By Jean Reynolds

Many police officer training programs include instruction on effective communication skills for dealing with manipulation. Sometimes citizens facing a costly traffic fine will resort to a variety of tactics—arguing, charm, and threats—to try to change the officer’s mind; substance abusers, persons with mental illness, and adolescents going through an “I hate authority” phase may also employ those tactics.

Encounters with manipulation are challenging for police officers who are simply trying to do their jobs and protect the public. Officers often describe feelings of frustration when they find that they can’t win even the simplest common-sense argument with a defiant offender. There’s also the fear of being embarrassed by a rude citizen when bystanders are looking on. Most seriously, these encounters can escalate and become dangerous for the officer, the suspect, and everyone nearby.

But there’s also good news. Many training programs offer practical suggestions for maintaining control of these situations efficiently and safely.

Use the “broken record” technique:

This means repeating a simple, factual statement over and over, no matter what the citizen is saying. For example:

CITIZEN: I know what you’re doing. You’re giving citations to everyone in sight because the town needs the money from fines for its budget shortfall.

OFFICER: Your car was going 65 in a 45 mph zone. I’m writing a citation.

CITIZEN: The mayor is my next-door neighbor and a good friend. You’ll be sorry you tried this.

OFFICER: Your car was going 65 in a 45 mph zone. I’m writing a citation.

And so on, until the citation is written and the traffic stop is over.

Use objective language:

Do not label or describe the citizen or suspect. Whenever possible, make I statements—or describe what the vehicle was doing, not the driver. For example, “I need to see the registration for this car” is less inflammatory than “Hand over the registration—now.” “I see beer bottles on the floor” is better than “You’ve obviously been drinking.”

Never get involved in an argument or power contest. Focus your attention on following your procedures. Do not allow yourself to be baited into an argument with a chronically disagreeable person who will never admit that you’re right.

Talk about safety:

Begin each encounter with a reference to safety: “I want to make sure the children on this street stay safe. This car was going 30 in a 15 mph school zone.”

Experienced officers say that courtesy, objectivity, and effective training are important tools for encounters with citizens. These simple guidelines will help you carry out your duties efficiently while helping to keep you and the public safe.