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 Officer Safety and Extremists: An Overview for Law Enforcement Officers
Introduction
Why Are Extremists a Safety Concern?
Common Officer Safety Situations Involving Extremists
Extremist Identifiers
Defusing and Safety Techniques
Conclusion
Defusing and Safety Techniques

Officers who quickly recognize that the person with whom they are dealing may be a member of an extremist group or movement can take safety precautions near the outset of an encounter. Often, however, law enforcement officers may not realize the nature of the situation until it has already escalated to some degree.

Because of their beliefs, extremists have the potential to transform a minor situation into a major one. They may react out of fear, mistrust, or simply anger. They may act in ways that would appear to be self-destructive or self-defeating. Their beliefs may provoke them into confrontations that under ordinary circumstances would never occur. Officers are often at risk when this happens.

Defusing Techniques

There are some strategies that may lessen risks to officers and help insure that no one is hurt or injured in a confrontation. Most of these involve defusing techniques. Defusing techniques are methods commonly used to manage anger in a variety of circumstances. Typically they are designed to help halt increases in anger and to allow angered individuals an opportunity to vent some of their rage relatively harmlessly. Some of them can work well when used with extremists in high tension situations.

The two key defusing techniques are ventilation and active listening. Ventilation essentially involves letting the other person speak, giving him or her a chance to "ventilate" and discharge their anger. When engaging in ventilation, one should not argue with the individual, offer advice, or defend oneself; the purpose is to let the other person "blow off steam," thus decreasing their anger because they have been given a chance to express it.

Active listening can occur after ventilation. Once the other person has calmed down somewhat, it is possible to use active listening techniques to further disarm the person. Active listening techniques include validation, whereby the listener lets the speaker know that he or she understands the speaker is upset or distressed; verification, by which the listener indicates to the speaker that he or she understands what the speaker is saying and how the speaker is feeling; and reflective questioning, whereby the listener asks the speaker questions about what he or she has just said, in order to draw the speaker out and get the speaker to slow down and consider what he or she is talking about.

For law enforcement officers, the goal in using defusing techniques is usually to slow the pace of an encounter down and keep the situation under control. Often this can be accomplished simply by giving extremists an opportunity to vent their anger and suspicion rather than have it build up uncontrollably.

Officers can usually develop a variety of such techniques to be used in these circumstances and in other circumstances involving stressed individuals.

Safety Techniques

In addition, there are other safety techniques that can help insure an officerís safety during an unexpected encounter with a person with extreme ideologies.

Call for backup. If an officer realizes that he or she is in a potentially dangerous situation involving an extremist, one of the first things to do is to call for backup. There is no point in proceeding with an encounter when the officer may clearly be at a disadvantage vis-ŗ-vis the extremist. Moreover, once an officer has made the decision to call for backup, that officer should wait until that backup arrives before proceeding. Several violent encounters have occurred where officers called for backup during a traffic stop involving an extremist, but did not wait for the backup to arrive before confronting the extremist.

Donít get confrontational/Donít argue their beliefs. When an extremist spouts outlandish theories or makes outrageous statements, it is entirely natural to try to argue against those views. However, this is almost invariably counterproductive, as there is little chance that the extremist will change his or her mind, and a much greater chance of raising the agitation level of that person. Similarly, even though extremists may well act very disrespectfully towards law enforcement officers, becoming confrontational in turn is counterproductive and may worsen the situation.

Act dumb. This is a specialized defusing technique. Rather than argue with extremists, officers can simply hear them out or respond with noncommittal answers such as "I never thought of it that way before" or "thatís a little too complex for me right now." Officers should always accept literature offered to them by extremists.

Distract their attention/change the subject. Sometimes an officer may spot an opportunity to distract an extremist or derail their train of thought. If an extremist hands literature to an officer, the officer can start asking questions about the literature and the group or movement that promotes it. An officer can ask a person where he or she learned his or her beliefs or theories. Anything that can cause an extremist to explain rather than argue will probably help lower the confrontation level to some degree.

Humanizing. Because extremists often view law enforcement officers more as symbols of authority or oppression, officers may have some success in lowering confrontation levels by "humanizing" himself or herself. If the extremist can come to see the officer as an individual, perhaps just a person "doing his/her job," rather than simply as a symbol of oppressive or tyrannical government, then the individual may be less confrontational.

Get them to postpone oppositional tactics. One of the key strategies in confrontation avoidance is to convince the extremist to decide not to pursue confrontation at that time and place. If an officer, for instance, can convince an extremist that the real place to argue his or her theories is in the courtroom, not on the side of the road, then the officer may have eliminated the chances for confrontation at that moment.

Back off. In the final analysis, if a situation looks too risky for the law enforcement officer to proceed, then the officer should simply decide to pursue the matter at another time. An officer gains nothing by needlessly placing himself or herself at risk; whenever possible, it should be the officer who chooses the time and place for a confrontational situation, not the extremist.

Previous: Extremist Identifiers Next: Conclusion
Officer Safety Bulletins
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•  Traffic Stops Involving Extremists
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