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Why cops should be trained in gaining cooperation (not just compliance)

Much of the professional police communication instruction states that the goal of law enforcement is to generate voluntary compliance, not cooperation

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Partnerships are built on cooperation. If community-oriented policing is about building partnerships, why are police trained to gain compliance but not cooperation? As I travel the country privileged to train and learn from America’s peace officers, I’ve discovered some disconnect between the profession’s purported model of policing and the training provided to officers. It started with a conversation:

“Do you folks practice community-oriented policing?”
Affirmative nods and murmurs.
“What does that mean?”
“Partnering with the community to provide public safety.”

I also train in and visit police academies and look at their curricula. Much of the professional police communication instruction I’ve seen states that the goal of law enforcement is to generate voluntary compliance, not cooperation. So, when I ask recruits and officers what they are seeking when they use professional police communication, nationwide they respond, “voluntary compliance.” Voluntary compliance is a good thing. But partnerships aren’t built on compliance. They’re built on cooperation. And it appears officers aren’t being trained how to gain cooperation.

What’s Behind the Disconnect?

Of course, I understand that some police-citizen contacts permit only an instantaneous decision and use of deadly force. But the vast majority of these contacts are resolved verbally (99.5% according to one IACP study). So why not train for the best resolution possible in those situations?

Is policing’s failure to adequately train officers to truly practice community-oriented policing in police-citizen contacts intentional? Or, is our purported “community-oriented policing” the profession’s “lipstick on a pig?”

I believe – along with Chip Huth, veteran SWAT commander and co-author of “Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training” that this disconnect is unintentional. As Chip said, “It’s tough to say and hear, but today’s officers often work in a profession steeped in outdated paradigms, traditions, values, and norms. I don’t believe this narrow-mindedness is intentional, but merely a natural consequence of operating within the confines of outdated paradigms.”

Some Good Beginnings

Policing has evolved – and continues to evolve – to meet modern challenges. Some police models of communication to gain voluntary compliance have good beginning tactics for also gaining cooperation.

Dr. George Thompson’s “Verbal Judo” employs a LEAPS model:

  • Listen: to what they have to say
  • Empathize: understand, not necessarily agree
  • Ask: for example, “Is there some way we can solve this problem?”
  • Paraphrase: communicate your understanding of their position, feelings
  • Summarize: your decision statement about the situation and what’s going to happen. The discussion is over.

A Washington State Justice Based Policing Initiative LEED model has been used for police communication in their citizen contacts.

  • Listen and
  • Explain with
  • Equity and
  • Dignity

But both these models are avowedly based on an end game of voluntary compliance. This may help explain why the profession hasn’t seen a paradigm shift to building partnerships based on gaining cooperation in police-citizen contacts. There are also officers who cling to the ATM model – Ask, Tell, Make.

How to Gain Cooperation

There are evidence-based techniques for gaining cooperation. Sergeant Renee Mitchell has studied and is training officers in such tactics, like how to “speak to the emotion” of citizens.

In her TEDx talk below, Mitchell describes the response of two officers she trained to a disturbance among roommates. A loud, angry woman explained she’d tried to help some friends by letting them stay with her and they were ripping her off. When the contact officer explained she needed a 30-day eviction notice, she lost it – screaming at the officers and her roommates. The contact officer kept telling her to calm down – to the opposite effect.

The cover officer, recalling the training, tried, “Ma’am, it must be really frustrating to lend a hand to your friends and have them screw you over and when the cops show up they can’t even help you.”

The woman stopped, looked at the officer and said, “That’s right, mother*cker,” and stopped yelling – it doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective.

Chip Huth says, “We got to the unsatisfactory place where we are now in the exact same manner we will evolve from it: one contact at a time.” Chip should know. His SWAT team went from one of the units receiving the most complaints in the Kansas City Police Department to receiving 0 complaints in 6 years – while at the same time capturing more illegal drugs and guns in a 3-year period than the previous decade.

Chip explains how in the 10-minute TED talk below. It boiled down to him and his officers embracing a change in mindset that had them unconditionally respecting the people in their communities – even the bad guys, even in SWAT operations (respect doesn’t mean trust).

Chip’s book gives more examples of how to treat people with respect and details the long-term payoffs in officer morale, community trust and crime reduction. Chip and his co-author, veteran officer Jack Colwell, also offer resources here.

Twenty-year veteran Deputy Sheriff Elton Simmons explained how he made over 25,000 traffic stops without a single complaint in the video below. “It’s simple,” Simmons says. “I treat people like they’re here,” gesturing level with himself, “not like they’re here,” gesturing beneath himself.

I’ve heard some officers push back, saying, “They don’t respect us!” The flaw in that is it lets the very worst people define you. That’s why Chip and Jack call it unconditional respect – it’s not conditioned on the citizen’s or worst criminal’s behavior. It’s about the type of cop you decide to be.

The recruits I see have open minds and hearts yearning to serve as well as protect. They deserve training that offers all the communication tools available for truly partnering with their communities and reaping the rewards.

There’s plenty of information about how to gain cooperation. Here are some resources to get you started:

This article, originally published 05/18/2016, has been updated

As a state and federal prosecutor, Val’s trial work was featured on ABC’S PRIMETIME LIVE, Discovery Channel’s Justice Files, in USA Today, The National Enquirer and REDBOOK. Described by Calibre Press as “the indisputable master of entertrainment,” Val is now an international law enforcement trainer and writer. She’s had hundreds of articles published online and in print. She appears in person and on TV, radio, and video productions. When she’s not working, Val can be found flying her airplane with her retriever, a shotgun, a fly rod, and high aspirations. Contact Val at