Most law enforcement agencies across the country list dialogue as one of their force options; along with officer presence, hard and soft physical control tactics, less than lethal weapons systems and deadly or lethal force.

What is not universally defined however is the way in which the application of dialogue as a force option is applied. Some agencies include no further explanation of this force level in their policies and/or training regimens which can lead some officers to believe dialogue simply means giving direction and issuing commands. While it is true that commands, at times, are essential tools in an officer’s verbal response, a policy or training program that lacks elaboration on this force level does a disservice to both the agency and the public they represent.

Breaking it downA policy or training program that lacks elaboration on the verbal force level does a disservice to both the agency and the public they represent.

Policies that break down dialogue into sub categories the same way that physical force options are delineated, in a hierarchical order, are much easier to train and defend. For example, control holds and striking techniques might both be on the spectrum of empty hand control but they are not the same level of force. If an officer strikes a passively resisting subject when there is no reason to believe the subject could not have been controlled with a stabilization or escort hold, the strike would likely be considered an unreasonable escalation of force. It is easy for both the officer and the public to understand that the lower level of force should be considered before resorting to the higher level.

The verbal level of force should be no different. There are different levels of dialogue and different tones which should be defined if we want officers to clearly understand the importance of dialogue as a force option.

In the state of Wisconsin the dialogue force option is divided into four sub categories. In hierarchical order they are:

Search talk – “normal conversational tone”
Persuasion – “soft, soothing tone”
Light control talk – “insistent tone”
Heavy control talk – “ultimatums”

What’s the difference?

When an officer first approaches a subject, most of the time they should begin the contact with a normal conversational tone, unless there is a good reason for orders or commands. This may sound a bit simplistic and I am sure that every officer has done this on a good day, but when things are not going so great most people do not communicate as well under stress. Does barking out orders simply because I am having a bad day sound like a reasonable escalation of force? Too many officers have damaged their own reputation and that of their agency with unprofessional behavior caught on video and downloaded to You Tube.

This is where Verbal Defense and Influence can come in handy. A Universal Greeting, scripted and practiced, can help an officer develop a mechanism for maintaining their composure under stressful conditions and, as we in Verbal Defense & Influence like to say, “Don’t start the negative dance.” Things may still go bad, the officer may still have to use force to gain compliance, but wherever it ends up, it is important that the officer looks good getting there.

The second level of the dialogue force option is persuasion and Verbal Defense and Influence, with its Persuasion Sequence, really does an excellent job expanding on how officers can effectively use appropriate tones and persuasive tactics to increase their chances of getting even the most difficult of people to eventually cooperate or comply. Even in those cases when voluntary compliance is not achieved, an officer that appropriately follows the Persuasion Sequence is less likely to be successfully accused of intensifying a situation and unreasonably escalating force on the verbal level.

Ramping up the Escalation

An insistent tone is appropriate when there is a potential threat to the safety of the officer, others or property under the officer’s control or if it appears that a subject may unlawfully flee.

Ultimatums are appropriate when any of these threats become imminent and also when high levels of control such as strikes, less than weapons or deadly force are presented or applied. In many cases however, as mentioned earlier, these levels of dialogue are used when they are not necessarily needed.

Policies that delineate levels of dialogue make it easier to understand that when an officer escalates in tone, he or she escalates in force. And just like any other level of force, officers need to be able to explain why any escalation was reasonable and necessary.

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Mike Delvaux
Verbal Defense & Influence Consultant
mdelvaux@vistelar.com