Below is a letter written to the police officer who thought the above was a good idea and was willing to take it a little further. It is a letter because this is informal feedback and in no way represents anything official. For reasons that will become apparent, I must remain within the idea stage. The purpose of this post is to flesh out my training Aims and Objectives, so that trainers can know where I am coming from and understand the potential problems that may need to be addressed.
Firstly: I am not – nor ever have been – employed by any police service. I do not know the culture, systems or mindsets. Therefore, anything I suggest needs to adapt to these considerations – my expertise is in human relations, not policing. Where we meet in agreement is in the need for boundaries.
Secondly: despite the fact it can sometimes seem that way to others, I am NOT omniscient. There will be my own human errors in this and these will need to be identified. If it helps to discuss my thinking further, just ask – otherwise trust your own judgment.
Thirdly: the only reason I am being so pushy around this is because I’ve learned that opportunity is not a lengthy visitor. My own personal circumstances are really quite dire (no exaggeration) and I may not actually be here to see the changes I hope for. Pushing this now is my way of contributing to problem resolutions for all of us and I believe it is my social responsibility to do that in a time-limited situation. You are free to have your own opinion.
Finally: even if this idea doesn’t come off, it may generate ideas for training in other areas using the same kind of model. This is a win-win situation for all of us in my opinion – I sincerely hope you agree.
Long ago – when I was designing and delivering training courses – I designed one (for the London Borough of Greenwich) on the management of discipline in the workplace. Its aim was to equip managers and supervisors with the skills to manage discipline before it reached any kind of formal stage.
In amongst the ‘experiential’ exercises was a role-play of a manager dealing with a member of staff who has just identified a very serious problem – a gross misconduct issue that might have a number of different outcomes, depending upon how the ‘employee’ themselves handled the situation. It proved to be a crucial component of the course because it illustrated (depending upon how different participants ‘played’ the role) how much discretion and power the manager had in determining action (for information: the particular role in question involved a long-standing and reliable member of staff who had just discovered their ‘addict’ offspring had stolen public funds for which they were personally responsible). The beauty of the exercise was that course participants in that role chose all kinds of ways to deal with it – from saying nothing to telling all, with graduations inbetween. It meant we could look at the impact the employee choices had on the manager in some considerable depth together with the choices/responsibilities now left to them. ‘Results’ went from formal warnings to dismissal). The lowest form of disciplinary action only occurred if the ‘employee’ came clean from the outset. This was because the information allowed the manager to actually manage the problem, thereby reducing any actual harm the problem might cause. When I reflect upon this exercise now, I realise that the key component of that role play was the choice made by the employee’s role. Do they choose ‘family’ or do they choose their public responsibility?
There is a reason I share this illustration with you. I am about to put you in that position. How you ‘manage’ it is your free choice.
You may know this already but I have criminal convictions for Wounding with Intent and Threats to Kill (a police officer) – I was 48 years old and these were my first convictions. It is inevitable that this information is going to be brought to your attention at some point or another and I prefer that you hear it from me. These occurred in 2003 in Hull and, following my initial arrest, the only time I’ve ever returned to that city was for my trial and sentencing. I won’t go back because I choose to desist and I don’t believe I would be permitted to if I did return. I got a seven year sentence which was spent in 2010. From the moment of my ‘crime’, I went into ‘desistance’ mode whilst, at the same time, challenging some of the more abusive systems to which I was subjected. All this should show up on my records. This is your ‘problem’ and it’s a real life one.
It is inevitable that this issue will raise its head because that is the way society is structured for people like me and what it demands from you is impeccability. Much like the exercise, the only route through to a ‘best result’ requires that we all act in the interests of the public which means we have to put our personal needs aside in favour of the public good. My way of doing this is to be completely upfront with you. You have a personal and public responsibility to protect the public. I have a personal and public responsibility to redeem myself in the eyes of that same public. It’s possible to manage this problem but only if you are fully aware of it.
