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Communication Is the Key to Crisis De-escalation

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 51 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 72-75
Jerilyn Dufresne
Date Published
August 2003
4 pages
This article describes the characteristics of a police officer's communication with a mentally ill person that is most likely to bring a mutually successful end to the encounter.
Most individuals with mental illness are not dangerous, but interactions with them must be sensitive and reinforcing of positive self-esteem if their behavior is to be constructively managed. The five keys to constructive communication are to give the person undivided attention; be nonjudgmental; focus on the person's feelings, not just the facts; allow silence; and use restatement to clarify messages. Giving a person undivided attention gives them the feeling that what they are saying is important to the person listening to them. Being nonjudgmental encourages a person to express feelings and thoughts that might otherwise be stifled out of fear of rejection. Focusing on feelings enhances the person's trust that the officer cares about the person's inner core. Allowing silence suggests that the officer is inviting the person to talk and share information. Clarifying statements that the person has made not only gives the person the feeling that the officer wants to understand his/her feelings, but indicates whether or not he/she has been correctly understood. In order to develop the necessary communication skills, officers should practice the techniques involved and use a team approach, which provides a context for professionalism. Debriefing after an encounter or incident can also help in improving communication and behavioral management skills.