The Best Advice

Published March 6, 2023

Author Barbara A. Schwartz

The Badge & Gun is introducing a new column where you can send in an article and share the best advice you received in your law enforcement career. And if you want, include who gave you that advice. If your submission is chosen for the column, you will be rewarded with a $50 gift card.

Let me be the first to share the best advice I received.

My first partner, Larry, back many moons ago when I was a reserve officer in my Iowa hometown, bestowed on me several of Larry’s Laws of Law Enforcement.

He always said, “The best crime fighting tool is just being a deterrent to crime in the first place.”

After every roll call, when we were pulling out of the department’s underground garage, Larry said, “Let’s go be a deterrent to crime.”

Larry had a few tried and true strategies for calming people down long before the term “de-escalation” was in the law enforcement vocabulary.

He taught me that the best way to simmer someone down was to say: “I want to hear your side of the story.”

Larry maintained that everyone likes to tell you their woes. So, use that to your advantage.

Why that statement calms people down is based in neuroscience. The act of talking, putting words to an experience, helps humans make sense of and file memories in the correct areas of the brain. A hyped-up person isn’t using the rational, executive areas of their brains. They are using and being controlled by the emotional brain, the amygdala.

Allowing someone to assign words to their experience can calm them and help their executive brain function to re-engage.

Larry advised me that when a person, especially someone with mental health issues, drunk, or high on something, is ramped up or hysterical, to ask them a question they won’t be expecting and will catch them off guard. Makes that person have to think using their rational, executive area of the brain.

Ask them questions like: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Or, what color are your mother’s eyes?

Give it a try. See if it works for you.

Larry maintained that, since law enforcement is about controlling behavior, officers needed to persuade people to comply, cooperate, and follow orders. Trick them into thinking that the desired behavior is in their best interest and their idea. Give them the illusion that they are in control.

We had a guy once who was resisting arrest. Larry asked him if he thought resisting was in his best interest at this moment in his life. The man stopped resisting, thought about the question, and said, “Probably not.”

Larry advised me that an officer’s attitude can control behavior or ignite behavior. Common courtesy goes a long way.

On a traffic stop, he taught me to say, “I’m sorry to inconvenience you, I know you’re busy, but you missed that stop sign.”

Easy for officers to agitate people with what they say and how they say it. Agree with people. Tell them they are right even if they aren’t. They will be more apt to cooperate. Can’t argue with you if you tell them they’re right.

He taught me that every citizen contact, every arrest, was an opportunity to make someone a friend of law enforcement, to gain someone’s trust, so they will provide you with information and intel in the future. He told me to remember what he said after every roll call: best crime fighting tool is to be a deterrent to crime.

If you treated someone right, they were much more apt to share their secrets with you in the future. And everyone likes to tell a secret.

I learned one of his most important lessons when we were asked to be the uniformed presence when detectives arrested a child molester. The suspect had raped, sodomized, and beaten a six-year-old girl. I was furious and enraged after seeing the photos taken of the girl.

On the way to the suspect’s residence, Larry reminded me that we were the enforcement end of the criminal justice system, not the punishment side. That punishment was the purview of the courts. And he wasn’t going to let me out of the car unless I got my emotions under control. He said, “A mad cop will only end up screwing himself.”

There you have it—the best of Larry’s laws.

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Copyright©2023 Barbara A. Schwartz  All Rights Reserved.

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Barbara A. Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting the brave officers of law enforcement.

She has volunteered for the Houston Police Officers’ Union for 30 years, helping establish their peer support team and writing for the Badge & Gun. She is a veteran of thousands of hours of HPD training and ride-alongs.

She served as a police explorer scout and as a reserve officer in her hometown working patrol and investigations. Her involvement with law enforcement spans 50 years.

She is certified in first responder peer support. She maintains specializations in grief after trauma, injured officer support, suicide prevention, and traumatic stress reactions and injuries.

She maintains memberships in the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Training Association (ILEETA).