"Nothing to See Here!"

Teach officers to say "hi" and explain why when on a big scene and people are asking what's going on. Build understanding. - @tbl_leadership 
Not just on a big scene. Two (2) squad cars in a quiet part of town can bring out a lot of curious onlookers. 
How do we balance explaining what's going on and calming worry with respecting privacy of those involved?

Imagine being a cop on a domestic disturbance, or suicidal person call, or a sensitive family issue. Then neighbors ask (or demand) to know what's going on.


How a cop answers that question makes all the difference.

People are nosy, but they generally just want to know:
  • are their neighbors (who they care about) OK or safe?
  • is there a threat or danger to the neighborhood/community?
As a young cop, I was TERRIBLE at answering these sorts of curious questions while on scene of a sensitive call.

I've learned how to better answer, "Officer, is everything OK? What's going on?"
  • "It's a private family matter. There's no threat to the neighborhood."
  • "It's a family thing. I'll respect your privacy in the same way if I'm ever called to your home."
A sure way to turn off neighbors, or escalate that which was never meant to be confrontational is to answer the caring (or nosy) neighbor:
  • "Everything is fine."
  • "We can't talk about it."
Listen. There are four (4) squad cars on the block! People deserve to know SOMETHING!

At same time, it's inappropriate for cops to openly discuss sensitive, private, embarrassing issues with neighbors:
  • "Jimmy is overdosing on heroin again."
  • "Suzie just found out John is cheating on her."
  • "Ashley texted her friend that she's going to kill herself."

Cops & other first responders are very much frontline public information officers (PIOs) and community relations. They can calm a block full of onlookers...or get into unnecessary pissing matches for not answering basic questions about public safety! 

What can we do about this TODAY with our frontline teams? 

Talk about this dynamic w/ your people. Explain the potential risks, benefits, tradeoffs, compromises, outcomes. Give them general talking points & tricks to conversing with curious citizens. Discuss how tone, posture, EQ, word selection, distance/proximity all matter.

Little things can make big differences.


Adapted from a Twitter thread, with the "Nothing to see here" contribution from Robert Parry.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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