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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
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Whatever Happened to Verbal Judo?

Knowing when to talk and not talk are critical to officer safety but rarely discussed in contemporary police training.

March 02, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

"When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said."

Quote swiped from someone, someplace, somewhere

I was speaking with a friend of mine who's a short-timer working patrol in the Southeastern United States recently. He'd just returned from defensive tactics training and lamented the fact that the course was all escalation driven.

"They don't teach these young guys anything about de-escalating a situation."

"What do you mean?" I asked?

"They focus on physically taking the guy down. Which is all good and necessary a lot of the time. But there's not a damn thing about verbal judo."

I was surprised to hear this as I thought that verbal judo had become something of a staple in officer training circles. But even if it wasn't getting disseminated as it once was, I wondered if this was really that much of a concern. So I contacted some more friends.

"Yeah, I think it is," one friend told me. "Many of the young cops we're getting don't know how to talk to people. I don't mean they're belligerent; they just really don't know how to carry on a conversation."

The way this officer sees it, talking has become a collateral casualty of modern technology. Today's up-and-coming cops have mastered texting, sexting, e-mailing, and Facebook but are less accomplished when it comes to face-to-face interfacing. That the art of conversation—and therefore the ability to verbally de-escalate situations—is dying out.

Hmmm, I wondered. Had this really become a problem? If so, how pervasive was it? Was law enforcement doing enough to train officers to talk with people?

I made a few calls to some bewildered people—that whole "reach and touch someone" ad campaign has died for a reason—and found others' observations and conclusions were similar to those of my Florida friend. Hell, a logistics chief with the Bernalillo County (N.M.) Fire Department told me that it's not just police recruits, but their recruits, too.

"When it comes to talking about technology, they're Johnny-on-the-Spot," said the firefighter. "They're definitely tech savvy. But they don't have the gift of gab."

Whatever the cause, Mike Seigfried of the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department, doesn't necessarily find fault with the younger cops so much as the agencies that employ them.

"All this talk about 'millennials-baby boomers-generation X'ers,' it doesn't matter," Seigfried muses. "Hey, we're the ones that hired them, and we're the ones that have to train them. But when you ask agencies how much training they're giving these kids, there's a deafening silence. We need to give them the skills."

The way Seigfried sees it, if there is a problem with younger cops not taking shop, civics, or debate these days, it's up to police agencies to give their recruits the skill sets they need, just as they hopefully do on other fronts.

But prioritizing that skill set is a two-fold problem. For one, law enforcement tends to fixate on firearms training, driver training, and defensive tactics training.

"These are low-frequency/high-dollar concerns that get massive amounts of limited training dollars thrown at them," says Seigfried.

Such training is fine, but too much emphasis on it comes at the expense of other training and developing other skills.

"Tactical communication is, like other things, a perishable skill," Seigfried continues. "Cops talk to people every day, engaging in conversations that can escalate or de-escalate field encounters.

"Yet when we look at California and how much mandated training there is for you in talking to people, it's two hours every two years, that's it."

Complicating the situation further is the fact that one of the first things that gets constricted during bad financial periods is training. Which means that increasingly cops are leaning on whatever negligible amount of tactical communication training they've been given.

Seigfried says this often results in two opposite extremes taking place. Either cops fail to get immediate compliance with their verbal commands and automatically going hands on (the fight's on). Or, they will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk-and not act. In either instance, it becomes an officer safety issue.

"You have these guys whose actions communicate to the officer, 'I'm not going to comply.' How many times do you have to hear or see this before you are going to act? The problem is we're not getting cops in the middle-and that's where the reasonable standard is," Siegfried explains.

More than one person I spoke with said that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on tactical communications training, even as some pointed to a diminishing work ethic as a point of concern, too.

"Even if you do present the training, who's to say these younger people are going to listen? That they're going to use it in the field?" One trainer asked.

I hesitate to make generalities of those a generation or two behind me, particularly when I think of some of the heroism displayed by our young troops overseas. But I do wonder if the recruits coming into the workplace possess the same tools of their predecessors and if police agencies are doing enough to compensate for any possible deficiencies.

There are other concerns, too, that might make cops quieter than they used to be. I know one of them—the ubiquitous capturing of their every word and movement via some recording device in the car, on their person, or in the hands of the people around them-would probably serve as an inhibiter to me if I was a youngster and still on the street.

What do you think?