The ‘system’ is very quick to tell us how to view people in my position. This is extremely useful because it means that, if ‘you’ (the police) are going to listen to some of the training issues I’m raising around domestic violence, you are going to have to model ‘listening outside the box’ from the very outset yourself. One of the things I can guarantee, if this DV exercise goes ahead, is that all those involved are going to have to hear things that present new problems, so my disclosure fits with the process we are thinking of unleashing. Feedback is inevitably going to include things we’d prefer not to hear and haul us onto new ground we’d prefer not to tread. What’s needed is some kind of theoretical framework to hang our experiences on to keep us ‘safe enough’ as we enter this new learning. It’s this ‘safety’ aspect that concerns me the most.
It’s quite plain – from newspaper reports – that there is a serious problem for victims of domestic violence in making their voices heard to some police officers. I’m going to suggest that this failure stems from an inability to ‘hear’ the emotional intelligence in what is being reported by victims at the time. Some officers – commonly but not exclusively male – cannot access emotional intelligence, for whatever reason, which means they genuinely cannot hear what more ‘tuned-in’ officers might be able to. Sometimes this is simply because that is the way they are (no blame) or, sometimes, because they have a personal investment in not knowing. The consequence of this inability, however, directly impacts upon the victims. Additionally, there is also the problem of the system itself. So when we are managing the issues being raised by the hashtag, we need to bear all these things in mind. Emotional intelligence – in a setting such as this – needs to be able to sort through the information in a non-judgmental way – judgment comes later once we’ve collated our evidence. To do this effectively, we need to put firm boundaries in place.
For example: let’s start with my boundaries as someone who is advising you on this training exercise.
Firstly, the circumstances of my crimes closely reflect research on the personal circumstances of many women offenders, which means that I have direct experience of dealing with the police in emotionally-charged situations. We can also see that I experienced a complete breakdown in communication with the police in 2003 and any residual personal stuff must not ‘infect’ what I am attempting to share. The boundary I place on myself, therefore, is that in any advice I give I don’t deal with my own case or promote any personal interests around my case – that was ‘managed’ in 2003 and the sanctions imposed are now spent. It is water under the bridge. This is not about me – this is about improving police services for victims of domestic violence. From my own perspective, this is also about helping women to not end up in my 2003 situation. So, if I refer to my own experiences and anyone has a problem with the illustration I’m using, they are free to ignore it because I’ve already moved my personal stuff out of the arena. If, however, one of my dismissed illustrations becomes a feature of the feedback produced by the hashtag, I reserve the ‘right’ to put it firmly back on the agenda. Emotional intelligence produces information about problems of relationship – it is process rather than content – if my illustrations are about process, they’re valuable to the learning. If they are about content in a process situation, this derails the learning and needs to be addressed by whoever has responsibility for managing it.
The exercise – hopefully – will raise a whole load of learning issues for everyone but for the exercise to work well, all participants need to be volunteers. It is simply not possible to teach this kind of knowledge to conscripts – if people choose not to learn, that is their responsibility. In an exercise like this, however, conscripts may cause considerable harm to the process because the mindset imposes the same restrictions on those proffering new information as it does on the self. It must be done with volunteers who have a genuine interest in learning otherwise we might as well not bother – it will cause more harm in an already abusive situation and completely undermine the aims and objectives of the exercise.
For those who do volunteer, there need to be ‘structures’ in place to support them. Emotional intelligence throws up a great deal of useful information, but there is also the danger of ‘overwhelm’ – it becomes too much for those involved. If this is understood from the outset, then safeguards can be provided. The first ‘rule’ here is to have no judgment.
