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Calming speech can prevent fights

Verbal judo is a de-escalation technique that can help defuse a tense law enforcement situation.

Part of the technique involves identifying unhelpful words during a confrontation. There are words that are accusatory and could ramp up tensions with a suspect or agitated resident. Helpful words are those that let a distressed or combative individual feel heard. These are "listening" words, such as, "I hear you. I'm standing right here. Yelling is not making me hear you any better," said Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon, who has extensive experience in training, using and teaching the techniques.

De-escalation methods are just one tool among the many that law enforcement officers have to interact with disruptive or dangerous residents.

"There's always that 1 percent, it doesn't matter what you do or what you say, that 1 percent is there for a fight," said Dixon. "But that other 99 percent of the world really doesn't want a confrontation."

Taking measures to learn de-escalation techniques and practicing scenarios with a law enforcement training simulator has other advantages, too. Having officers practice the technique can help cities and towns comply with the International Association of Chiefs of Police's new policy that emphasizes observation skills and making good decisions between deadly force and less lethal force with OC spray, batons and stun guns, such as Tasers.

"There's nothing failsafe," said Dixon. "That's why we discuss things you can do to keep yourself safe when an approach doesn't work — like keeping something between you and the person that is agitated."

Dixon will present a session on verbal judo and de-escalation techniques during the SC Municipal Human Resources Association's Annual Meeting November 8 – 10 in North Charleston.