Chapter 2

Matching Communications Tactics with Evolving Situations/ Communicating with People in Crisis

Use of force is a last resort

In policing, force must be used as a last resort. For police officers to have legitimacy, every effort must be made to avoid force. In Canada, the use of force is permitted under the Criminal Code, with limits as set out by Sec. 25 (4). (Justice Laws Web site accessed June 7, 2018).

25 (4) A peace officer, and every person lawfully assisting the peace officer, is justified in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm to a person to be arrested, if:

    1. the peace officer is proceeding lawfully to arrest, with or without warrant, the person to be arrested;
    2. the offence for which the person is to be arrested is one for which that person may be arrested without warrant;
    3. the person to be arrested takes flight to avoid arrest;
    4. the peace officer or other person using the force believes on reasonable grounds that the force is necessary for the purpose of protecting the peace officer, the person lawfully assisting the peace officer or any other person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm; and
    5. the flight cannot be prevented by reasonable means in a less violent manner.

Ultimately, section 25 (4) prohibits the use of force by police officers unless the force is necessary to protect people. Furthermore, force is only to be used if there are no other available means that are less violent. The legislation makes it clear that officers must report any use of force and that force is only used when there are no other means available. As such, police officers are bound to try any means at their disposal to arrest a suspect with the least violent means possible. One of the tools police officers utilize is verbal judo along with the main principles of crisis intervention, and de-escalation techniques.

Communication strategies

Verbal Judo is a communication process used by officers to change a subject’s behavior without the use of any physical force. The ultimate goal of verbal judo is to gently persuade someone to become non-resistant and cooperate without aggression. Thompson and Jenkins, (2013) have identified Five Universal Truths for Human Interaction that are important for officers to remember when dealing with people:

  1. Treat people with dignity and respect.
  2. All people want to be asked rather than told to do something.
  3. All people want to be told why they are being asked or ordered to do something.
  4. All people want to be given options rather than threats.
  5. All people want a second chance when they make a mistake. (page ix)

These principles should guide all police officers when interacting with people in crisis.

Along with these principles, Thompson and Jenkins, (2013) suggest there are eleven things that officers should never say. They include:

  1. “Come here”;
  2. “You wouldn’t understand”;
  3. “Because those are the rules”;
  4. “It’s none of your business”;
  5. “What do you want me to do about it?”;
  6. “Calm down”;
  7. “What’s your problem”;
  8. “You never” or “you always”;
  9. “I’m not going to say this again”;
  10. “I’m doing this for your own good”; and
  11. “Why don’t you be reasonable?”.

These phrases, according to Thompson and Jenkins (2013), can lead to barriers to communication. The use of these phrases can also lead to subjects reacting poorly and potential aggressively. The effective communicator should use language other than the phrases listed above.

As an exercise, understand each phrase’s goal, and another way to achieve the goal verbally.

Phrase Goal Table
Phrase to avoid Reaction the Phrase may cause What the goal of the phrase is Another way to verbalize
Come here
You wouldn’t understand
Because those are the rules
It’s  none of your business
What do you want me to do about it?
Calm down
What’s your problem
You never or you always
I’m not going to say this again
I’m doing this for your own good
Why don’t you be reasonable

One of the most critical skills needed for someone to successfully use verbal judo is to demonstrate empathy. According to the Oxford Dictionary (2018) empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (e.g., both authors have the skill to make you feel empathy with their heroines), whereas sympathy means ‘feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune’ (as in, e.g., they had great sympathy for the flood victims)’.

At times, humans with biases and emotions have difficulty feeling genuine empathy. However, it is critical when dealing with people to demonstrate empathy, even when one does not truly feel empathy.  Respect is also something that we need to show everyone, regardless of how negative we may perceive the person’s actions to be or how we may feel towards the person. Showing people respect projects a professional image, demonstrates ethical treatment of people, and ultimately obtains cooperation in a peaceful and ethical manner. When we treat people disrespectfully, we lose our objectivity and become more of the problem, rather than the solution. We also damage our ability to perform our job ethically and lose any ability to foster cooperation from the public.

