The Last on Courtesy from Elements of Police Science

This will wrap up the chapter on courtesy as briefly as possible. I’m working on a way to summarize all the courtesy points from several sources into one compact write-up that I might post here. Hopefully it’s worth a damn.

Our author is brief but specific in his expectations of personal appearance and tone. He points out that appearance is accepted as going hand in hand with ability. While well dressed men may not make the best officers, the best officers should present themselves in a clean professional manner so as to exude confidence in their ability. Take a bath, shave, wash your hands, cut your hair, and brush your teeth. These all seem like basic points, but he felt the need to present them. An entire paragraph is dedicated to bad breath. If you can’t get rid of bad breath, he goes so far as to recommend medical help! Basically, wash your ass, shine your brass, and shave. That’s the best way I can summarize this section.

His next section covers tone. “Every time you speak, you touch someone with your voice.” “Ninety percent of all the friction of daily life is caused by mere tone of voice.” The author suggests you not talk too loudly, don’t mumble, but don’t enunciate every single word. He recommends a low pleasant voice. Personally, I have found that about 90% of my interactions are best facilitated by a quiet voice. Raising my voice in a tense situation occasionally calms it down, but a soft voice has been far more effective.

The chapter continues with instructions on how to act patriotically in regards to the flag. There is also a ridiculously detailed section on dining etiquette. I suppose back in the day, police officers were held in a higher regard in society and dined with important people. The author felt officer’s needed instruction on how to hold a spoon, which fork to use, and how to hold a glass. It’s crazy to think how far things have changed. I’ll skip those details, as they are excruciatingly boring.

We end with the section “Courtesy Pays.” In the same sense as karma, the author explains that being courteous will return great rewards for those who take the time. While never being able to point to a single action we perform, the small things we do daily, added up, can enhance the respect and support we receive from the public. The only tangible immediate return we see is the feeling in our heart. We’ll never get rich doing this job; however, the feeling of accomplishment we receive from what we do shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes, that’s all we get. We also can’t ignore the impact our interactions have on the public. “The whole life of a person in his outlook on law and officers of the law may be involved in a minor contact with him. An unthinking act of discourtesy may embitter him or a simple display of consideration and thoughtfulness make him an ally on the side of law and order.”

I’ll close with a few personal stories about how I think courtesy can affect our attitudes towards law enforcement.

My Dad told me a story of when he was a teenager he had a flat tire while in bad weather, and had no tools. An officer, with tools, stopped and helped him change that tire without complaining. Without that officer, Dad would have been stranded. Dad told me the way that officer did his job, and  how he was helping him in his hour of need, left an impression on him. He said he admired the officer so much he wanted to become an officer himself.

If we rewind a few years, my Dad was a child. His family wasn’t flush with money. They got by but vacations were few and far between. He told me of a time when Grandpa had hyped a camping trip. All the kids were excited. He said they had the car loaded up and had just pulled out. They weren’t far from home when Grandpa got pulled over. I don’t recall the infraction, but Grandpa got a ticket. He didn’t argue. He didn’t complain. He accepted the ticket, and then he turned around and told everyone, “Well, sorry, guys, we can’t go camping.” That ticket was enough to set them back that Grandpa couldn’t afford the trip any more. As a child, I cannot imagine how much you have to hate that cop for ruining your trip. Maybe Grandpa deserved the ticket, but a child probably doesn’t care. I tell these two examples to show how a single act from a cop could totally influence someone’s opinion on us. In every single thing you do, be cognizant of the potential ramifications. Sometimes we have to do things that suck. Sometimes we can’t cut breaks when we want to. But just keep in mind what’s at stake.

The coming chapters cover witness testimony, photography, fingerprints, and a whole lotta other potentially outdated stuff. I’ll skip most of it. If there’s anything of interest in those chapters, I’ll try to include it in more interesting write-ups. Again, if you have questions, opinions, comments, feel free to comment or email. I’m interested in other viewpoints.

