we present ourselves. I would try to take a few breaths, look confident and as be as positive as I could be. Start every call with a "clean slate" if you can.
As a 36-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department and karate teacher for 50 years, I have learned that self-control must be established in training. When the suspect is hyper-emotional and lacks logic, it is like their child within is making all decisions. This is why the OODA Loop is such a good training tool because it is based on logic, not emotion. The stress hormone response takes over. My friend, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, says they are using the puppy dog brain at this point. If the officer is pulled into the same behavior, the officer is also using the child or puppy dog brain. The one (suspect or officer) who maintains logic is the adult on the scene, therefore in control of the situation. Profanity and yelling will usually precede violence. It wasn't easy, but when my language cleaned up, my inner adult was in charge. I have seen many officers disciplined or terminated for their use of profanity. It hurts relationships at home too. The effective self-control of the tongue is a tremendous asset, as the words we speak can heal or kill.
First, the most valuable tool we have is our training. Situational awareness is key under normal responses and crucial during emergencies. Use all the attributes you have obtained since you started in your professional career. Overreaction can be worked on daily and focused on in training. Know your triggers and what makes you overreact. Key in on the amount of caffeine you take in during your normal shift. Overuse of caffeine can cause a good officer to overreact. Proper rest is always a plus! Leave your personal situations out of your mindset during your work hours.
Live within your means so that you don't create a cycle of having to work overtime. Being able to turn down extra duties will help keep you from working when you should be at home resting. I've found that the times people got under my skin was when I was tired.
- Remove "I" and "me" from the situation, replacing it with "you," "you're" and "your." We are here to help "YOU," and "YOU'RE" going to be ok. We are here to answer "YOUR" needs. Always understand, they don't understand why you are there. Stay calm, stay rational, remove any ego you may have. Try to connect on their level.
- Detach (but don’t over detach), prioritize and execute.
- NEVER take it personally. If you weren't there, they would only attack someone else in the uniform you wear. Keep it moving, keep it professional, always.
- Prove their words wrong. Anger provokes anger and sometimes the provoker just wants to see if they can get a reaction. Make them laugh. Leave on a high note and get to know them. Make an unannounced visit later and check on them, just because. You may earn respect, you may not. You may earn trust and their heart. But always give respect even when not due.
- Just remember...it’s not you. Don’t give them standing to complain. Work like you are on video. Give your chief the tools to protect you.
- I do a quick analysis of the scene and surroundings. I maintain my safety first then the other responders. I don't take the knuckleheads to heart. You can't fix stupid, but you can sedate it. Safety is my first priority, and if a person is being a heckler and creating friction, I will police remove the agitator. I use my people skills, emotional intelligence and situational awareness. It takes all kinds of people to make the world. However, I will not accept or put up with anyone who wishes to cause harm, hurt, kill, maim any first responder or innocent civilian. I have been shot at and had a knife pulled on me and still walked away. Keeping cool and maintaining an easy and smooth voice, I was able to get the person apprehended without incident.
- This reminds me to always bear in mind that I am honorable, my career is honorable, my colleagues are honorable and my legacy will be honorable, regardless of how dishonorable those I deal with are, or how dishonorably they behave.
- Knowing that you will win the war, it is not necessary to win the battles as well. The person is the one who will pay the ticket, so it does not matter what they say during the stop.
- One of the best quotes I ever heard was “the sting in the barb is the truth” meaning if they are getting to you, you need to address it and figure out why it is a vulnerability. It’s usually ego or a lack of confidence.
- Know your local and state statutes. These people will choose and learn 3 or 4 laws and try to provoke you into an illegal arrest. Then you have just awarded them a lawsuit. Know what you can and cannot enforce.
- Master the art of the under reaction (as it applies to insults and verbal assaults). Let them see how little their words, insults and jeers impact you (even if you have to act a little bit).
- I have been called the "N" word many times during an arrest. Each time I just pretend I didn't hear it. I only continued with the arrest report and asked basic questions to complete it. The suspect would eventually see that I'm not easily provoked and cease his insults.
- Depending on the situation at hand, kill the suspect with kindness.
- Leave your personal issues at the door when you report to briefing. Leave work at work and have some type of positive release from stress. Realize you can't fight everyone.