by Michael Gardner

In July of 1983, I was a police officer with the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. After about six years of police work, I was starting to get “stuck” in a negative loop. I didn’t want much to do with anyone, when I was off duty. I was starting to think there were only two kinds of people in this world: cops and bad guys. A job started out feeling very, very proud of, I was now dreading to go to every day. I knew I was stuck but I didn’t know how to change. It seemed that most people I spoke to were stuck, too.

Attending a convention with my wife in San Francisco, I had the tremendous fortune to attend a seminar by Donald E. Dossey of Beverly Hills. His Keying in Success seminar changed my life. His program emphasized how to have control over one’s feelings through anchoring. The most spectacular lesson, though, was the process he used to teach. Even as I write this article, just thinking about how he applied what he was teaching makes me feel terrific! As a result of this introduction to NLP, I went back to my police job with a lot more flexibility.

I immediately began to explain these concepts to my partner. I continued to buy every book I could find on NLP. My partner and I began to experiment daily with pattern interruptions for defusing hostile situations. Traditionally, police officers are limited to only four choices for controlling situations – verbal persuasion, chemical irritant, impact weapon, and deadly force. In training, most emphasis is on weaponry defense, not enough on image and verbal defense.

As I studied NLP, I saw the need to stretch my flexibility to hundreds of choices which would startle subjects into confusion. My partner and I became known to our fellow officers as the Dork Police, because no one knew what we were going to do next. They were equally amazed at our success in non-violent control of tense situations.

For example, we would sometimes approach potentially dangerous domestic disputes with our jackets purposely buttoned improperly, or with our caps pulled down so our ears stuck out. Unless the combatants were too intoxicated or high to observes these interruptions, they stopped, at least temporarily. They couldn’t help responding to what they saw. Then it was hard for them to pick up their fight where they had left off.

We used other interruptions to break up domestic fights. One of us would change the channel on the TV set or start rearranging furniture. We would do anything to get the subjects to ask, or at least think, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The domestic fights stopped. The people were forced to deal with our unexpected behavior. We would do anything to create a change.

Our verbal pattern interruptions included suddenly sniffing and shouting, “Do you smell gas?” in a startled manner. While the fight was temporarily stopped, my partner and I would go to the kitchen and pretend to check the stove for gas leaks. After a few minutes of sniffing the stove and kitchen area, we would advise the people that everything was OK, then ask “What else can we help you with?” The response was amazing. Often they said, “Nothing, Officer…” If the argument did begin again, all my partner and I had to do was to sniff with a concerned look on our faces. With this pattern interruption, the subjects’ personal fighting became secondary to the threat of a gas explosion in their home.

Once in a while, we would enter a residence and be greeted by someone standing in a fighting position and shouting, “You two think you can take me? Come on!” We would mirror his stance, but not make the fists. Our response would be, “No way. We heard how tough you are.” If that statement had any effect, we would follow up with, “Why don’t we talk first, then you can kick our ______.” On several occasions the potentially violent subject changed his mind. If he didn’t respond to our initial statement, that signaled us to escalate to our next choice.

It was always hard to give that “pull” statement when a violent subject “pushed” us verbally. We obviously wanted to “push” back with an “attack” statement. Yet the patience of our “pull” statement always minimized the force of our arrest.

Pattern interruptions always worked! If an instant change in a subject’s behavior didn’t occur immediately, at least we knew we would have to either escalate our counter-force or try something else. Also, by systematically attempting to stop violence with our image or words, we would be more justified, emotionally and legally, if we had to resort to a higher degree of counter-force

Applying verbal interruptions particularly useful when performing routine, uncomfortable tasks like patting down of frisking a suspect. While maintaining physical control, we would like to say, “You don’t have any hand grenades, swords or bazookas hidden on you, do you?” Subjects generally laughed it off. Now and then, one would disclose that he had a knife or razor.

Probably our most interesting pattern interruption came in June of 1984. My partner and I were patrolling our beat on a Saturday afternoon, when the following scenario took place.

Dispatcher: “Car 405, Car 405, respond to 755 East McMillan Street, reference a man with a gun. The only description we have is he’s male, black, and his last name is Large. He threatened to kill a person and stated he would kill the police. Car 405.”

We replied, “Car 405, OK.”

Our sergeant came on the air with “Car 422, advise Car 405 to wait for my arrival before they approach the address. I’ll respond with a taser gun (an electrical device which shoots two darts which deliver a high voltage/low amperage shock to a person).

Unfortunately for us, my partner and I happened to be on McMillan Street when the dispatch came out. Other police units were coming over the air advising that they would also respond. Since we were so close already, we parked near the location and advised our dispatcher that we were on the scene. Needless to say, our adrenaline was pumping. We were afraid. As we approached an alley between two buildings, we observed a male and a female arguing. Unconsciously, I blurted out, “Anyone her order a large pizza?”

The male subject turned and looked at me with a puzzled expression. I could see his hands were empty. He said, “My name is Large…”

With that we knew who he was. We quickly handcuffed him and put him in the back seat of our car. Fortunately, he did not have a gun – something we did not know until after we had him under control. It turned out that he was a walk away mental patient form the Veteran’s Hospital Psychiatric Unit. He had been walking around threatening to kill people, hoping to force the police to kill him. Who knows what might have happened had Mr. Large not been caught off guard. I sincerely believe that on this particular day NLP saved the life of a mentally disturbed veteran – and my life as well.

Unfortunately, there is no way to measure prevention. Likewise, there is no way to measure the tremendous positive impact of NLP in law enforcement. Controlled feelings, creative nonviolent solutions to potentially violent situations, peace of mind – these are the reasons I’m impressed with NLP. Ever since Dr. Dossey’s seminar, I’ve been studying and researching how police officers everywhere can increase their choices by using image and verbal persuasion to prevent,or at least minimize, their use of force in violent situations. I am currently writing a book based on my research and actual experience. Belief me, police officers all over this country need new tools for accomplishing their duties. They are hungry for positive education which will enhance their control over themselves, and others. No group of professionals needs flexibility more than police officers. NLP can be their new road map.

Originally published in the VAK Newsletter.