More Police Courtesy, Olander

Conduct at the Desk

I work for a smaller agency that doesn’t necessarily have a desk officer. If people have questions, they often call our dispatch center and we get a message to call them back to answer their questions. In a sense, I guess we’re all desk officers

Olander reminds us to always have a pleasant and courteous attitude. Even the silliest and seemingly small calls should be treated with the same professionalism as the serious ones. “If the request is for something that cannot be granted or that does not come under the jurisdiction of the police, it can be politely explained or refused by saying ‘I am sorry, but your request is beyond the authority of the police,’ or “we would be glad to help you, but it does not come under our jurisdiction.” This book was written a LONG time ago. It seems just about everything has become the responsibility of the police. If you can find a tactful way of effectively explaining to someone that something is just not a police manner WITHOUT them getting upset, I’d love to hear it!

Promptly greet people, and greet them pleasantly, as they enter the office. Assure them you will get to their needs as soon as is reasonable possible. Offer a place to sit if one is available. Olander felt the need to point out that it is not rude to ask a person’s name if they fail to offer it. It seemed an unusual point to make, so it made me wonder if something has changed since them. Do not patronize people who are young or old. Never act as though the office is your private space, and the person has intruded.

Appear interested. Be patient and tolerant, even if the person is vague or rambling. “If you find it necessary to dismiss him, do it politely by saying you have another engagement, or in whatever way courteously fits the occasion.” I’m not sure Olander expressly endorses pressing your earpiece, feigning listening, and then explaining you have a call, but it seems to fit his rules.

Phone Courtesy

In 1937, while telephones were in wide usage, no one, including the author, could have predicted the increase in phone calls in today’s society. Now more than ever before in the past, it is important to know how to effectively communicate via telephone. Olander stressed that it’s not so much WHAT is said to the caller but HOW it is said. He stresses that the very first words that are spoken might determine the effectiveness of the phone call. The tone of your voice should convey a helpful “at your service” attitude. When answering, answer with your agency and name to avoid wasting time. Have a pen and paper handy so as not to waste anyone’s time. Pay attention to avoid having the caller repeat themselves.

These were very short sections in the chapter but I think it reinforces a lot of points as well as covers some things that while seemingly common sense, we may have all struggled with over time. I think most cops naturally start to lose some of their courtesy over time. We deal with “The Public” every single day. It tends to wear on us. We get annoyed because we deal with the same silly stuff all too often. But I think we tend to forget that for these people interacting with us, it might be their first interaction with police. Whatever they are reporting might be so profound in their peaceful life, yet seem so minor compared to what we deal with daily.

The next few sections are about presentation. Stay tuned.

Like, comment, share, message. This blog is new, and VERY lightly read but I’m always open for discussion if you’re interested. I’ve picked up some other books lately that I’m hoping to get to. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

 

Police Courtesy: On Duty

Back again with Oscar Olander’s chapter on Police Courtesy.

Olander suggests there are specific main virtues for police that are all interwoven with each other. He includes “courtesy, good manners, confidence and ability.” Shorting yourself on any one undercuts the support for the others. Our behavior, because we are in such a public role, is monitored more closely than the average citizen. Therefore, we should all strive to enhance the image of the law man. Every action reflects not only on you, but on the very image that people hold for law enforcement in general. “Remember always that there area men wearing your same uniform who have walked into death to maintain the honor and good name of the service they represent.”

Show your strength in how you operate under stressful conditions. Your calm is paramount when those around you are losing their composure and become distracted and excited. Calmness breeds confidence. Olander warns against “officiousness.” I like to think of myself as being well read, but I had to look this word up. Dictionary.com gave me this definition:

Officiousness: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome:

How many times in our careers do we find ourselves intervening in situations that might work themselves out without our intervention but we still step in and try to help. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to want to help, and to offer to help, but it’s worth it to consider if some of our customers even WANT our help.

