Command Sequence in Police Encounters: Searching for a Linguistic Fingerprint

Julie Vandermay, Minnesota State University - Mankato
Daniel Houlihan, Minnesota State University - Mankato
Liesa A. Klein, Minnesota State University - Mankato
William Lewinski, Minnesota State University - Mankato
Jeffrey Buchanan, Minnesota State University - Mankato


This study evaluated the pattern of command types issued by police officers during violent encounters with citizens. Two hypotheses were tested: 1) that more vague command types (beta commands) would occur near the onset of violent encounters and 2) that police officers would use a greater number of beta commands as opposed to specific commands (alpha commands) during violent encounters. Hypothesis one was not supported. Hypothesis 2 was supported in that during 75% of the violent encounters, beta commands were predominant. Data suggests that during stressful interactions officers deviate from their typical communication style and engage in more variable, inconsistent patterns of communication, which could contribute to the escalation of interactions with citizens. Potential implications for police officer training are discussed.