There is nothing wrong with expressed overwhelm. In fact, it’s a clear indicator that we are desperate to resolve the situation we find ourselves in. The ‘right attitude’ here is to support the individual to work through their overwhelm so we can access the information contained within it. Police ought to have a great deal of experience in managing this – ‘you guise’ deal with overwhelm on an everyday basis and it’s a major part of the ‘field’ in domestic violence cases. Overwhelm is caused by an internal ‘explosion’ of emotion that overrides the intellect temporarily in order to make room for unexpressed or repressed emotion. This is why we have to work with volunteer participants and affects all of us – including me, even now – because it’s how we grow into new learning. The only difference is I have is loads of experience of this process, in both theory and practice, so I’m familiar with what occurs in both myself and others. If a ‘course participant’ is in overwhelm, they need to be moved from the ‘front line’ in order to recover. To leave them there is to emotionally abuse them. Emotional abuse is also ‘in the field’, so we can expect it to erupt on your side of the fence as well as ours. For someone in overwhelm, the best management is kindness. The overwhelmed individual is doing us all a great service because they are experiencing the emotional impact of domestic violence.
In therapy, this experience is called ‘projective identification’ – it’s where the client ‘projects’ their emotional experience into the therapist, so the therapist actually experiences what the client is feeling but who struggles to express it. The best therapeutic intervention, at this point, is for the therapist to report how they are feeling and ask the client if that’s what they are feeling.
For officers experiencing emotional overwhelm as a result of this training exercise, there are two possible reasons underpinning it; either what is emerging impacts on their own personal experience or it is the result of projective identification. Both routes will produce extremely valuable information bearing in mind that those experiencing personal responses may well need some kind of therapeutic support afterwards. Those who catch the projective identification will need good quality debriefing in order to understand the problems being expressed by DV victims.
Overwhelm is often resolved by listening and respecting what is being said, regardless of how it might first appear. A great deal of overwhelm belongs to not being heard on repeated occasions and each experience of not being heard adds to the problem, until we are shouting or acting out (this was a major feature of my own crimes). Once the overwhelm has begun – remembering we are listening to those who have experienced this, up to and including fear for their own lives or their dependents – it needs to follow it’s own path. Sometimes we – those of us who have been abused – need to actually demonstrate the behaviour to which we have been subjected – so officers involved may find themselves on the end of ‘abusive behaviour’ until the ‘wave’ of overwhelm has subsided. However, if there has been true listening, once this wave has crashed, the emotions fall back and real communication can occur.
The next stage identifies the thought-forms, systems and processes that fail to hear emotional intelligence. Some of these will be down to dealing with those who cannot hear the feelings of others because they close it down in favour of their own perspectives. This is the abuse and the abuser. Abuse is also ‘in the field’, so it’s highly likely that debriefs will identify abusive problems within the system. There will be issues the police simply can’t deal with because they are systemic. These could be the working requirements imposed on the police; it could be procedures that need revision; it could be people within the system – that’s for you to know. If, however, you are identifying problems that are beyond your control, then they need to be brought to the attention of those with responsibility for resolving them. Remember always – at the heart of this are victims of domestic violence – so obstacles to genuine improvement need to be identified and managed. When police are powerless to resolve the problems, there maybe other ways around the obstacle that can be enacted by the community instead, which is why it would help to have input from DV voluntary agencies too. Bear in mind that our present system frequently fails to listen to emotional intelligence, so social failings are more than likely to be flagged. The benefit of the exercise is in identifying the problems – once that occurs, we are already on our way to resolving them, no matter how long it might take us all.
If the cycle of experience is working properly, once we pass ‘Erupt & Overwhelm’, what starts to emerge is gratitude. It doesn’t matter how big the problems are that come in your direction – or how seemingly irresolvable they might at first appear – for a victim of domestic violence, with a history of being unheard, the very fact that someone is listening and hearing what is being said makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between banging your head against a brick wall and someone opening a door you can walk through. That’s what the gratitude is about. It’s not that we’ve necessarily resolved the problem, it’s that we’ve opened the door to resolving the problem therefore making resolution possible where none existed before.
