2 of 2
Command Types Used in Police Encounters
Type of Crime
The crime associated with the most commands was other, 53.1%; followed by assault, 20.5%; disorderly conduct, 19.3%; and threat, 4.6%. All other crimes were each associated with less than 1% of the commands (see Figure 9). Due to the type of statistical analyses and small number of cells containing suicide, theft, and arrest warrant, these three categories were combined to form one category. Thus, the total number of crime categories was reduced from eight to six.
Results indicated that there were significant differences in the six types of crime across the six command types: x2(25) = 109.36, p < 0.001. The use of regular commands occurred most for other crimes, followed by assault, disorderly conduct, and threat crimes. The use of regular commands was less than 1% for each of the additional crimes. Exclusionary commands were used primarily for other crimes, followed by assault, threat, and disorderly conduct crimes. There was no use of exclusionary commands for any other crimes. Indirect commands were highest for other crimes, followed by assault, disorderly conduct, suicide/theft/arrest warrant, and threat crimes. There were no indirect commands used in the additional crime categories. Question commands were used most for disorderly conduct and other commands followed by assault and unknown crimes. No question commands were used in the additional crime categories. Interview commands were found most commonly in other crimes, followed by disorderly conduct, assault, suicide/theft/arrest warrant, and threat crimes. The use of interview commands was less than 1% for unknown crimes. Other command types were greatest for other crimes, followed by disorderly conduct, assault, and suicide/theft/arrest warrant crimes.
Results further indicated that there were significant differences in the use of alpha and beta commands across the six types of crime: 2(5) = 95.832, p < 0.001. The majority of alpha commands were used in other crimes, 55%; followed by disorderly conduct, 21%; and assault, 17.5%. All other alpha commands were divided by less than 5% in each of the additional crime categories. The majority of beta commands were found in other crimes, 43%; followed by assault, 35%; and disorderly conduct, 11.5%. All other beta commands were divided by less than 5% in each of the additional crime categories (see Figure 10).
There is a lack of research evaluating command categories, defined by command structure and form, on outcomes of police interactions. This study was designed to evaluate differences in the use of command types and subtypes used by police officers in different crimes and with different levels of violence. The effect of different command type and subtype on compliance and latency was also evaluated.
Results indicate that a much higher proportion of the alpha commands, 82%, resulted in compliance in comparison to noncompliance. In comparison, the beta commands resulted in compliance 41% of the time and 57% in noncompliance (the remaining 2% were coded as forced compliance). This supports the idea that alpha commands may be more likely to result in compliance than beta commands. The clarity and feasibility of alpha commands may make it more likely that an appropriate response will be made.
Results for the command types indicated that 70% of the stop commands, 50% of the regular commands, 33% of the negative commands, and 31% of indirect commands produced noncompliance. The other four command types produced noncompliance 20% or less of the time. This data calls into question effectiveness of stop, regular, negative, and indirect commands.
The data indicated that alpha and beta commands produced fairly similar levels of latency (i.e., the time span from commands being issued to commands being complied with), with 94% of alpha commands and 85% of beta commands resulting in immediate compliance. These results provide additional support for the use of alpha commands.
Results further indicated that negative and stop commands ranked lowest in producing immediate compliance. Negative commands resulted in immediate compliance only 40% of the time, and stop commands were only 50% compared to 87% or better from all other command types. Additionally, these two command types scored highest on delayed latency, with stop commands producing delayed latency 25% of the time and negative commands 40% of the time, while all other command types were 5% or less.
Violent Versus Nonviolent Encounters
The results indicated that 84% of the alpha commands occurred during nonviolent police encounters, while 50% of the beta commands occurred during nonviolent encounters. Additionally, only 16% of the alpha commands occurred during violent encounters, while 50% of beta commands occurred during violent encounters. This may provide support for the use of alpha command subtypes to promote nonviolent police encounters and the minimization of beta commands to prevent violent encounters. The use of more specific and feasible requests by law enforcement may lead to fewer violent encounters.
All of the eight command types occurred more often during nonviolent than violent encounters; however, 41% of the regular commands, 35% of the question commands, and 31% of the indirect commands occurred during violent encounters. The higher percentages of these command types in violent encounters supports the idea that these commands may be more likely to lead to violent encounters. The use of more interview, question, negative, or other commands may lead to a reduced number of violent encounters.
