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How to Piss People Off
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 09/06/2010

Anger So you want to be a corrections officer; it’ something that you have wanted to do ever since you were bullied on the schoolyard. “Whoa; wait a minute Mr. Barnhart; are you saying that some corrections and law enforcement officers are vindictive?” No I’m not making that generalization to all, but, some; well let me say it like this… “Everyone needs a job; but not everyone needs this job.”

Have you ever met an officer who could piss off the Pope? The officer who always seems to have the most physical restraints and reportable incidents? Well I am going to reference my good friend Gary Klugiewicz after I saw one of his informative verbal defense video clips. I am taking what he brought to light and expounding on the topic.

I am going to give you six (6) ways to piss people off and possible bring about a physical assault in which we started the conflict. Now I know there are many more ways to bait or induce individuals into a physical altercation but these are the six major things that I see officers do everyday that could be avoided. If you do the following things then how do you expect people to come to your defense after a restraint and convince others that you were authorized and most of all, right. Bottom line, if you always do what is right; then you are never wrong. In the world of corrections and law enforcement I am going to make people angry just because I am there but there are ways we intentionally initiate aggression in others then wonder why things went bad.

1) Facial Expressions

This may be the start of the altercation and you could have initiated it. Sometimes when we are multitasking and trying to do more with less, we get aggravated with others after they interrupt our thoughts. Now the individual may have a legitimate request or question about a procedure or task. But to us we think, “You a**hole, you have got to be kidding me, you disturbed me for that?”

Now our frustration shows in our facial expression and body posture. A sigh or a look away with the click of our tongue and a head tilt will put the individual on immediate notice that their request, question, idea or presence is not wanted, was stupid, and not worthy of our time and trouble. This may be the start of the altercation as the individual; especially an inmate or criminal now feels slighted or disrespected. Think, “Did I cause this aggression?”

2) Attitude

Your attitude along with your facial expression will take you to another rung on the altercation ladder. Say that an inmate new to your pod asks you to unlock a restroom door and you expertly respond, “Listen a**hole, I will unlock a restroom for you when I decide that it benefits me and not until then. You go sit down and wait for that moment in time.” Now we all know that inmates and criminal are needy and tasking to our patience but the second that we make those volatile attitude expressions we have made an unnecessary step toward unjustified force. Now we have to ask ourselves, “Did I cause this aggression?”

3) Mannerisms

I see the following mannerisms everyday at our facility and sometimes with shocking results. As you read the mannerisms I have listed ask yourself how many times you have violated them and how many times you pissed people off after doing them. “Did I cause this aggression?”

Crowding: Just like in the animal world you see them posture up close to each other in an attempt to make the other cower. They are intimidating others showing that they are bigger, meaner and have a worse bite than the other does. This is also evident in law enforcement and corrections. We attempt to show others that we are the authority and what we say goes without question. We will stare them down, get chest to chest or nose to nose attempting to get them to respond accordingly because we cannot accept questioning of our authority.

Parental Finger: After we make it known that we are in charge we will often point our finger at the individual that defied our authority. This represents the parental finger to the individual that we are pointing it at. They feel as if we are attempting to parent them and treat them as if they are a small child. The parental finger always brings about conflict. “You ain’t my freaking mother or father; get that finger out of my face!

Touching: Never touch anyone unless you intend to take them to the ground. Chest poking, clothing grasping, shoulder guiding will initiate the aggression upon you. You have now broken the personal barrier and thrown down the gauntlet. By touching an inmate or criminal you have challenged them personally, even unknowingly. They will respond!

4) Profanities

Anytime you use profanities to have brought yourself down to their level. In the mind of an inmate or criminal once they view you as a peer or on their level they will be more apt to assault you because they do not see you as an authority figure. “Listen Mother******! I said put your hands behind your back!” Now think about the grandmother listening to your arrest and later writing a statement as to what they saw. Would she see you as the out of control aggressor, or the officer doing a good job? Sometimes the impressions that we leave in the minds of the citizens and most of all witnesses may have career ending implications.

