Washington, D.C.’s transit police have hired a firm to instruct officers in “verbal judo” as a tactic to defuse confrontations with passengers who violate public conduct laws, the Washington Post reports. The Verbal Judo Institute, blending Eastern philosophy with principles of Aristotelian rhetoric, is scheduled to train about 20 transit officers over two days in November, said Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson. The training is a response to highly publicized cases in which transit police have handcuffed and arrested passengers after confrontations over food and cell phone use. In July, a scientist was arrested when she continued to chew a candy bar after passing through fare gates. Last month, a pregnant woman was arrested during a confrontation with an officer over her use of a cell phone.
Interest in police training on less forceful ways of dealing with people gained momentum after the 1991 beating and arrest of Rodney King by Los Angeles police, said Ed Nowicki, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. Since Sept. 11, 2001, much training money has been diverted to anti-terrorism strategies. Many companies offer practical tips not only to law enforcement but also to teachers, health care workers and even Marine drill instructors. The National Justice Group in Lincoln, Neb., for example, specializes in teaching how to confront surly adolescents. Roland Ouellette, whose program is called the Management of Aggressive Behavior, said words are only 10 percent of the message communicated. “Sometimes, it’s not what you say with your mouth, but how you say it with your body,” he said. “When you confront people, you don’t want to violate their personal space. If you turn your body at a slight angle to the person, it relieves the pressure. If you cock your head slightly forward, put your shoulders slightly forward and put your palms up at the waist, it shows respect and supportiveness. It de-escalates people.”