Type of Crime
Both alpha and beta subtypes occurred most often in the other crime category. Alpha command types occurred second most frequently in disorderly conduct crimes followed by assault crimes. Beta command types occurred second most frequently in assault crimes followed by disorderly conduct crimes.
With the exception of negative command types, the majority of all the command types occurred in the other crime category. The majority of question commands were used during disorderly conduct crimes. The majority of don’t commands occurred during threat crimes. The majority of stop crimes occurred during assault crimes. Also, interview and regular commands were used the most compared to all other commands during assault, disorderly conduct, and other crimes.
The results provide strong support for the use of alpha command types to promote nonviolent encounters and compliance with police requests. There is evidence to suggest that the use of alpha subtypes may facilitate more immediate compliance. It is more difficult to draw conclusions about differences in the use of alpha and beta commands in different crimes, however; it is clear from the results that more research is needed in this area.
The results suggest that regular, question, and indirect commands are being used more frequently in violent encounters. Although causation cannot be determined from this study, the result raises concern. Furthermore, the use of stop and negative commands may be hindering compliance and reducing the likelihood of individuals ceasing unwanted and sometimes violent behaviors. Although once again causation cannot be determined, the results of this study suggest that officers may actually be prolonging noncompliance by using negative commands. In addition, the regular and indirect commands may also be hindering compliance.
It is important to note that several of these results should be analyzed with caution. Of the eight chi square analyses conducted on crime, compliance, latency, and violence for the six command types and two subtypes, four of these analyses had a higher percentage of cells with low expected frequencies. The percentages were 25% for crime across subtype, 27.8% for compliance across six command types, 44.4% for latency across six command types, and 52.1% for crime across six command types.
The other limitation associated with the type of statistical analyses conducted is the inability to look at the interaction between variables. The statistical analyses did not allow for an investigation into the command type and subtype interaction effects on violence, latency, compliance, and crime.
It is also difficult to make interpretations of the crime data since more than 50% of the crimes associated with the commands were categorized as “other.” Furthermore, there are only 15 commands categorized as “exclusionary”: seven stop, six negative, and two don’t commands. The limited data for each of these categories may make it difficult to interpret the findings.
This study emphasizes the importance of command form and clarity in increasing suspect compliance and increasing the speed of suspect compliance. This study also draws attention to the frequency of different command types across different crimes. The results suggest that less effective commands occur more often in situations where violence is a likely outcome. This might indicate that these commands may play some role in this outcome, or at the very least it suggests that beta and negative commands do not increase either the speed or likelihood of compliance. The opposite is more likely true. This research and future similar research could be used to develop a template of appropriate versus inappropriate commands and responses for certain circumstances. This, in turn, might prove very useful in officer training on the use of efficient commands for communicating with suspects and preventing violent encounters.
Bayley, D. H., & Bittner, E. (1984). Learning the skills of policing. Law and Contemporary Problems, 47(4), 35-59.
Bayley, D. H., & Garofalo, J. (1989). The management of violence by police patrol officers. Criminology, 27, 1-26.
Bertsch, K. M. (1999). Naturalistic observation of teacher’s commands in preschool classrooms. Unpublished manuscript, Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Forehand, R. L., & McMahon, R. J. (1981). Helping the noncompliant child. New York: The Guilford Press.
Johnson, R. R. (2004). Citizen expectations of police traffic stop behavior. Policing, 27(4), 487-497.
Mastrofski, S. D., Snipes, J. B., & Supina, A. E. (1996). Compliance on demand: The public’s response to specific police requests. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 33(3), 269-305.
Peed, S., Roberts, M., & Forehand, R. (1977). Evaluation of the effectiveness of a standardized parent training program in altering the interaction of mothers and noncompliant children. Behavior Modification, 1, 323-350.
Reiss, A. J., Jr. (1971). The police and the public. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Thompson, G. J. (1983). Verbal judo: Words as a force option. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Emily N. Schwarzkopf, MA, is a recent graduate of the Clinical Psychology program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Daniel D. Houlihan, PhD, is a professor of Clinical Psychology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Much of his research involves command types and compliance issues with various populations.
Kari Kolb, M,A, is a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Miami University, Ohio.
William Lewinski, PhD, is a professor of Law Enforcement at Minnesota State University, Mankato and the Director of the Force Science Research Center.
Jeffrey Buchanan, PhD, is an assistant professor of Clinical Psychology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Some of his research involves command types and communication patterns between staff and elderly patients with dementia.
Angela Christenson, is a master’s student in the Clinical Psychology program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.