"If you want to test a man's character, give him power." – President Abraham Lincoln
Police officers were ordered to the front of President Johnson’s “War on Crime” in 1965. However, a 1972 review by James Vorenberg in the Atlantic Online reported crime numbers had only gotten worse! Since 1960, property crimes were up 147% and crimes of violence were up 126%. It would seem that much of the cost of the War on Crime was in fact, the very carnage that it evoked. War can be a dynamic that shakes the foundation upon which relationships are built. Would the costs of the War on Crime been mitigated if the foundations had been reinforced and relationships renewed?
Military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz defined war as follows: “War is an act of will directed toward a living entity that reacts.”
It is not necessarily about the guns and bombs that might be used as opposed to gaining a reaction. In this sense; it means coming to a mutual understanding and agreement. Police work, at its essence is not about shoot-outs and arrests. Rather; police work is effectively communicating safety and order—and so is effective communication. Clausewitz’ message translated in this sense would be: Communication is an act of will directed toward a living entity that reacts.
Helio Fred Garcia, a Senior Fellow of Institute of Corporate Communication; parses Clausewitz’ definition as follows:
Communication is an act of will…Effective communication is intentional, goal oriented and strategic. It isn’t impulsive, top of mind, or self-indulgent. And communications isn’t just about what one says-it’s about anything one does or is observed doing, and about any engagement with an audience, including silence, inaction and action.
…directed toward a living entity…audiences aren’t passive vessels that simply absorb messages; rather, audiences are living, breathing human beings and groups of living human beings They have their own opinions , ideas, hopes and dreams, fears prejudices, attention spans, and appetites for listening. Most important, it is a mistake to assume that audiences think and behave just as we do. Most don’t. Understanding an audience and its preconceptions and the barriers that might prevent an audience from accepting what one is saying are key parts of effective communication.
…that reacts. The only reason to engage an audience is to change something; to provoke a reaction. Effective communication provokes the desired reaction— ineffective communication does not. Ineffective communication isn’t noticed, confuses, and causes a different reaction than that desired.
Effective communication is critical to law enforcement. But it is hard. It requires an alert consciousness, a discipline of focus on the desired reaction from the audience it is addressing. This demands knowing as much as possible about the audience—then saying and doing whatever is necessary, but no more than necessary to provoke the desired reaction. Communication is merely the continuation of policy by another means. The intimidating image of a firearm on an officer’s belt should not set the tone for interactions between a police officer and the public. Instead; the police could shift the focus by developing a richer relationship with the public using their abilities to communicate a clear and convincing message of understanding and common interests.
Police today are trying to stay ahead of the bad image that has been painted of them by offended parties with internet rants and cellphone videos. We know from experience that some officers are received by the public better than others. Their conduct should be studied, understood and modeled. Officer communication can be efficiently delivered through the tonality and verbiage in their speech, as well as their demeanor and their body language. Consider the following six behaviors that outline a holistic style of communication:
Trust with an unquestioning belief that the audience’s motives are honorable.
Tactfully state a position without offending others.
Empathizing with another’s situation and feelings to display understanding.
Conform to the norms of a culture to display respect.
Focus on the most desired outcome.
Flexibility when appropriate can accomplish much.
In pursuit of safety for the community and for police officers themselves, detering violence is a mandate. Police frequently enter situations where emotions are high and often very angry. Once pepper spray is used or guns are discharged; it is almost a certainty that some form of relationship repair will be necessary. But the intensity of such disturbances can be tempered; and fence-mending can be expedited when there’s a history of open exchange. When police and community relationships are consistently reinforced with sound communication; the effect can be disarming.
“The led must not be compelled. They must be able to choose their own leader.” – Albert Einstein
Conclusion of III Parts