Ten Tips For Dealing with the Opposite Sex
A female police academy recruit learns to handle a male suspect. (Photo: Richard Weinblatt)
It’s been the age-old question: how do you deal with the opposite sex. In today’s litigation-laden law enforcement environment, law enforcement professionals struggle to answer that question as they discharge their duties. This column details steps that you can take to ensure your tactical and legal survival.
While false allegations can come from same sex police contacts, particularly with juveniles, complaints that stem from opposite sex interactions seem to crop up more often. These types of risks are part of the business of being a law enforcer, but some safeguards can be taken to at least minimize the dangers. Here are some tips to keep in mind (or recall from earlier training).
1) Call in your traffic stops. Beaten into most officers from their academy days, you should always call in your traffic stops. Ideally, this should be done prior to activating your emergency lights. You should call in your location, plate number including state, vehicle description, and number/description of occupants. Most tend to call the information in that order.
You should adhere to your communications center’s policy. The sequence of calling in information is usually dictated by the order that the call taker’s information fields appear on his/her computer screen. If the final site of the traffic stop changes from the initially radioed information, you should broadcast the location change.
2) Call in interactions. This is from street policing 101. You should always call in all types of interactions, not only traffic stops. This includes when you are being flagged down while on road patrol. In that case, you should be sure to call in your location and a description of the person or persons flagging you down.
3) Call in mileage. If you transport a prisoner, witness, victim, or even engage in a courtesy transport, call in your location and mileage. Remember to do the same when you conclude the transport. Your dispatcher should indicate the time back to you on the radio. If you take the most direct route possible (bearing in mind traffic conditions), the agency could reconstruct the time frame of the transport which could give you a measure of protection.
4) Ask only for information required by your agency. Do not go beyond that information which isn’t required by your agency’s paperwork. Even when you do, questions could come up. When I was in North Carolina, I was asked by an irate father why a male officer asked for his daughter’s telephone number, he calmed down once I explained that the state’s UTC (Uniform Traffic Citation) had a block for the driver’s phone number.
5) No verbal warnings. The decision to give either a verbal warning or issue a citation on a traffic stops has long been thought of as one the discretionary abilities of a patrol officer. I suggest that you alter your approach slightly. When I was a police chief, I mandated that officers issue written warnings instead of verbal warnings. They still had complete discretion on citing versus warning, but I eliminated the verbal portion of that.
What I found is that when people came in to complain after the traffic stop, they often did not know the reason for the stop itself. The issuance of a written warning made that clear to them once the emotion of the moment subsided. They could look at it when they were calmer.
The other advantage, from an administrator’s point of view, is that demographic information is on the written warning. This is information that I would not have had normally on a verbal warning. Such information invariably protected an officer from allegations of disproportionately targeting a particular gender or race.
6) Use in-car video. If you are fortunate enough to have an in-car camera video system, use it. Make sure it is activated prior to the traffic stop or other interaction to document what you can and cannot see from your vantage point.
It can help to defend you against that claim that you made the stop because of the person’s gender or that you made an offer to drop the legal matter in exchange for a date.
If you are going somewhere outside of the field of vision of the camera, keep the system on anyway. Many video systems can record the audio portion from your wireless mic from quite a distance away.
This is a variation of what I did years ago before video cameras became the rage. I had a mini-cassette recorder on my belt and many of my fellow law enforcers would secrete one in their uniform shirt pocket. For those officers who do not have an agency issued in-car video system, an audio recorder (today, thanks to technology, they are even smaller and more versatile) would be the way to go.
7) Create witnesses. Always move to a location where other people, especially your supervisor, can see you. If the person you are talking to closes a door, make sure to open it back up. You can still create an air of confidentiality for reticent victims even with you still being in visual range of other people.
I always make sure that any female students who talk to me in my police academy manager office do so with the door wide open. I want to be sure that the two female members of the staff, who are right outside my doorway, are witnesses to my professional conduct.
8) Call for an opposite sex officer. One of the best things to do, especially if you need to do a frisk or search, is to call for an officer who is the same sex as your suspect. Doing so does not indicate that you are “weak” and can’t handle things on your own. On the contrary, it demonstrates that you are savvy to law enforcement liability concepts and know how to utilize your resources.
9) Do not hang out at bars or other social establishments. Many young officers make the mistake of frequenting bars and other “social networking” establishments. If your agency wants you to do bar checks, do so with another officer. Be friendly with the managers, employees, and patrons, but be sure to keep it professional. Acquiring phone numbers does not fall under the professional conduct umbrella.
10) Don’t party in the area you police. Because many agencies view your conduct off-duty as a direct reflection of your status as a member of the department, you should not party in the city or county that you police. While I think home-based activities are more prudent, many single officers want to get out of the house.
You don’t want to be recognized as an officer when you are off-duty, especially if you have been drinking and are not running on all cylinders. This is a great way to be set up for a falsely generated complaint of sexual misconduct.
Of course, the best defense to opposite sex issues is to be honorable and respectful in all of your interactions. Consider how you would want your son, daughter, husband, wife, mother, father, boyfriend, or girlfriend to be treated by your fellow officers. Beyond that, these ten tips should ensure that you are around to police for quite some time.