The Voice Of Authority – Part 2
Tactical Communications Training
By Christopher Caile
Editor’s Note: This is the second
in a three part series on NYPD’s Tactical Communications Training.
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,
a senior instructor in Tactical Communication makes a point to a
class of recruits undergoing training at the New York Police Academy.
Detective James Shanahan, a senior instructor of the New York City Police
Academy, is an ideal teacher. An accomplished, decorated veteran for over
26 years, he knows the streets. He also knows how to communicate his message.
He’s bald, and six foot three and looks a like a mix of a jovial
Santa Claus and Mr. Clean. Dynamic and charismatic, he speaks with a bigger
than life personality. The smile he projects is disarming.
Unlike the NYPD, most people are not trained
in communication skills. Martial artists are different. Traditional
arts stress self-discipline in mind and body, practice traditional
etiquette and follow protocols of behavior within an environment
that stresses mutual respect – components that comprise many
of the same human skills taught to officers in Tactical Communications.
His unit is charged with training all new NYPD recruits in the basics
of effective communications and conflict resolution that can help them
in their daily duties. This covers a lot of ground and a lot of police
officers and recruits. There are nearly 1000 recruits currently undergoing
training at the Police Academy as well as approximately 35,000 active
The program is a comprehensive mix boiled down for easy digestion. Included
are people skills, conflict resolution, and psychology as well as communication
theory and strategy. Originally based on the ground-breaking work of Dr.
George Thompson, a former professor of literature and Judo black belt,
turned police officer. The program has been expanded from Thompson’s
curriculum to include additional psychology, persuasion strategies and
insights from eastern philosophy.
All recruits are given this basic training. But teaching existing officers,
detectives and even supervisors can be more daunting. They can be a hard-nosed
bunch, ingrained with their own ideas of procedure. They also don’t
take well to dry lectures, or unsolicited advice and may have their own
ideas of what works.
In short, the challenge arises from teaching people with different personalities,
cultural backgrounds, histories and temperament. That is a difficult job,
but also important.
The basics include many skills and tactics, which could be characterized
as “common sense.” But as Mark Twain once said, “Common
sense is very uncommon.” What can be easily understood is often
difficult to put into practice when there is ego, emotion and other factors
Shanahan’s classes are not dry. Instead of lectures he uses his
skills as a part time actor to enliven his discussion with situational
enactments, role-playing and video presentations. Various situations which
officers often face become alive as he acts out situations, taking on
roles for his audience of different personality types. Students are constantly
challenged to give their opinions and asked to examine their judgments.
There are also summary outlines that are filled in by students as they
progress through training. This keeps things lively and gives the feeling
of participation in actual situations.
“Police ‘In Service’ audiences can be tough,”
says Shanahan. “I use this course to teach my class”. He explains.
“No cop is going to stand for a sermon on ‘being nice’.”
He refers to his teaching style as “enter-trainment” and describes
it as the nexus between training and entertainment. “If you are
too much the entertainer, you can diminish the value of your work and
be seen as merely a stand up comic. If you take yourself too seriously
and are too heavy with the training, you risk being defined as pedantic,
full of yourself, a ‘by the book phony’. Many cops I teach
are struggling and need help. Yet, they are smart and have great instincts.
You need to speak with them, for them, not at them. In order to be successful,
your credibility and creativity better match. If not, you’re in
This type of training works because it lets officers and recruits see
their own strengths and weakness in conduct and communications. It helps
them recognize what is effective, and what is not. Officers can learn
to understand how their actions and words can either reduce the potential
for physical violence or escalate it.
A wide variety of situations are covered. Traffic stops, interactions
with citizens in various street situations, and confrontations are examined,
rehearsed and broken down for analysis – students given an active
role in the training. The curriculum covers psychology, personal assessment,
and strategies for working with different types of personalities. Professionalism
is stressed, including both dress and attitude. Methods of non-confrontational
tactics are taught -- all grounded in basic communication skills and strategies.
Shanahan, who also serves as a trainer
in hostage negotiations in addition to be a Senior Trainer in Tactical
Communications, plays an intransigent citizen in a hostage negotiation
role-playing exercise with several students in a class in Hostage
Negotiation conducted in conjunction with the detective bureau of
the New York City Police Department. Training in Hostage Negotiation
includes many of the same principles and strategies of communication
as are taught in classes in Tactical Communications.
In short, Tactical Communications teaches how to resolve situations where
compliance is needed without force. The officer presents a confident and
professional presence, is non-emotional and uses a proper choice of words,
avoiding use of insults or derogatory behavior. This strategy is successful
in vast majority of interactions with the public.
When words fail, however, or when actions or the situation calls for
an immediate forceful response, other measures are taken. Tactical Communication
is but one step along a continuum, which includes various levels of defensive
force - use of mace, impact weapons, firearms, etc. The goal, however,
is to avoid these escalations whenever possible.
In the first Tactical Communication class I attended, a video was shown
of a State Trooper’s interaction with a driver of a vehicle he had
pulled over. The driver’s reaction was very emotional and full of
The class was asked to comment on how the State Trooper handled the traffic
stop in terms of composure, his professionalism and verbal control of
the situation. The situation was then discussed in detail and lessons
drawn from it.
Before a class of police
officers Shanahan role-plays with student officers in a mock traffic
stop. Shanahan acts out various verbal responses, emotional reactions,
and problems drivers often present officers when they pull over
drivers. Officers in turn to use a simple structured dialogue designed
to maintain control and exert authority that if employed can avoid
many of the problems and responses often encountered.
Of course traffic stops are a sort of unique situation requiring both
officer control and driver response. To help officers a simple word formula
was suggested-- a series of statements to be used in traffic stops. Taken
together these sentences provided a short hand method to professionally
and effectively execute a traffic stop – a method to maintain control
and elicit driver responses. The objective was to teach officers how to
verbally engage a driver to minimize potential conflict or verbal abuse,
to allow inspection of a license, and registration and issue a ticket
or make an arrest.
Officers and recruits then role-played with each other to employ the
suggested wording. With practice the method becomes ingrained and natural.
So how effective is the program? One of the officers in the course commented,
“The course makes a lot of sense, it is something I can use. It
is learning how to communicate, so you can communicate in a way others
can easily understand and accept what you are saying and asking them to
In mid-town New York, I asked one police officer on the street what he
thought about the training. Asking that his name not be used, he said
he found Tactical Communications very useful. “It’s another
tool in our tool bag,“ he said. “It took a little re-training
for me, but now I find it can be effective. I have found that it makes
dealing with the public smoother and often easier.”
Talking to a variety of other cops on the streets in various boroughs
of NYC, there were similar reactions. Several cops complimented the program
and one officer on security duty at one of the bridges leading to Manhattan
cited back to this writer the exact verbal strategy most often used when
dealing with civilian compliance.
Another cop on traffic duty in the Bronx, however, said he couldn’t
remember much about the program. “It was over four years ago,”
he said. This comment underscores the difficulty of teaching such a large
force and the need for periodic retraining.
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is founder and Editor of FightingArts.com