Thompson and Jenkins (2013) suggest that one of the tools Verbal Judo utilizes is Paraphrasing. This shows empathy and allows the subject to stop and listen to the officer, while ensuring the officer’s understanding of what the subject is trying to say. Verbal Judo is a skill set that deserves exploration by officers who value communication as a skill that will enable them to gently persuade people without the use of force. There are Verbal Judo courses offered for police officers. However, officers must be committed to using this communication technique and practice the technique when appropriate.

Crisis intervention de-escalation

All police officers in British Columbia are trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation. The ultimate goal of crisis intervention and de-escalation is to turn a highly tense situation into a situation of greatly reduced tension. (Oliva, Morgan and Compton, 2010).

The value of this training leads to greater legitimacy of police in the eyes of the public and the courts, as well as greater welfare for those people in crisis. Furthermore, it leads to a safer environment for police officers who are more likely to solve critical issues without the use of force. The use of crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques increases the welfare of police officers because they avoid lengthy use of force investigations, inquiries, criminal charges, injuries that they sustain from use of force incidents and trauma that they may experience after the incident. Resolving a crisis through de-escalation skills and the use of non-physical means leads to an increase in cognitive confidence of officers. In addition, these skill sets can be used in officers’ personal lives as well as during interviews related to more serious crimes. These benefits to police officers are enormous.

Like Verbal Judo, crisis intervention and de-escalation requires training, and understanding that the end result is a resolution without the use of force. Officers must understand that most of their duties are dedicated to keeping the peace, and that a major component of peace-keeping is problem-solving without the use of force (Walker & Katz from Oliva et el (2010).


“Crisis Intervention” by Mecklenburg County, , Flickr is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


People in crisis present in many different forms, and may be in crisis for many different reasons. People with mental health histories can be more likely to be susceptible to being in crisis; police are often called to respond to calls when a person is in crisis due to a mental health episode. These people may exhibit a wide range of symptoms characteristic of someone experiencing a mental health episode, such as anxiety, a lack of concentration, and agitation (Oliva, Morgan and Compton, 2010).

Situations calling for crisis intervention techniques are not limited to people with histories of mental health issues. These situations include people who are resistant to arrest or apprehension, people who are traumatized by crime, and people who are coping with mentally difficult situations (Oliva, Morgan and Compton, 2010).

Again, a common theme in crisis intervention and de-escalation is the ability to actively listen and to assure the person in crisis that the listener is actively listening. Oliva, Morgan and Compton (2010) suggest the following strategies in a crisis situation to demonstrate to the subject that the officer is actively listening:

    1. introducing oneself;
    2. using “I” statements;
    3. restating statements;
    4. mirroring/reflecting; and
    5. summarizing/paraphrasing.

Conversely, Oliva, Morgan and Compton (2010) suggest that there are behaviors to avoid when dealing with a crisis situation. They include:

  1. asking “why” questions;
  2. speaking too loudly;
  3. rushing;
  4. allowing their feelings to interfere with their professionalism;
  5. presenting rude, abrasive behavior;
  6. taking things personally;
  7. doing something dangerous; and
  8. lying.

Some tactics are necessary when an officer is interacting with an Emotionally Disturbed Person (EDP). When confronting an EDP who is delusional or hallucinating, officers should acknowledge that the EDP is experiencing hallucinations and delusions, and that they are having an impact on the EDP.

In British Columbia, officers are trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation skills and have been using the techniques for years. Police recruits are taught these skills while at the police academy and are expected to use them during their testing, simulations and after graduation.

The BC Crisis intervention and de-escalation program is based on the blending of the National Use of Force model, which was developed in 1999, and the CID model that was developed as a response to the Braidwood commission in 2011.  The training is mandated and is part of the BC Police Act Training Standards.

