TRAINING DAYS Spokane County Officers Learn Sensitivity, Communication Skills at Otis Orchards Training Unit That Nets National Award

By Hallenberg, Pia | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), May 27, 2017 | Go to article overview

TRAINING DAYS Spokane County Officers Learn Sensitivity, Communication Skills at Otis Orchards Training Unit That Nets National Award


Hallenberg, Pia, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


It's a common enough scene: Officers on-site, responding to allegations of a crime; the public milling about, curious and uncertain. An officer approaches, poses direct questions: What did you see? Where did they go? Can you give us a description of the suspect?

A civilian, nervous, fumbles for an answer. The officer grows impatient, the demands for information more adamant. There's tension in the air. Under a peppering of questions, the civilian clams up, and the interview is over.

It's a common scenario, but also an avoidable one. To help officers recognize the effect of their own body language and better understand the nonverbal cues of the people they are talking to, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office has developed a new training curriculum that focuses on fundamental interpersonal communication.

Earlier this week, the program was awarded an annual innovation award by the 2017 International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) conference, which met in Nashville.

"The Spokane sheriff's programs were exceptionally well done - that's why they got the award," said Peggy Schaefer, director of IADLEST national certification program. "The Spokane sheriff was the first to submit three courses for national certification. We've never seen anyone submit so many."

Sheriff's Office's curriculum development specialist Tony Anderman developed the training programs with input from researchers at Washington State University. Schaefer said most law enforcement training programs are developed by civilian contractors.

"The Spokane Sheriff's Office is also the first to submit training programs for certification that are developed by a law enforcement agency," Schaefer said. "It's very different to see training programs coming straight from local law enforcement."

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Anderman said it had become clear that some recruits lacked interpersonal communication skills and sensitivity.

"Society has changed. People don't talk to each other anymore," Knezovich said. "And this is not just about young people. Older people aren't much better."

Anderman said that officers were also unaware of their own body language, and did not have the skills to interpret body language and physiological changes in people they interact with.

An officer's direct approach - coupled with the authority conveyed by a uniform - may set a nervous person on edge, making them less likely to converse or less capable of supplying useful information.

Demanding answers, assuming an aggressive posture or betraying impatience through tone or body language can all make a potentially important source clam up, Anderman said.

That, in turn, can make officers more impatient, leading to a breakdown in communication between officer and civilian almost before any words are said.

Instead, officers should try to empathize with civilians, and recognize that their uniform already sets them in a position of power, Anderman said. A friendlier tone or calming word can do a lot to broach that barrier.

"What can go wrong is that we fail to recognize that we are spinning someone up," Knezovich said. "If you can't recognize what's going on with the person you are talking to, you fail to recognize what can happen."

And that may lead to both officers and civilians getting hurt.

The 'Clear Sight' program helps officers understand their implicit bias and how it impacts their decision making.

The 'Interaction and Perceptions' program seeks to provide a deeper understanding of how an officer's bias may affect how he or she approaches a civilian for an interview. …

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