In this blog on communication, I will share what I have learned from my experience, both recovering at Cone hospital and from my time as a Greensboro police officer.
In my last blog, I spoke about Angela, the Assistant Director of the Rehab unit. Communication is vital in rehabilitation. Angela deals with patients who have suffered brain injuries, due to strokes or trauma, and has learned tricks to help her and others more effectively communicate.
She said that when she feels an argument brewing between her and her husband, she applies her experience with brain-damaged patients to curb potential arguments:
“When a patient suffers a traumatic brain injury they often become confused, agitated and highly emotional. This can be an incredibly volatile situation. Sometimes family members are in the room and make it that much more difficult to calm a flustered patient. First, my body language has to be non-threatening. With some cultures just looking someone in the eye will make them even more upset. I remain calm and actively listen to the patient. When I do speak, I speak so softly and calmly that they have to strain to hear. The effect is immediate: the patient must concentrate on what I’m saying, forcing them to stop screaming and listen to me.”
Too often, we listen, not to hear, but to respond. We build our argument to counter the other person, instead of actually HEARING what the other person has to say. I saw a lot of this during my tenure as a police officer. If a family could adequately communicate they’d never have to call the police and ultimately they would not need lawyers to put the broken pieces back together.
A police officer’s most dreaded and dangerous call is a 10-16 (Domestic Dispute). When a domestic dispute becomes so heated that the family’s dispute disturbs the neighbor’s sense of peace and well being, the police are called, either by one of the parties, family members, or those nearby. Neighbors, being neighborly, often try to intervene; however, without proper training or experience, they often escalate and complicate an already volatile situation.
Standard procedure requires sending two or more officers to bring tensions back to a level that will at least temporarily bring peace and safety back to the family and neighborhood.
When I’d arrive at a 10-16, it would often take several minutes just to calm the parties down enough to figure out who was on each side and to separate each party with an officer. Once separated, we encouraged each party to tell their side of the story in a calm and even tone of voice. Allowing agitated people a chance to finally be heard often helped alleviate their anger. Among all of our other duties, police officers often have to act as family counselors, and we listen intently and try to help bring a family back together.
Our primary job is to serve and protect and that means helping people, not just locking them up in jail. Nevertheless, it is also our job to investigate whether a crime has been committed. If a crime has been committed, then one or both parties may be charged. We must use the discretion when making the decision to charge a family member with a crime. We have to weigh multiple factors in our decision. By state law police must enforce North Carolina General Statute 15A-534.1. aka the 48 hour rule.
If the dispute was less serious, the other officers and I would help make arrangements to separate the disputing sides for the immediate future. We’d often stand by and let one party gather their belongings in peace and then we’d drive the partner who wanted to leave to a friend or relative’s place.
If at least one of the partners is cooperative and takes our suggestions, then the above measures will almost always solve the problem at least temporarily. However, every police officer will tell you that the most frustrating 10-16s are the ones where neither party is willing to leave and police have to be called back to the scene over and over throughout the night. I’ve had 10-hour shifts where I’ve spent over half of it on one reoccurring 10-16 nightmare. After several hours, cops start looking for any violation of the law so that they can arrest someone and get on to other police duties.
Tune in next time for some tips to avoid police involvement in the first place!
Communication is Key
Part 1 | Part 2
by Mark Griffin, guest blogger