Law enforcement officers across Maryland are learning or honing skills in tactical communication - that is, remaining calm and in control in stressful situations - at the police and correctional training complex in Sykesville.
Billed as "verbal judo," the course aims to restore meaning to the term "peace officer." Its offering at the Carroll County facility marks the first time the course has been available to all officers at one location. Previously, some agencies hired instructors independently to teach their officers.
The breadth of the program's appeal was evident last week when three dozen officers from the metropolitan area and elsewhere attended the in-service training at the State Police and Correctional Training Center.
Based upon the book "Verbal Judo - The Gentle Art of Persuasion" by George J. Thompson, president of a New Mexico police and security management firm, the condensed one-day version of the course is designed to help Maryland law enforcement officers peacefully and safely resolve tense confrontations before they escalate and require physical or lethal force.
This form of tactical communication is based on the principles of judo, according to Thompson. Like judo, it uses the energy of others to master situations and allows the user to generate cooperation and gain voluntary compliance during stressful situations, such as when handling hostile suspects, or dealing with frightened victims.
The class, run under the auspices of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, helps veteran and rookie officers get an objective look at how the public perceives them as people and as authority figures, said course instructor David DeAngelis, a retired Baltimore deputy sheriff who also is an eighth-grade teacher in Anne Arundel County.
DeAngelis blended humorous and poignant anecdotes with insightful hints on persuading others "to do what you want." "Perception goes both ways," he told the officers at the Sykesville facility.
As an example of two-way perception, he noted that a police officer might go to a party on a Saturday night and be proud to say he's a police officer, or he might be reluctant. In a similar way, partygoers might have a variety of mental images of police officers, he said.
Some want to sidle up and ask, "Killed anyone lately?" he said, rolling his eyes to the laughter of his audience.
Others might wonder whether officers pay for the coffee and doughnuts at the local convenience store.
Too few, he said, think of a courageous, brave person on patrol, putting his or her life on the line every day at work.
Verbal judo is "common sense," said Lt. Richard Watters, in-service training coordinator for the Maryland State Police. Watters attended DeAngelis' presentation and found it beneficial for seasoned and rookie officers.
"Any officer who has been on the street for a while probably has learned ways to handle people in confrontational situations, and verbal judo reinforces what he has learned," he said.
Tactful communication can be especially effective in domestic-violence situations, where perhaps a neighbor has called police and by the time officers arrive, the verbal argument has heated and become very intense, said DeAngelis.
"As a police officer, you must bring the intensity level down quickly, or both parties may confront you," he said.
He also showed videos of situations in which police in other cities have used excessive force to subdue a suspect.
Discussions about the footage were designed to get officers to be aware that they should want to treat people the way they would want to be treated, said Watters. "The verbal judo course pushes mutual respect. It's another tool in helping police officers survive on the street."