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The Voice Of Authority – Part 1

Giving New York’s Finest An Edge: Verbal Judo

By Christopher Caile

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three part series on NYPD’s Tactical Communications Training. Part one discussed inception of the program and its goals. Part 2 focuses on training, while Part 3 provides an overview of the programs concepts and principles.

Detective James Shanahan, Senior Instructor, and Sergeant Amado Maldonando, Instructor/Supervisor, of the New York City Police Academy. They teach Tactical Communication to all new recruits, officers and those entering command positions, or undergoing advancement.

The next time you talk to a New York City police officer, you may be surprised. He may sound almost friendly. And if he asks you to do something, it may sound more like a request than an order.

It is training. The New York Police Department is giving its officers and recruits innovative training in a martial arts based conflict resolution course called Tactical Communications.

Since 1995 Tactical Communications, formerly known as Verbal Judo, has been taught to all new and current officers – over 44,000 to date. And the nearly 1,000 recruits now enrolled in the police academy will have had this training before they graduate.

The conflict resolution training does not stand alone, however. It is an integral part of a compliance continuum that starts with word and graduates to physical means when necessary. Given the right communications strategy, however, the verbal component can be used in the great majority of situations.

Although this article focuses on the NYPD, it is also about us: The effect of our attitude, what we say, how we say it, and the body language presented. They can deflate anger and emotion or inflate them. They can reduce agitation or potential aggression or feed it. They can help find common ground or create misunderstanding. They can sometimes function as self-defense as in a street situation, but elsewhere, as in the home or office and among the family work to help relations and help you achieve your goals.

A vast majority of the time words are effective, but when words fail, or when there is a physical attack or violence, especially if there is a weapon involved, a physical response is called for. But, verbal communications can be used to diffuse situations before they become physical. This can reduce the need for physical means of persuasion during an officer’s daily activities.

One immediate benefit is to the police officer himself. Physical danger inherent in police work is reduced. So is stress. At the same time the police officer is trained to project increased professionalism which aids his or her ability to project authority.

The system can be used in connection with traffic stops, arrests, a hostage situation, dealing with altercations, controlling people – anywhere a police officer needs to gain compliance as well as during routine interactions with the public such as dealing with people who are injured, lost or in need of assistance. It even is useful when answering questions. Citizens benefit too.

“One of the goals of law enforcement is to gain compliance,” says Detective James Shanahan, a senior instructor at the New York City Police Academy and hostage negotiator. “Experience shows us that the safest, most efficient and effective form of compliance is voluntary compliance. In plain language this is the ability to get people to do what you need them to do while allowing them to believe it was their idea.” Shanahan, a martial artist who has been in the NYPD for over twenty-six years, says, “I have had to learn to verbally blend with people, rather than collide with them. I have worked with cops who were so skilled at dealing with people, I am certain they could talk a rabid dog off a meat truck.”

This is why the course is also sometimes referred to as Verbal Judo.

The course work was initially based on a body of research pioneered by Dr. George Thompson. Thompson, a professor of literature and Judo black belt, gave up his position to become a police officer so he could study their skills and methods. He published his research in a book called “Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion”.

Thompson’s original work is an amalgamation of western style persuasive speaking techniques and industrial psychology blended with insights and philosophy from eastern martial arts. Included are segments in ego deflation and raising self esteem.

Despite the success of Tactical Communications training, there has been little press about the program. This is unfortunate because it might help offset some of the negative headlines generated by several unfortunate incidents involving the use of physical force such as the Amadou Diallo incident in 1999.

The need for refined training on the use of less than lethal and even the less than physical force was recognized in the mid-1990s. The negative press and uproar over the Rodney King beating and arrest by the Los Angles police in 1995 convinced law enforcement agencies across the country that new and less forceful ways of dealing with people were needed. In New York City an outgrowth of this concern was initially having Dr. Thompson teach Verbal Judo to the NYPD for a period of time.

Subsequently this initial program evolved. Having developed an expert team of NYPD trainers the program became known as the CPR (Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect) Program. Years later, this program was again modified, updated and refined and became known as Tactical Communication. This version of this course work remains a core philosophical underpinning of the academy curriculum.

In decades past, training was different. There was a large cadre of experienced officers who would take new officers under their wing. Sometimes this worked well. When it did, new officers would then be trained by senior street-experienced officers. They were shown proven and effective ways of communicating and dealing with civilians in the course of their duty. Many of these older, experienced cops were tremendous communicators. As natural intuitive communicators they know how to avoid conflict with words and used persuasion to get what they needed. But what was lacking was a systemic comprehensive form of training.

Other officers were known to resort to less effective persuasion by natural language and force. Training was not uniform, and thus enforcement wasn’t either.

Over the last decade the composition of the New York City police force has changed. There has been a huge influx of new officers. Currently nearly 30 percent of the force has been on the job for four years or less. This represents a huge turnover and influx of new recruits. The old cadre of experienced officers has been depleted largely due to retirement, for which they receive pay and benefits after 20 years of service. The turnover increases the need for institutionalized training.

Teaching a police force the size of New York City’s is not an easy task. It is huge, the size of a small army distributed over the five boroughs. Police officers also represent a rich mix of races, cultural backgrounds and levels of education. Training also involves trying to retrain a great number of officers who have been on duty for years and developed their own methods and procedures of conduct.

Despite these obstacles the ongoing New York Police Academy’s Tactical Communication program has made great strides in teaching its officers useful communications tools, strategies and methods of conduct. If used properly they can simplify a large part of the job of officers on the street, but also increase citizen compliance while reducing complaints.

Author’s Note: This author was invited by the New York Police Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Training, Wilbur L. Chapman, to attend several seminars at the New York City Police Academy and at John Jay College in Manhattan to witness seminars in Tactical Communication training first hand. I attended three training sessions taught by Detective James Shanahan, a senior instructor of NYPD academy who is also a member of the adjunct faculty at John Jay.

Detective James Shanahan, Senior Instructor, at the New York Police Academy with Christopher Caile, Editor of FightingArts.com at the entrance of the New York Police Academy.


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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is founder and Editor of FightingArts.com


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Verbal Judo,NYPD,James Shanahan, Amado Maldonando, New York City Police Academy,Dr. George Thompson,CPR Program


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