“Officiousness,” Olander warns, gains us only ill will. He suggests officers cultivate an ability to meet people with tact and consideration, and to maintain poise. He goes on to affirm that the “gospel of police courtesy is built on respect.” Giving respect invites respect. Make sincere efforts to understand other points of view to better your ability to make good judgments.

Don’t speak definitively on things you are unsure of, and “When in doubt, keep still.” (While this might be recommended in speech, it might be terrible tactical advice. If you’re ever in doubt in a gun fight, move, get off the “X”.)

Don’t talk about religion, politics, or other’s personalities. (Nobody cares.)

“Learn to take constructive criticism without justifying yourself. It is a good way to learn what people think is wrong with you.” If you read my review on The Trident, by Jason Redman, you’ll know how much weight I put on that advice. Lack of interest in conversation is a breach of courtesy. Focus when you’re being spoken to.

Respond to requests for information with “a cheerful willingness and with a desire to be helpful.”

If you have to call or talk to someone while they’re busy, respect their time and be brief.

We come into contact with all sorts of people, with all sorts of weird behaviors. Olander recommends ignoring a lot of these behaviors, unless they amount to insults. (However; he doesn’t recommend, yet, what we do when insulted.

“Be strictly punctual.” I’ll admit punctuality has been a problem for me throughout my career. I was raised by late parents. I’m not sure we ever left on time. I keep a box of my Dad’s old things and one of them was the minutes from a police meeting from 15 years ago. Noted was his late arrival. Recently, I listened to an episode of the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink, a Navy SEAL. He talked about the disrespect that comes with tardiness. When I’m late, he says, I’m showing disrespect to everyone who had to wait for me. I’m telling them their time isn’t as important as mine. It’s something I’m striving to fix.

Olander argues you should preface a request for identification with the reason why you are requesting. Some might argue that this has changed over the years. I’ve been trained to obtain the ID prior to explaining the reason for the stop so you don’t wind up arguing over the reason before you have what you need. On a case by case basis, maybe the introduction and explanation first is more diffusing than requiring ID first.

“Never engage in long sidewalk or curbstone conversations.” There you have it folks; when you get cornered in the gas station by the guy asking incessantly if “you know if they ever caught those guys doing that stuff over yonder,” you can say Part 1, Chapter 5 of Elements of Police Science, Section B prohibits me from engaging in this.

Olander warns against leaning or having a loafing attitude while speaking with people.

He cautions against leaning through car windows, or resting a foot on a running board, during a traffic stop. Despite the terrible tactical position this puts you in, it was viewed as a mild form of trespass.

He recommends furthering your knowledge on topics you know will eventually be brought to your attention. It’s difficult to anticipate every question, but being well read and well versed in a variety of things will never be a hindrance to you.

Mind the chain of command. Failing to do so is “a manifestation of disrespect or ignorance.”

Olander phrases this next point carefully. “Policemen are obligating themselves when accepting extended accommodations or costly gifts.” I’ve heard some agencies argue that any discounts, free food, free coffee, or gifts from the public should be forbidden and that accepting any of those is paramount to corruption and bribery. Any officer who has worked the road has probably experienced an offer of coffee or food while in a restaurant. You’ve had your meal anonymously purchased. In smaller Mom and Pop shops, the proprietors are often so grateful we’ve come in they want to offer us a discount. Trying to decline is almost offensive to them. Olander used those words “extended” and “costly” for a reason. I think it’s important to determine just what the motivation behind the gift is and what the benefit is. Is a free coffee enough for you to change your enforcement behavior? Is a free coffee worth your career? Also, ask yourself why the offer is being extended. Is the clerk asking for favors when you get your coffee? The very second you detect an expectation coming with the coffee, you should decide if it’s a clerk or establishment you want to continue patronizing.

Olander calls a pleasant facial expression an asset. Smile, don’t grin. Don’t boast about or inflate your accomplishments.