In my experience, going through such an exercise can be horrible but, if we reach the gratitude outcome, it becomes a learning which is so valuable it makes it all worth it. I’d use my own crimes and consequences as an example. There is no way I could be as clear about this process without that experience. My ‘mistake’ was to try and teach this knowledge to those who didn’t want to know. Nevertheless, once I was in the system, I was able to teach this to all those professionals who did by inviting them to either deal with or witness me dealing with problems of abuse. It meant I was a problem for some and a delight for others. I always used the system; I was never subject to prison discipline in almost five years inside (and was an enhanced IEP prisoner throughout) and, when I was subject to emotional abuse by a system that couldn’t hear me, I acted out until I was heard. The only times this methodology failed was when I was dealing with those who refused to hear me and behaved as if my emotional intelligence didn’t exist. In those cases, I could usually obtain evidence of bigotry. If my own experiences have any universal truths in them, this should also prove useful to the police in both dealing with abusers and identifying any internal problems you may have.
What I will say is that if those officers involved in this exercise have to deal with systemic problems in the aftermath, they MUST use the procedures; they MUST cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’; and they MUST put everything in writing. What is produced is evidence and, to the best of my knowledge, that’s what ‘you guise’ specialise in. Somewhere in the paperwork, the problem will manifest where it can be seen and managed by a responsible officer who knows how to manage well.
How this advice would translate into practical training is for you and your training officers to determine. All I am doing is illustrating what you are going to have to ‘manage’ if you go ahead with this.
And whatever you might think of me, let me tell you this. The gratitude I feel towards all the Northumbria Police officers I encountered during my journey through the CJS cannot be expressed. I have never hidden my ‘record’ – including my threat to kill (for which I have always apologised) – and they have always treated me with respect at worst and enormous good humour at best. I can count on the fingers on one hand all those who weren’t able to. The greatest asset each one of them had was their humanity. If you like, coming forward with all this information is my way of saying thank you and showing them why they were so good at their job. I use the past tense because I have no reasons to come into contact with the police anymore unless I happen to be reporting a crime (a very rare event these days).
In closing, I would observe that exercises in emotional intelligence tend to be easier for women than for men but there are always exceptions to that ‘rule’. Part of the problem with DV is a failure in communication – frequently between men and women – where one partner is unable or unwilling to reframe their reality to include the reality of another. In my experience, this problem is likely to emerge within the police too when it comes to deciding what to do with this hashtag idea. If I am correct and there is resistance to it, I would make the following points:
There is already evidence that emotionally-intelligent communication between disparate groups is emerging on twitter. I’d cite #DearMentalHealthProfessionals and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen as two very recent examples. There is also considerable evidence that repression of emotional intelligence by government is causing considerable ‘disturbance’ in the ‘Force’ and it is affecting everyone, including the police. So this problem is already becoming conscious within the whole community. Those who try to avoid dealing with it now are only going to have to deal with this at a later date when the ‘overwhelm’ starts being acted out and police are called in to deal with it. Repressing the problem is only going to make it a lot worse further down the line. Training willing officers in the skills of emotional intelligence management may well go a considerable way to opening the door to conflict resolution, even in the most dangerous situations because, if the person in overwhelm feels heard, they will back down because they know someone else – with authority – sees the problem and understands it (agreement is not an absolute requirement – simply that the alternative view being expressed has validity and needs looking at may well be enough – but if agreement is there, that is even better). Additionally, this training structure can also be used to explore other community/police problems, like racism. The more those in emotional overwhelm feel heard, the less your officers are likely to be put at risk from dangerous acting-out by those who don’t. A blanket refusal to countenance such training will put your officers in danger because the community is in danger. This is why I may seem to be rather pushy about this. I would really rather none of us were endangered.
Much of what this training is about may seem like common-sense to those in touch with their own emotional intelligence and they’re right. However, when common-sense is picked apart to get at the theoretical structures beneath, a great deal more knowledge emerges that your officers might find practically useful, not just for the training exercise, but also for how they improve their common-sense performance. It’s an MOT of emotional intelligence to fill in gaps in knowledge; compare theory with experience; and deepen our ability to deal competently with the problems we are asked to address.
We’re all going to have to deal with this at some point. I’ve always found that if we volunteer to learn before the tsunami of overwhelm impacts, we are much better placed to ensure the safety of both self and others when that moment arrives.
What better place to begin than with the police and DV?
With very best wishes