The Importance of Communications Skills for Police Officers

police officer stands outside police car, with ambulance in background
police officer stands outside police car, with ambulance in background

Keeping the peace is one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding jobs a Canadian can ask for. Police officers in Canada, need to rely on a wide range of tools and resources to do the job well. These include some of the traditional tools of the trade, such as a service firearm and handcuffs, but it is a mistake to believe that these are the main tools of law enforcement.

The primary tool of law enforcement in Canada is good communication. While violence and physical force are part of any police officer's job, dangerous situations can be diffused or entirely prevented by the careful and effective use of communication skills for police officers.

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Communication Skills for Police Officers and How to Use Them

Police officers with experience know that in many cases they are working with citizens just as often as they are working to enforce the law with them, especially when the police need information. The information that leads to successfully helping citizens  most often comes from another citizen. A good cop knows how to communicate in order to achieve his or her ends and solve problems as well as address concerns using reliable information.

Some important guidelines to this approach are as follows:

  • Show Respect—This might be the most useful approach especially in low-income, high-activity areas. According to Public Safety Canada, Ontario has the highest number of youth gang members in the country. Gang members place a great degree of importance on respect and are often willing to divulge important information to those who show them respect, including police officers.

    There is never a situation in which it is appropriate to verbally belittle someone. Problems can be often be solved by acquiring information through networks, and you never know who is going to have an important piece of information for you.. Citizens  respond much better to respectful behavior than to a show of force or domination. Furthermore, a police officer can be respectful while physically restraining or neutralizing someone, depending on the situation. The level of respect you show directly affects the level of respect you receive.
  • Start Friendly—As the on-scene police officer, you set the tone for any incident you're a part of. When you begin in a friendly manner, you always reserve the ability to escalate the situation. When you begin in an overpowering manner, you lose the ability to go back to being officer friendly.

    Pay close attention to the body language of the people you come into contact with, but retain the friendly tone until the situation dictates otherwise. If you are aware of your surroundings, you won't find yourself surprised or taken advantage of for having a friendly demeanor.
  • Show Empathy—Another important aspect to good communication is showing empathy to victims and concerned citizens. Police officers are often better equipped to handle these situations than citizens  who have never experienced these types of events. As a result, the affected community  needs to be given empathetic treatment—it will calm them down and help you reconstruct the situation that led to the traumatic event, helping your investigation.
  • Reduce Conflict—The primary way police officers set examples in the communities they serve is by reducing conflict. On a very fundamental level, this is what police work is all about. While it is sometimes necessary to escalate a situation in order to maintain control, it's important that this only happens in order to reduce conflict in the end.

    Physically neutralizing a person can reduce conflict, but it can also agitate conflict, depending on the situation. The most important thing to remember is that the first and most useful tool for conflict resolution is your ability to communicate. Try using words to find out what is happening, how you can help, and who is responsible before applying any kind of force, whenever possible.

How This Approach Affects Community Relations

One of the most important takeaways of this approach is that citizens also show respect for the police when officers use communication effectively. Communications skills for police officers go a long way toward establishing positive relations in the community, which can be the primary force that gets cases solved in some situations.

No police officer wants to feel unwelcome in his or her own community. Being domineering, forceful or violent only perpetuates negative police relations within a community, making more domination, more force and more violence the only answer. Avoiding that vicious circle is incredibly important, and every police officer on the job needs to do their part in order for the community as a whole to succeed.

In communities where the relationship with the police has already begun to sour, it is doubly important to build trust with citizens whenever and wherever possible. As an officer in uniform, you carry the weight of every action performed by every other uniformed officer in the eyes of the people you contact. You also, however, have the power to change their opinion through open and constructive communication.

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