Hold your fellow officers in the same esteem you hold for yourself. (I might go one step further and argue you should hold your brothers in higher esteem than you hold yourself. These men will fight and die beside you and they deserve that recognition from you. )

Maintain unshakable loyalty to your agency.

Whenever in uniform, whether on or off duty, the public presumes you to be on duty. (The same could be said about driving a take home car.)

“What the future holds for you depends on what you hold for the future. Avail yourself of every opportunity to learn more about your chosen profession.” One of the things I have been most grateful for over the years has been the ability for me to continue my training over the years. When training has been trimmed back a little, I have sought out books, training videos, and speakers who could help me improve on my own.

Don’t interrupt. (Unless you have to)

“It is possible to be pleasant and courteous without any semblance of familiarity.”

The next section is “Conduct at the Desk.” There are some key points for the desk officer that than can apply to the road officer and I’ll summarize and address a lot of those.

Police Courtesy, Olander

Written in 1937 by the Commissioner of Michigan State Police, Oscar G. Olander, this chapter is by far my favorite so far. It’s so incredibly pertinent even 80 years later. I pride myself on my people skills and my ability to interact with the public, whether innocent citizens or criminals. The crimes change, the drugs change, laws change. What doesn’t change is human nature.
Know how to shoot. Know how to drive. Know how to fight. But, of equal importance, know how to treat people.
A. Public Courtesy
—“Courtesy is the only oil for the wheel of human contact that always retains its lubrication quality.” It sounds pretty cheesy, but a little Courtesy today can have far reaching benefits. Courtesy is described in this chapter not in the hand-shaking back-slapping superficial niceness we may show the public. It in the “quiet, unassuming behavior based on a sincere consideration of the feelings of others.” The author describes it as “the undefinable something about a man that inspires confidence.” Read that sentence again and think about it. An “undefinable something about a man that inspires confidence. We need the trust of the public. One show of rudeness can remove all confidence that individual has is all of law enforcement.
There is nothing about courtesy that is exclusive of strength, sternness, and force. They can go hand in hand.
There’s an interesting line in this chapter: “Donning that uniform does not set the wearer apart to herd the rest of the race of men about like a circus worker with a ‘bull hook’ handles his elephants.” Ever since Lt Col Dave Grossman compared us to sheepdog protecting the sheep from the wolf, I believe there has been a tendency to distance ourselves from the flock, as though were a different breed of human altogether. I don’t mention this to disparage Grossman’s analogy in any way. It’s definitely a worthy way of viewing what we do. However, 80 years ago, it was important to note that we are still part of the flock.
A scientist of the time, Robert Millikan, remarked that men who operate gas stations have done more to educate the public on courtesy and good manners than all the professors in college. Knowing that the smallest act of rudeness to a customer can directly affect their bottom line, attendants regularly went above and beyond to earn their customers loyalty. Our “customers,” the public, don’t often have another option than us. But that doesn’t mean their loyalty is unwavering. Losing the support of the public puts us at an extreme disadvantage.
“A man can be be a policeman and a gentleman at the same time. He can be courteous to everyone without exception and still be firm and sincere in his efforts to enforce the law.”
80 years ago, the author described a police officer as virtually “on parade.” A police officer is always seen by a great many more people than he sees. Showing off for the public by trying to appear smarter than them, more privileged than them, or having the ability to break laws will not produce a confidence in law enforcement.
Olander explains, even 80 years ago, we were more than bad guy chasers. We have been viewed as community leaders. We are viewed as protectors. A lack of courtesy can destroy this confidence.
I’ll quote the final paragraph in this section and leave it without commentary.
“It is possible to impart instructions and give commands in such a manner and in such a tone of voice as to inspire the desire to obey. He who regards the respect which is due others, cannot fail to inspire in them disregard for himself. But the officer who feels and hence manifests disrespect towards others cannot fail to inspire hatred and disrespect for himself.”

Stay tuned for the next section Public Courtesy ON DUTY.

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