|Verbal and Non-Verbal Indicators to Assault|
|By Tracy E. Barnhart|
When we speak about the “use of force,” I notice more and more that officers either need or want the green light to be given to them before they act. Correctional officers deep down have an intimate fear when it comes to the use of force of either reacting too soon, or too late resulting in injury of someone, or not at all. They have a natural ingrained fear of the criminals themselves, their administration not backing them for their actions or decisions as well as their peers not having their backs because of those very same reasons. They have terms thrown at them such as, “Reasonable,” “Excessive,” and “Liability,” with no clear cut explained definitions as well as no clear cut directions or leadership by the administrations. It is often said that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to request permission, but in today’s litigious society this may be true, but painfully unforgiving on your career.
In this article I will attempt to give you those “green light indicators” as well as behavioral indicators that you may be assaulted or attacked. If all inmates had a green light indicator above their heads that when activated meant you could immediately utilize force we would all be better off and sleep better at night. I have gone through internal and criminal investigations relating to the use of force I have used and let me tell you, they are not fun. You lose sleep; you become irritable towards your family because of the internal stress and your mind plays tricks on you as it relates to the armchair quarterbacking of the incident conducted by the administration and your peers. You may even start to doubt yourself and question your reasoning for using force before it is all over with, at the least, your zest toward using force will diminish after your reasoning and motivation are questioned. You will start to hear officers say, “I am not touching anyone!”
In the court case Graham v. Conner the Court gave no definitive answer for law enforcement or corrections on what is reasonable as it pertains to excessive force. Consequently; it is possible for an officer to follow his training, departmental policy, and the standard operating procedure of the supervisory staff. In following all of the aforementioned steps the officer can still be charged criminally, sued civilly, and find that the judge and jury will find that his responses to the resistance still deemed inappropriate. This can prompt the responses to incidence of force by officer such as, “They are going to screw me anyway so I’ll make it worth my while.” Officers will make the use of force vengeful and vindictive. Officers may even choose to not get involved in the incidents or look the other way as it is occurring. Of course either course of actions is inappropriate.
No matter what you have done during your shift you can pretty much bet that your agency will not be disbanded for your actions or the actions of others. But you on the other hand are a dispensable entity, and your career may end because of your decisions. You may lose your credibility with your peers, your supervisors, and the administration. You may be disciplined and even terminated and that may not be the end but just the beginning of your issues. Depending on the incident you may be criminally charged, or at the least, civilly sued for that thirty second decision to place your hands on an individual. During this emotional and stressful time your marriage may fail only adding to your anxiety and turmoil. Sounds like fun, don’t it? Makes you wonder why we do what we do for a living doesn’t it.
The current Supreme Court legal decisions and judgments that have been made regarding the use of force state clearly that you are to be given a fair amount of latitude in your reasons to utilize force. Those allowances are to be made for the fact that the split second judgments that you make are in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving. Armchair quarterbacking should not be utilized in the investigation phase as hindsight is 20/20 as well as the application of others judgments for consideration of criminal charges but yet we all know that you will definitely be judged by others from the onset of the force that you use.
With all of this on your shoulders your own personal safety and survival mentality must be always on your mind. I see video tapes of officers who were assaulted by inmates and those inmates, prior to the assault, clearly exhibited verbal and non-verbal signals of their aggressive intentions that were either missed or ignored by the officers. The prevalent attitude exhibited by those officers was that, “It will never happen to me.” This mentality is observed throughout the institution in some officer’s daily routines. I want to give you some verbal and non-verbal indicators that you can place into your use of force reports and use by observations throughout your daily activities which the inmates may exhibit prompting you to utilize force or request assistance before the need for force arises.
Inmates will rarely attack you without letting you know what they plan to do. Their aggressive statements are meant to prompt some sort of a fearful submissive response from you, hopefully fear and intimidation. Their ultimate goal is to have you fear them and hold you as their pawn to move and place across the board as they want. Possible inmate verbal and non-verbal behavior indicators to attack need to be constantly observed and documented in your reports as they will save your butt and prevent your surprise injury.
Assessing behavior and preventing a physical assault should be accomplished whenever possible. It is critical for an officer to recognize and assess aggressive verbal and physical actions of a person. Recognizing verbal and nonverbal aggressive behavior signals will aid the officer in preventing and de-escalating situations. Also, it prepares the officer mentally and physically to take immediate counter actions should a physical assault occur. Before physical action by an aggressor occurs, that individual usually begins to threaten to attack, in an attempt to intimidate the opponent, through a process sometimes called posturing, ritualized combat, or affective aggression.
How the Officer Should Respond to the aggression Nonverbally
Nonverbal indicators are probably the most important aspect of dealing with potentially aggressive inmates. When dealing with an agitated inmate, even more is conveyed nonverbally by the officer and less verbally.
Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures.
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