Is there a method that can help a police officer consistently manage police situations better? This is what I have been working on as a police officer who has been assigned to patrol for more than 20 years. It may seem that there are too many variables to give a concrete suggestion, but I believe breaking down the tasks involved with the management of police scenes is a worthwhile idea to consider. The first step is to identify the general actions that could be considered fundamental to accomplish the basic tasks used to manage police scenes. Take for example the task of completing a field interview. What would be the general actions that could be considered important to include in the completion of this task? In what order should these actions be accomplished? Once I tell you my list, you will want to say “of course” or something to that effect. How long did it take you to think about the steps involved in completing this task? I believe that with better mental preparation it will be easier to complete this task under pressure.
The steps involved in completing a task should be simply written to make it quick and easy to review. The easier it is to review, the more practical it will be to use in the field. Relying on experience alone is not as effective as it may sound to guide your actions. This is because most of the tasks we complete in the management of police scenes are complex, and need to be reviewed in order for quick recollection to be possible.
The three general actions related to the field interview task are: ask, listen, and clarify.
Ask: This means approaching an initial situation with the objective of determining what is going on, not to conduct an interrogation. As a patrol officer, the purpose for this general action is to ask a question that is simple enough to quickly confirm whether a crime has occurred. In the first moments of a response, I do not need to know all of the details. With this in mind, my first question is structured to be short and sweet, “Are you the person who called the police?” If so, my follow up response is “Tell me what happened.”
Listen: Once I ask the person who called the police to tell me what happened, the next step is to listen. In certain situations, when it is a scene that is involving violence, I may interrupt the person once I confirm the seriousness of the offense that took place and I will ask the victim or witness “Where is the suspect?” I do this because in certain situations it may be necessary for the safety of everyone at the scene that I find the suspect and make an immediate apprehension. It is important to know the right balance of how and when to do this. You have to factor in timing and resources. If it is a situation that does not require immediate action, I would be listening for the flow of the story and ask myself, “Does it make sense?”
Clarify: As I am listening, I am making mental notes of the things that do not make sense in the story. Once the person finishes, I bring them back to the point where it did not make sense and ask them to repeat their story from there. It is important to clarify details because oftentimes it is the only way I can make a decision as to what to do when there is no evidence or independent witness at the scene. Usually one of two things will happen when you attempt to clarify; they will change their story so that it makes sense, or they will avoid clarifying the point of the story and deflect attention. Either way it will help me to determine the credibility of the person I am speaking with.
When conducting field interviews, this is what I have found to be practical for patrol use. If the person refuses to clarify, I do not press them. The field is not the place to conduct an interrogation. I am often surprised by what I am able to determine by following these simple actions. I hope letting you know my method may help you to complete this task more effectively as you manage police scenes.
Erick Richards has been a police officer for over twenty-years and is a sergeant with the Dallas Police Department. He is the author of the book The Officer’s Brain: Raising Your Police Scene Management IQ.