We’ve already learned that eyes can keep you honest?even when they don’t belong to a real person! Holding eye contact, or “gaze,” with hysterical citizens is one of the most effective methods police officers can use to calm them down.
Communications professor Mardi Kidwell used footage from the Fox TV show COPS to teach real police how to handle irrational citizens and perps. According to Kidwell’s research, regulating gaze is central to face-to-face interaction. For police officers, it’s an important factor in gaining compliance from and calming hysterical citizens. She says, “A great deal of police work involves encountering people who are in crisis, people who are distraught, agitated and sometimes hysterical over the circumstances that have necessitated a police response.”
In the “COPS” segment she uses, two police officers are trying to calm down a woman whose grandson has been shot. The six-minute segment shows the officers arriving on the scene of the shooting, inspecting the victim, questioning witnesses, discussing the case with other officers and, finally, seeking to calm the victim’s grandmother, who herself has been shot at.
The officers are forced to use increasingly stronger verbal tactics?called directives?to get the woman to look at them as they try to calm her down. The woman repeatedly looks at the officers and then looks away, and continues to be hysterical. Finally, one officer gently touches the woman’s face and turns it toward him, forcing her to look at him. Eventually, the officers are able to keep eye contact with her long enough so as to calm her down, help her regain a normal breathing pattern and compose herself so she can drive to the hospital to see her grandson.
Kidwell analyzed more than 35 hours off footage and hundreds of police-citizen interactions as part of her research. She found that police rely on holding gaze to calm individuals in a number of situations, including getting them to cooperate during questioning, keeping them from interfering with emergency workers, and gaining their compliance during arrests.
Art credit: freeimages.co.uk
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