Comments (16)

Displaying 1 - 16 of 16

dirkde @ 3/5/2012 4:08 PM

I think that this issue is just a symptom of the way that young people are socialized (or not socialized) in today's society. Personal interaction with verbalization, including verbal judo, is a diminishable skill. You have to use it or you will lose it. In addition, I think that the successful use of verbal judo hinges on the maturity level of the user. A practitioner has to be even-tempered, calm, witty and quick thinking on his/her feet. Those skills are teachable, but they also become more honed with time on the job and gaining confidence in your abilities. Just like proficiency in firearms, however, if you don't use, the skills diminish. A lot of the successes on this job come from getting violators, witnesses, suspects and others to do what you want them to do. Talking is a lot less taxing than fighting and it often gets better results, with a lot less effort and liability. My police organization instructs all of us in Verbal Judo and it's considered one of our most effective tools as a police officer.

FireCop @ 3/7/2012 4:53 AM

Who needs to talk to anybody when you've got a Taser? This is an issue that needed to be brought up, and should be discussed. I've been preaching this for a couple of years now and it's good to see somebody take the bull by the horns and open what will be a can of worms. Good luck on the topic, and be safe.

Capt David-retired LA Cou @ 3/7/2012 8:52 AM

You are so right. Cops need to express themselves in an understandable fashion and be able to spar verbally.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 3/7/2012 8:54 AM

Interesting topic. I highly recommend Lt. Jim Glennon's "Arresting Communication" class and book. Really hits this issue square in "the jaw." See

slobull @ 3/29/2012 2:51 PM

Verbal Judo worked for me, I taught it and was trained by George Thompson. WhhhooSha, I made it throughout my career without shooting someone or injuring them or myself. Sometimes simple things do work.

Jeremy Young @ 3/29/2012 10:05 PM

I believe the author is correct in that Young People (myself included in the young people, being only 33) are not educated and trained on how to verbally handle themselves. I am so tired of finding out about events or whatever happening in lives of people I know off of the social media networks. But in the Law Enforcement business, we cannot deescalate a situation using email, social media or texting. We have to use words and use them verbally to deescalate. We have to learn of Dr. George Thompson (R.I.P.) and use words. Once we master this, the streets, our correctional and detention facilities and even our homes will become better for the Officers, and many Line Of Duty Deaths can be spared by us just talking out the situations. Not saying that only words will work, actions have to take place, but we have to, as Dr Thompson said "WOOSHA." Win on own secret hidden agenda. We have to win to stay in the game.

DaveSAM25G @ 3/30/2012 12:59 AM

Excellent Article and it will be shared thanks Sgt Scoville (Dean)!...Lt. Jim Glennon of lifeline training just completed a conference in Albuquerque March 2012- Sponsored by BCSO/BCSD - Jim & Rita McGrane Sr. the James McGrane Jr. (251) EOW 22 March 2006- 12:46AM . Officer Street Survival Program that is an annual event funded by provide this training free to officer's throughout the state.

There is another program that was developed in Kanas City KOMO that started in 2011..Unleashing respect project I took the liberty to post the web link or you may googel it (Unleashing respect project )...

Best of luck and stay safe your family and friends, the nation and community need you!

Donut_plz @ 3/30/2012 7:18 AM

The problem lies in the fact that the younger generation has learned to cummunicate via electronic technology. Rarely do they have to interact with anyone in life form. I see this in my kids as well as how our dept uses video scenarios to get a idea of how a person will interact with others.

For me I cant stand talking to a monitor or trying to act like Im there and they are interacting with me.

The younger generation have no problems with it due to their use of video games and the communications set up for online play.

When we went to this video format and did away with the real life oral board we flunked alot of experienced officers that were applying and hired kids that could talk to a screen.

I think we are passing up some quality experienced people because they dont know how to talk to a video screen and losing money on those who could, when they quit because the job is more than they expected.

JimA @ 3/30/2012 7:20 AM

It seems that the "kids" on the job would rather use force than talk. Maybe they will learn to talk a little better when they are older and find their joints hurt and their knees are bruised when they have fought instead of talked. Or maybe they would 'rather fight than switch'. The most useful tool is still your voice.


Robert Lunney @ 3/30/2012 8:17 AM

A police officer’s most effective weapon is between his ears.
Outsmarting is always better than overpowering, and it helps to have
what is called good patter or a good mouth.

Robert Lunney @ 3/30/2012 8:18 AM

This subject is highly relevant in modern policing.

Doug Lynch @ 4/2/2012 3:08 PM is the updated verbal judo website and program. Gary Klugiewicz has taken over as lead instructor since the untimely passing of Dr George Thompson. The program now includes more emphasis on risk assesment and how and when to move beyond words to action. Also, it is now taught in a train the trainer/instructor format so that individuals who attend the 40 hour course are now certified to go back and instructor at their own agencies. I am an instructor myslef and would be happy to answer any questions, comments or concerns. Doug Lynch 623-202-5469

Zucks @ 4/16/2012 9:05 PM

I am a big believer in the importance of Tactical Communication (and all the other terms that mean the same thing). I have also long said that I would rather talk someone into my back seat than pound or pretzel them there. So, in spirit, I agree with the article.

