Interpersonal Communication for Police Officers: Using Needs Assessment to Prepare for Skeptical Trainees

By Woods, Marilyn J. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Interpersonal Communication for Police Officers: Using Needs Assessment to Prepare for Skeptical Trainees

Woods, Marilyn J., Business Communication Quarterly

The philosophy of community policing emphasizes interpersonal communication skills for police officers. However, trainee police officers may be wary of training conducted by someone outside of law enforcement. This article lends support for using a needs assessment that helps trainers overcome organizational and personal boundaries in such a training class. In teaching interpersonal communication for groups of 8 to l2 police officers in two-hour training sessions, I learned that strategically using the results of a needs assessment could encourage trainees to have a vested interest in the class and help the trainer feel competent and comfortable.

Keywords: Communication training, law enforcement, interpersonal communication

POLICE DEPARTMENTS HOLD interesting organizational considerations that can help business communication consultants, professors, and students improve their approach to the communication training process. Most important, police culture or "the way the group thinks and behaves" (Richmond & McCroskey, 1992, p. 8) leaves little room for trust in trainers without law enforcement experience, particularly academicians (Nowicki, 1993). Additionally, in areas such as diversity training, Bickham & Rossett (1993) state that police officers are a "skeptical" audience if one offers easy answers that do not address the complex situations and nuances of the people that they serve. Lastly, law enforcement practices are evolving to meet public needs in ways that require interaction to decrease the occurrence of crime.

Based on my experience with a college-town police department, I explain how a needs assessment can help trainers prepare successfully for a skeptical group of trainees. The article's background points out the primary importance of communication to community policing and the reasons for this training. To clarify the process in my new training experience, I give the contingencies that made me want the information from a needs assessment, describe the needs assessment, and explain how the results shaped the objectives, content, and delivery of training. A portion on credibility is given for the benefit of beginning trainers and students to help them understand how the gathered information adds to one's ability to perform well in what could be difficult circumstances.

Significance of Communication to Community Policing

A pending organizational change led to the request for training in interpersonal communication. Like many police departments in the 1990s, this police department was preparing a move from a traditional approach of policing to a community-based policing philosophy. According to Breci (1994), policing has undergone changes that compel police departments and communities to work together and address law enforcement issues. Communication is emphasized in the many recommendations made for successfully implementing community policing because "community policing encourages direct, face-to-face communication--and this should also be applied to planning whenever possible" (Trojanowicz & Bucqueroux, 1994, p. 20).

Implementation of community policing is based largely on the vision of leaders of the department; however, the daily work of each officer makes it successful. Individual commitment to effective communication is needed from those officers whose jobs are often completed in problematic contexts. According to community-based policing scholars Trojanowicz and Bucqueroux (1994), "in addition to the skills traditionally associated with police work, the job of community policing officers also requires enhanced interpersonal and communication skills, as well as problem-solving skills" (p. 17). The needed interpersonal communication skills are meant to build trust with the community members in order to increase the chances for positive, helpful relationships.

As with any organizational change, there are some cautions. In the literature on community policing, police administrators are told to anticipate certain problems that I thought could affect the training in communication since officers realized its connection to community policing.

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Interpersonal Communication for Police Officers: Using Needs Assessment to Prepare for Skeptical Trainees


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