Behind the Doc: Black and Blue
Posted November 22
If you’ve seen a police officer in uniform these days you’ve no doubt noticed the amount of gear most of them have strapped to their bodies. There’s a gun, a Taser, pepper spray, a radio and increasingly, a body camera (which many officers welcome, saying the cameras more often than not prove they were doing the right thing in any given situation rather than the wrong thing). But a Durham police officer we rode with one day for the filming of our WRAL Documentary “Black and Blue” said the most important tool he has is his mouth. And as we all know, our mouths can be tools for good and bad.
How we speak to someone has a direct impact on how they respond to us, so how a police officer speaks to a motorist he or she has stopped, or a person he or she is questioning can influence how that person responds. That sets the tone for whatever follows. I know many people who have experienced officers being overly aggressive and intimidating in how the officers spoke to them in those situations. That can only encourage confrontation rather than conversation.
Unfortunately learning how to communicate well, how to be sensitive to cultural differences, how to de-escalate a potentially volatile interactions and how to recognize and deal with one’s own implicit and internal biases are not a part of North Carolina’s Basic Law Enforcement Training that candidates must complete to serve as law enforcement officers. Instead the curriculum focuses on firearms training, driving, using radar and search, seizure and arrest techniques. All of those things are no doubt important, but perhaps there should be more training in how to communicate and de-escalate in daily interactions with citizens.
Only about 25 percent of law enforcement officers in our state have taken Crisis Intervention Team training, which teaches those very skills. I know law enforcement officers who say the training has been a big help to them in avoiding confrontations that could easily turn violent. Hopefully CIT training will one day be as mandatory for all law enforcement officers as firearms training. Perhaps the most valuable lesson that CIT training teaches is that almost all confrontations begin verbally and most can be avoided verbally too.