“But that type of language is all they understand!” I hear this excuse for ghetto language all the time. “They respond quicker when I talk to them like that.” The inmate or criminal may understand your verbiage and tone but the people that will be judging your actions later will not understand. You are not their peer or friends you are the professional.

5) Buzz Words

Now we have just stepped up another rung and into the out of control arena. When you call people out with buzz words like; Punk, Faggot, Dyke, Nigger, White Trash, Scrotal and a host of others you are challenging them. Never expect just because you wear that uniform that they will respect you. Contrary, most will look at you with contempt because you have the authority to take away their liberties and tell them that they can’t do something. Don’t sink to that level.

6) Verbal Parting Shots

After the contact or physical altercation that we have probably aggravated how many times have we ended the situation with comments such as, “Have a nice Day!” Or, “I will tell your wife, sister, girlfriend or mother, later tonight that you said hi!” Verbal parting shots will send individuals off the deep end and may get you punched in the face. Your antagonism and parting comments are not needed. You will always have the last word no matter what the situational outcome. Remain professional and keep your unnecessary comments to yourself. Remember, you want witnesses to justify your actions and verbalizations. You do not want a prosecutor to say that the officer was predisposed to exercise excessive force by his antagonizing verbiage.

Unsuccessful Officers are REACTIVE. They are a leaf blowing in the wind, the world is happening around them, and they are just trying to stay alive. When something bad happens, someone did it TO them and they take it personally. They get caught up in the victim mentality and take every opportunity to let people know it.

Successful officers, on the other hand, are PROACTIVE. They make things happen in life and are on a mission. And at all cost, they aren’t going to let something silly take them off their mission. Instead, they say to themselves “these things happen” and move on to more important tasks.

Be a successful officer and Make Things Happen right for yourself. Defuse them. Stay calm, and don’t spit angry words at them, whatever you do don’t cry, this will only stimulate them to do more of the difficult behavior. Do not, under any circumstances, join inmates in bashing, blaming or complaining. Do not bad talk to their face or to anyone else because then you are sinking down to their level. Add something positive. Redirect by focusing on something, anything, positive in the situation or in the conversation. Whatever you do just stay calm! Try to focus on the positive, even if you can’t seem to think of anything during the incident. Something as simple as thinking to yourself, “Jesus must love him/her” can keep you under control.

Visit the Tracy Barnhart page

Other articles by Barnhart:


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  3. debmac on 09/10/2010:

    Excellent points Tracey. These are the types of actions that usually wind up getting someone hurt or killed.

  4. Mae on 09/08/2010:

    I frequently tell my officers that we are our own worst enemy, so I really like this article. Failure to use good judgement and follow policies create major problems. The one thing left out is falling prey to the "contempt of cop" syndrome. You see this a lot with a combination of those things listed. Attidude - How dare you not do what I say. Mannerisms - crowding, touching and the parental finger (I just love that one) because I am going to make you do it. Using buzz words and profanities to communicate, because I want to make sure they understand. Great article.!!

  5. dsspike on 09/07/2010:

    There's another point that many officers do not think about... themselves. What kind of person are you going to be after spending how ever many years, working in law enforcement? If these prisoners can piss you off and you have, or should have, no emotional ties to them, how are you going to deal with those that you care for? After years of allowing your anger to get the better of you and dealing with people in this way, you will probably be acting close to how prisoners act. Something I have noticed at the prison I work at is this: The officers who treat the prisoners rudely and with no regard or respect, are the officers who treat their fellow officers and support staff with rudeness, no regard, or respect. Make the prisoners follow the rules, but do it professionally and using your brain, not like a neanderthal. (Also referring to max security)

  6. prznboss on 09/07/2010:

    That pretty well describes how we have to deal with them now days. The powers that be now days (ACA?) wants all the inmates, hundreds of them, milling about together in rec yards, gyms, day rooms but no use of corporal punishment. All we have left are our good looks and wits. One of these days they're going to get tired of the assaults, gang activity, etc. and just keep them locked down (referring to max security).

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