U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Defusing Difficult Encounters

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2017
4 pages
After reviewing factors that can intensify conflict or cause non-compliance in police-citizen interactions, this paper instructs officers in three steps they can follow to facilitate defusing these difficult encounters.
Some circumstances or conditions that increase the risk for conflict and non-compliance in police encounters with citizens are mental health issues, developmental disabilities, vision and/or hearing impairment, behavioral or emotional crises, physical limitations, drug reactions or interactions, and language barriers. An officer may not know or perceive the cause of a citizen's non-compliance or resistance to her/his instructions; however, the proposed steps by officers will reduce the risk of an adverse outcome. The first step by the officer upon meeting some type of citizen verbal or physical resistance is to "slow down." This step includes remaining calm, patient, and professional in conversing about why the officer precipitated the interaction. Ask open-ended questions that allow the person to talk and express concerns, and responding to citizen concerns with understanding. The second step is to "constantly assess" the immediate environment, the condition and movements of the person, and the officer's own self-assessment of her/his verbal and physical reactions. The third step is to "take action" in controlling a person's aggressive behavior without force or with minimal use of force. Taking action can sometimes be calling for assistance and continuing a conversation while awaiting the arrival of the assistance or responding to the person's request for reasonable assistance for an emotional or physical problem. Showing concern for the person's welfare and becoming an ally in trying to help him/her address a problem is another type of action.

Date Published: March 1, 2017