Whole Officer Training: Police Body Language and Community Trust

Police officer with civilian
Image: Unsplash

According to former police officer Justin Freeman, an officer’s own body language can make or break community relationships, and training programs should take note.

When it comes to police officer recruitment, a candidate’s aptitude for building trust with his/her community is high on the list of most cities’ priorities.

And this commitment to healthy relationship building isn’t just a one-and-done scenario. For departments across the U.S., training is an ongoing process, with most now reviewing topics like de-escalation, mental health and crisis intervention every few years.

But according to former police officer Justin Freeman, who now writes extensively on ways to bridge the gap between law enforcement officers and their communities, these training programs would be well served to likewise cover something much more subtle: police officers’ own body language.

Writing on PoliceOne, he explains, “Law enforcement officers know about body language and nonverbal communication – that human beings process more visually than verbally and that a majority of communication comes by means other than the spoken word. Cops know to apply this knowledge to the analysis of others in terms of watching suspects’ eyes and hands, looking for signs of flight, deception and even simple nervous tics.”

“But,” he continues, “are [they] as mindful of the nonverbal communication [they] project on the job?”

What follows are five critical questions Freeman learned to ask himself during the course of his career:

  • Is my appearance a head start or a hurdle?
  • Do I think the people I work with (and for) are worth my time and effort?
  • What am I doing with my hands?
  • What am I doing with my head and eyes?
  • Am I conscious of my handshake?

Read more about questions vital to law enforcement officers on PoliceOne.com.

For more on how municipalities are helping to strengthen the relationship between police officers and communities, read our previous coverage:

6 Ways Departments Are Strengthening Community Policing

Citizen Surveys Improved Community Relations with Fort Collins Police

Police in Kansas City learn to ‘tactically disengage’ to avoid violent confrontations

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