cop punch jaywalking.jpg
There are just three things people want when they're stopped by police for suspect behavior, according to Tom Tyler , the New York University psychology


Tom Tyler, New York Professor and Advisor to Local Law Enforcement, Tells Cops to Listen Before Arresting

cop punch jaywalking.jpg
There are just three things people want when they're stopped by police for suspect behavior, according to Tom Tyler, the New York University psychology professor who flies here tomorrow to advise the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office. And, really, "it's not very complicated," Tyler says.

But it is, he says, a paradigm shift for many police officers, who see interactions with the public largely in terms of "dominating situations and projecting force." Tyler, identified by King County Sherriff Sue Rahr as "the nation's leading expert" on police de-escalation techniques, will be preaching a different mindset as he helps local law enforcement develop a new training program, announced yesterday by the sheriff (see pdf of her notes).

According to Tyler, speaking by phone to SW, people want:

  1. 1) "to feel that they're being listened to, that police are giving them a chance to explain the situation;"
  2. 2) "to know the reason for some action police are taking;" and
  3. 3) "to be treated with respect and dignity."

Tyler hasn't yet been briefed on the infamous confrontations between officers and the public that now has the feds investigating the SPD. But told of a few recent encounters--including the jaywalking incident that led an officer to punch a teenage girl (pictured above) and the stomping of a suspect by an officer who threatened to "beat the Mexican piss" out of the man--the NYU professor indicated that they fit the pattern of problematic police behavior.

"To essentially threaten the person" only makes the citizen angry, Tyler maintains, whereas a "low-key" approach actually makes most people more compliant, which in turn leads to greater safety for officers.

It's a feel-good approach that sounds commonsensical. Yet it's battling a notion, often cited by officers, that they must demand obedience in even the smallest matters or risk losing control when it truly counts.

Tyler points out that his approach doesn't mean an officer just walks away. "A person still may be given a ticket or citation."

Even so, Seattle Police Guild President Rich O'Neill worries that some people may interpret Tyler's approach as meaning they're entitled to an explanation before they have to do what an officer says. Tyler doesn't say exactly that, but he does assert in a recent paper that "this opportunity to make arguments and present evidence should occur before the police make decisions about what to do" (emphasis added).

"An officer is not going to stand there and get into a sidewalk debate," O'Neill continues.

It sounds as if the new training program will have its work cut out for it.

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