Body language is an important part of any career, but it is particularly valuable in law enforcement. A police officer interacts with a wide array of individuals, so body language impacts his or her interactions with the public. By understanding policing body language and the way citizens interpret certain behaviors, an officer can develop mannerisms and behaviors designed to help with an investigation based on the individual involved.
Did You Know That Emotional Intelligence Plays a Huge Role in Successful Policing?
Empathy is one of the components of emotional intelligence, and 55% of communication is expressed in body language. People who practice active listening engage with their eyes and let others talk, listening with compassion.
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Why Is Body Language Important?
Body language is important because it supplements and reinforces our verbal communication through gestures, postures, and facial expressions. The eye contact we make with others, our handshakes, our stances, gestures and movements all comprise parts of the visual impression we create for others. Communicating our interest in others through body language involves walking upright, standing confidently, shaking hands firmly, making steady eye contact and leaning in to show interest. Aggressive or closed body language, on the other hand, can be expressed by someone who stands over others with legs wide, hands on their hips or standing too close to others in an invasive manner.
Policing Body Language: Initial Impressions
Initial impressions refer to the appearance of an officer when he or she enters a specific space. A well-maintained appearance provides a professional and competent impression, which suggests a police officer can handle the situation. Wearing a wrinkled or rumpled uniform suggests an officer is unkempt or unable to keep up with his or her duties.
Personal interactions during an initial interview or discussion with a citizen also play a role in the first impression. Polite police officers make a positive impression and gain respect from citizens. Focus on creating a positive first impression by maintaining a clean-cut appearance throughout a shift. Keep a uniform in the best condition possible for the situation at hand.
Policing Body Language: Expressing Patience
A personal mindset plays a role in the way citizens react to a police officer. An impatient officer causes witnesses or other parties to lose interest in assisting with investigations. When a police officer feels impatient, upset or otherwise distracted for any reason, it comes out in his or her personal body language.
Ideally, police officials project a feeling of patience by actively taking measures to control personal body language. Avoid sighing or showing signs of impatience while asking a witness or a citizen about a specific situation. Focus on the individual and give them complete attention. Avoid fidgeting or even displaying a sign of feeling tired.
Officers with a concentrated focus on the individual gain more insights into the situation by encouraging the other party to share their thoughts. It causes the other party to feel comfortable, especially if the individual is the victim of a crime or a witness to a crime. Do not demonstrate any personal emotions to avoid confusing the individual or giving the impression of limited interest.
Policing Body Language: Limiting Distractions
Although body language is essential when asking questions, concerns do not only arise in relation to personal emotions or situations. An officer with enthusiasm and interest in the other party can distract from the case or the line of questioning through physical movements. In particular, talking with hand gestures can distract a citizen.
Use hand movements and gestures for specific purposes. For example, placing a hand on a pocket or a weapon intimidates an individual. When talking to a witness, victim or a citizen with specific concerns, officers should keep their hands away from a weapon. Limit gestures with the hands to avoid confusion or distractions. Excessive movement distracts from the conversation.
Policing Body Language: Facial Expressions
Facial expressions communicate more than an officer may assume and can actually cause complications during a case when it involves several parties.
Showing sympathy toward a potential victim through facial expressions or expressing firm resolve while talking to a potential perpetrator of a crime can impact the way individuals behave during an interview or discussion. Police officers must work to control their facial expressions and maintain a level of neutrality.
Keep facial expressions neutral and under control when talking to a potential victim or an alleged criminal. Until an officer understands both sides of the situation and has the facts to determine an appropriate course of action, he or she must avoid showing preferential treatment toward any individual. By showing preferential treatment through sympathetic facial expressions or other facial cues, an officer may cause another party to refuse to talk.
Policing Body Language: Shaking Hands or Nodding the Head
Staying engaged in a conversation plays an important role in the impression a police officer makes through his or her body language. It seems natural to shake hands or nod when talking to other individuals to show interest in the conversation. Unfortunately, a police officer must evaluate the situation before following through with natural inclinations.
Shaking hands during a community event is an appropriate action; however, police officers should limit handshakes during their normal duties. Shaking an individual’s hand develops a sense of familiarity, which may interfere with an investigation. Officers should also limit clear external displays of acceptance, such as nodding, to limit misunderstandings.
Avoid nodding when interviewing an alleged offender; instead, make eye contact with the individual. Eye contact encourages the individual to open up and talk without actively supporting the individual’s claims.
The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in Policing
Non-verbal communication reveals how people feel about what they are experiencing, or what someone may not be saying in a conversation they are taking part in. In nonverbal communication actions speak louder than words. Some gestures can inspire mutual confidence and establish trust between people, while other gestures can suggest a person is uncomfortable or not conveying the whole truth.
According to Noel Otu in Decoding Nonverbal Communication in Law Enforcement, police officers and suspects often operate under the assumption that their primary messages are conveyed in the spoken word, however it is their nonverbal cues that are more important. The study suggests that nonverbal communication is the essence of criminal justice, however, and provides the foundation of successful relations between law enforcement personnel and suspects or criminals.
Police officers in Canada face a variety of situations throughout their career. When an officer answers a call or interacts with others, he or she must project a sense of authority and confidence without making citizens feel uncomfortable or intimidated. By focusing on making adjustments to personal body language based on the situation, an officer improves his or her ability to address concerns or handle challenges within the community he or she serves.
Check out our blog post on Policing in Canada vs Policing in the USA.