That being said, however, I don’t necessarily agree that Tactical Communications training belongs within a defensive tactics program’s curriculum and time allotment. Why?

1. How much is “enough” TC training? 2 hours? 4 hours? 8 hours? 16 hours? There is no cookie cutter amount of time. The guy and gals who are good at communicating are good because they’ve done it and lived it over a much longer period of time – experimenting, improvising, and adapting over the course of hundreds if not thousands of different types of subject or suspect contacts.

2. TC is nowhere near 100% effective. No matter how good a talker you are, there is always going to be that percentage of people you just can’t reason with 100% of the time. Among them include:

a. big time jerkoffs – they may hate you personally or just the uniform in general

b. people highly under the influence of drugs and or alcohol

c. emotionally distressed persons or persons with psychological conditions

d. mentally or developmentally challenged persons

e. people who don’t speak the same language as you

f. people who will accept your message BUT only if they hear it from someone with higher rank

3. In my experience as a full-time academy defensive tactics and use of force instructor here in California, there is not enough time in the short time allotted for defensive tactics, use of force, and arrest and control in the basic academy to train TC. There isn’t even enough time for me to instruct all the physical techniques that I believe (which is way above and beyond what is required by CA POST) are crucial for recruits to know and b

Zucks @ 4/16/2012 9:05 PM

4. In my opinion, TC is not something you can instruct and monitor with anything less than a 1:1 student to instructor ratio. TC must be practiced under real circumstances with immediate supervision should things not work out as well as hoped (i.e. if/when stuff hits the fan). TC must be developed over the course of a much longer period of time while contacting many different people under differing sets of circumstances. Training TC via a couple of sterile scenarios with cooperative roleplayers is not realistic enough.

5. If we do conduct TC training, it Must be balanced or offset with worst case scenario training (e.g. you tried TC but it didn’t work and now you’re fighting for your life). As a DT/Force instructor, my job is to prepare my students for worst cases. Training for best case scenarios where things always go as planned or where an officer or deputy always has the upper hand or where TC always works, etc is dangerously unrealistic.

All that being said, I believe that TC could be and should be BRIEFLY INTRODUCED (i.e. much less than 2 hours) during an academy BUT also should be primarily instructed and developed under the tutelage of a dedicated training officer in Custody/Corrections as well as out on Patrol. And, if you’ll allow me to step up on my soap box for a moment, which is why it is CRUCIAL that Only the best qualified persons be placed into critical positions such as a training officer – not because someone is a particular gender, or ethnicity, or knows or is related to someone, or any other non-merit based factor.

Also, for what it’s worth, we DO instruct TC and include it in our roleplaying scenario training.

Christine Bell @ 7/30/2012 10:33 AM

Tactical communication, should be a way of life. "speaking" with my step-son yesterday, I was flailing to place a word between his violent accusations. His "brain damage"( in the Spirit of Doc Thompson) was non of my doing. He was desperate to to do damage to me. Respect- was foremost in my mind. At one point I told him "Thank- you"., and was at a loss to tell him why when he asked.
I finally needed to get away as there was no way to communicate with him, I was at a loss- and was beginning a slow burn.
He later told me he was sorry, but I still had no words, and said I'd speak to him in the morning.
He in the mean time spoke w/ his Dad, as did I.
In the morning I apologized for my inability to communicate under that type of stress, and asked him to forgive me. He also again apologized.
Doc Thompson's teachings are timeless, and all encompassing. Not only to law enforcement but also to humanity(Americans) across the board.
Utilized correctly at certain points it would greatly reduce the incidences where excessive force are necessary.

Tom @ 4/6/2015 5:18 PM

I totally agree. Communication is always key, but you can't talk every mope into cuffs either. I'm not so sure it is a new officer / old officer issue. I know there is at least one or two people in every department that are "that guy". The one you see pulling up as a cover officer and you know there is a 50/50 chance you're going to get in a fight. That guy isn't always a 21 year old "kid". It is sometimes an old, grumpy "adult" that is on a high horse..and has been for their whole life. There are also some folks out there that could talk a knuckle head into doing anything for them. A couple of those talkers couldn't run, jump, or fight for 30 seconds without having a heart attack. Every officer of every age should focus on keeping the hard and soft skills needed for the job sharp. A good crook doesn't give a crap how long you've been on or how many stars are on your name tag.

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