When we encounter a person who is obviously, even belligerently, negative with us, our first thought is usually, “What the F is wrong with them?!”

As we snap back with our authoritative negativity, we may want to consider this: perhaps they are reacting instinctively to a prior encounter they had with law enforcement and are just getting ahead of the curve. Like a previously abused dog may snap at you as you move to pet it, the dog is not mad you want to pet it; it just experienced a beating the last time a hand moved to touch it.

The person is not snapping at you, per se, but at the image you present to them, of a past negative interaction. If we stop for a moment and consider the negativity in this way, we are in a much more powerful place to stop it from ruining our interaction. And if we consider the power we have to affect the future interaction of our fellow officers, perhaps we can work to prevent those negative interactions from happening in the first place.

We should always be thinking about relationships. Our contact might be the first positive interaction a person has had with law enforcement. It may pave the way for officers who come after us. It is the same premise as the use of a ruse on a wanted fugitive. I would never impersonate a pizza delivery person to get a fugitive to open their door. Just think what might happen to a real pizza delivery person down the road who accidentally knocks on the fugitive’s door the next time they are wanted.

On my swat team we would always treat suspects with consideration when we served warrants. If it was cold outside, we would get them a coat if available, even before we cleared the house. We were considerate and polite to them unless they demanded otherwise. We were paving the way for the detectives who wanted to interview them after we finished clearing the house. We didn’t call them names or intimidate them. That could jeopardize the case. Plus we were probably going to deal with them again, so we preferred they saw us not as a bunch of A-holes.

I have noticed when officers are rude or derogatory to suspects, it is because of the officer’s insecurity. They feel nervous, even scared, around the suspect so they compensate by being overly aggressive or derogatory. I have also noticed it doesn’t ever really scare the suspect. It just escalates the situation.

We are trained professionals who can be polite and considerate in a moment, and a stone-cold killer in the next. It hurts nothing if we can be polite, considerate, and professional to suspects, and may gain us everything. We don’t want to plant landmines that blow up the case, we want to pave the way to a solid conviction and help obtain justice for the victim in the case.