Historically, police response to crisis situations exacerbated situations rather than calming the situation down. Officers were reluctant to give the subject time to consider options or to give power to the subject. Officers would see the solution through their lens only, without considering the subject’s perspective. Officers required the subject to follow their directions or they would use force. This strategy would inevitably lead to a power struggle in which the police would exercise the use of physical force to satisfy their goals. The inevitable result is a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the public, the courts and the EDP.

Utilization of the CID model leads to less physical solutions to crisis situations through decisions based on a balance between the police and the subject. Using CID increases the number of safe resolutions for police and subjects, and the legitimacy of police to the public and courts. When police do have to resort to lethal use of force, the courts and the public understand that an effort to conclude the crisis situation peacefully was attempted.

The BC CID model for police officers in British Columbia consists of a lesson plan and exercises (from the CID course PPT). People in crisis in this program are referred to as EDPs. In the course, a crisis is considered a situation in which a person has difficulty coping with a conflict or series of conflicts in a rational manner. The EDP may be temporarily in a state that is disturbed or their disturbance may be part of a long-term mental health problem that has been exacerbated by the conflict they are confronted with.

The BC CID plan has three steps every officer must consider before, during and after the call with a person in crisis as the subject.


  1. Assess: The officer must consider all elements of the situation. They need to know the nature of the call, the suspect(s) involved, if backup is available, their physical abilities, the terrain at the location, weather conditions, etc.
  2. Plan: The officer must formulate an action plan, bearing in mind that all situations are dynamic.  Remember, every action has a reaction, so contingency plans must also be considered.
  3. Act: Once on scene, the officer must put their plan into action. It is important to remember that oftentimes officers must assess, plan, and act in a split second, as in the case of a spontaneous assault on the officer.

There are four phases within the BC CID program:

Phase 1: Make First Contact

Goal: Build rapport to start de-escalating the crisis.

Phase 2: Assess Crisis

Goal: Assess the crisis while maintaining rapport.

Phase 3: Collaborate to Build Solutions

Goal: Create opportunities for collaboration/cooperation (buy-in).

Phase 4: Resolve and Follow Up

Goal: Follow through on the solutions made in Phase 3.

Being able to use these techniques will not only contribute to improved results but provide a standardized way to articulate what an officer does or attempts to do to de-escalate a situation. (This has benefits for media responses, police notes, reports and testimony.)

The BC CID model, if followed, will increase the likelihood of a successful and peaceful conclusion to a situation with a person in crisis. All officers in British Columbia are required to take the BC CID course and are expected to utilize the key principles of the course when interacting with an EDP.

Conflict resolution

Conflict not only occurs with EDPs, it happens on a day-to-day basis at work, school or at home between people that are not emotionally disturbed and who have no history of mental illness. In this book, conflict resolution focuses on interpersonal conflict or conflict between people. “Foundations of Collaborative Conflict Resolution” (2017, Justice Institute of British Columbia) defines conflict as “differences between at least two independent parties who perceive or are experiencing:

  • incompatible goals or needs;
  • thinking differently about process or routes to a goal; or
  • interference in meeting their goals or needs”.

Conflict, based upon the definition used, is something that is common in day to day life and is a part of life that is unavoidable. If someone is engaged in a social life, they will inevitably be confronted with conflict. Dealing with conflict can be difficult and frustrating and it is therefore critical to learn how best to resolve conflict so that it can strengthen relationships and provide both parties with a winning result.

There are five conflict styles that reflect different attitudes toward conflict (JIBC, 2017):

  1. Competing: domineering behavior that is inflexible in its outcome.
  2. Avoiding: the party avoids conflict and ignores any attempt to confront the conflict.
  3. Accommodating/Harmonizing: The party focuses on the other person, rather than themselves.
  4. Compromising:  Both parties are satisfied, with each party showing a preference to themselves.
  5. Collaborating/cooperating: Focus is on satisfying both parties as much as possible.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Communications in Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System: Key Principles Copyright © 2021 by Steve McCartney and Cindy Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book