When I was younger than a budding preteen, our preacher joined my family for an evening dinner. My dad asked me to say the blessing, so I recited God is good, God is great. The following week, our church hosted a covered dish dinner in the fellowship hall. Before the congregation turned the various delicious dishes into sloppy leftovers, our preacher spoke to everyone without revealing his entire thoughts. He told the congregation that he was going to ask little Charlie Sewell to say the blessing. I’m sure that I stammered out something totally goofy, and I was relieved when I finally arrived at the amen part. When we got in the car to go home, Dad said, “Charlie, the preacher wanted you to say the blessing like you did when he ate dinner with us last week.” Nearly in tears and very upset, I responded, “Then why didn’t he say so?”

Speak what’s on your mind and mean what you say, but say nothing unless you tell the entire story. Anything that’s said can encourage others, devastate them, or even make a lifelong impression, so it’s vehemently important to carefully pick the right words. The heat of the moment can cool, but words spoken in anger can stay forever heated in someone’s heart.

Law enforcement officers are regularly forced into heat of the moment situations. Good communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills or de-escalation techniques can help immunize them against becoming victims in heated situations.

There’s a huge benefit in avoiding conflict and eliminating unnecessary stress. It only makes sense to calmly use carefully thought out words in heated situations to help keep everyone safe. One of the most dangerous tools law enforcement officer have is the spoken word. If they choose the wrong words or spout off inappropriately, death, job loss, or even lawsuits can develop.

Law enforcement officers face people who yell, scream and fight just because it’s in their nature. When they calmly introduce themselves and slowly and steadily inquire about a suspect’s welfare, tense situations can often be de-escalated. The law says that they can use whatever force is necessary to effect an arrest, but better communication skills can often create a win-win situation of voluntary compliance.

One police department where I worked sent new police recruits to a police academy that required them to salute their trainers. They endured training staff members who belittled them and shouted commands like they were attending a military boot camp. Our initial reaction was, “Wow, this is cool.” But second blush told us that this type behavior wasn’t experienced on the street, and what we really needed was better eye contact and better conversation. These topics, however, weren’t part of the academy’s curriculum.

The curio cabinet in our lobby was full of legally confiscated slapsticks, knives, mace, illicit drugs paraphernalia, and other illegal and dangerous tools. We also had three 4’X8’ shoulder patch boards hanging on the walls. After listening intently to a heart-felt suggestion by a new recruit, we came to the conclusion that we may be advertising the wrong message.

After a department-wide fire and brimstone meeting, we swallowed our pride then redecorated our lobby with pictures of smiling police officers interacting positively with citizens. Next, we worked together to reword our mission statement and replaced the patch boards with a large professionally printed copy on the wall. Our goal was to send a clear message to all citizens that our primary interest was professionalism, their protection and their rights. It didn’t take long before the entire department exhibited a more benevolent nature.

We were criticized by some people who felt that we had become soft and were setting ourselves up for disaster. They felt that we would hesitate in doing our job and our officers would be in more danger. As a result of our new initiative, officer injuries, citizen injury and citizen’s irate behavior dropped. Our training helped us focus more on what suspects were doing, less on their appearance, and less on what neighborhood we were in. Instead of shouting out something inappropriate or regretful, we learned how to breathe slowly and deeply, relax our thoughts, and when necessary, count to 10 before we spoke. Our new paradigm worked just like we hoped and just like the new recruit said. It simply sowed the seeds for our future reputation.

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Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief who lives in Cherokee County. His book “I’d Rather You Call Me Charlie: Reminiscences Filled With Twists of Devilment, Devotion and A Little Danger” is available on Amazon. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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