Command Sequence in Police Encounters: Searching for a Linguistic Fingerprint

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The analysis of language and word use is a fledgling area growing rapidly in the field of psychology. Whether the focus of language research is on purported emotions, personality traits, or the context of dialogue, it is apparent that the language we use and the words we choose to use in a given situation can have a significant impact on others. With a general dearth of studies in the area of language use, it is not surprising that language research is almost entirely missing from the field of law enforcement. Officers are required to issue commands to citizens within the context of their professional duties. Law enforcement officers use commands to demand compliance (suggestive of a motoric or verbal response from the citizen); question or interrogate a citizen; and/or request a citizen to engage in, refrain from, or cease a behavior. Command types used by officers can vary greatly. Further compounding the issue is the notion that within the structure of the command types themselves, there exists a dichotomous relationship between those issued explicitly (alpha) and those issued implicitly (beta). This provides further confusion in the citizen in terms of understanding the officers’ commands and in the range of potential responses expected from the citizen by the officer (Peed, Roberts, & Forehand, 1977). Subsequently, the use of commands by officers may and do produce mixed results, leading to both compliance and increased resistance on the part of the citizen. It is difficult to estimate the number of violent encounters occurring between law enforcement officers and citizens due to complicating factors in the studies such as population, geographical location, and citizen and officer demographics, among other issues. Nonetheless, few individuals would argue that the use of violence and force in police/citizen interactions is always possible and will likely always be with us. What appears more important than the use of or the justification for the use of force in these situations, however, is the ability of an officer to effectively de-escalate a potentially violent event through means other than the use of force.



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Law Enforcement Executive Forum

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