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Verbal Communication

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Verbal Communication

Verbal and nonverbal communication is important on all levels of the criminal justice system. Police communicate with different people from the crime scene through court hearing. Police can also expect to communicate with the press. Effective communication skills and strategy is very important to the police officer. Communication in the courtroom is important to the outcome of a case. Effective skills in reading nonverbal communication, such as body language, are often as important as verbal communication skills. Communication in correction facilities involves interpreting body language, hearing verbal communication, and reacting in a respectful manner. Though juvenile facilities require more of an understanding of the reasons juveniles act in particular ways.

Police and Media Relations

Verbal and nonverbal communication between the police and the media are very important. The media has priorities; to be the first to release the story to the public and to have the most interesting story. Some media sources will even bend the truth and mislead the public just to make the story more interesting. The hurry to press can lead to inaccurate information in the story.

Initial contact between the media and law enforcement normally takes place at the scene of the crime and this increases the chance for conflict and misunderstanding (Hayward, 2004). If an officer responds to the media early in an investigation or on the scene of the crime, he or she may not have enough facts to present accurately the crime details to the media. Presenting early in an investigation and then speaking at a later time when more information is available can open the door for the media to portray the officer as dishonest or contradicting. The media can portray an officer in various other roles. Odom (2009), states that "Those roles can vary from crime fighter, corrupt vigilante, social servant, superhero, genius, order maintainer, crime preventer" (para. 2).

Perhaps the most important nonverbal communication for police officers, pertaining to media relationships is a formalized media policy. Unfortunately, most departments do not have media policies and in departments that do have formalized policies often lax in following the policy (Hayward, 2004). Developing a formalized policy and adhering to the policy can reduce the chance for error in reporting to the media.

The media is a public information highway; because of this, it is important for police departments to interact and maintain a healthy relationship with the media. A positive media relationship is the bridge to create a positive relationship with the community. This relationship can be mutually beneficial for law enforcement and the media. The department can proactively use the media to pass a message to the community. In doing so, police departments may receive tips from witnesses that have not been available at the time of the incident.

Whether using verbal or written communication, police officers must be cautious and use discretion when speaking to the media. An officer should also be aware of his or her body language as this is a form of nonverbal communication. It is important to remember that a 10 minute interview will be cut into a few seconds of air time. Perhaps formal training on handling media communication would be appropriate for police departments. Training can teach an officer effective communication with the media and how to handle the hidden agenda of reporters while building a solid relationship.


Verbal and nonverbal communication in a courtroom is important for all parties involved. The prosecution, arresting officer, defense, witnesses, and the judge will communicate in a courtroom. The prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge, and jury will be listening carefully to what is spoken in the courtroom. If one is not careful, he or she may say more than he or she intended to say by means of nonverbal communication, or body language. No matter the method of communication one thing is certain, someone will be evaluating the communication and using it in determining the credibility of a witness in the courtroom.

According to Ford (2006), "It (nonverbal communication) includes hand, arm, and leg movements; facial expressions; voice tones; and other body gestures." A person's body language can sometimes speak louder than his or her voice. If the receiver possesses effective skills in nonverbal communication, he or she will be able to "hear" messages through the sender's gestures, eye movement, facial expressions, posture, or tone of voice. An individual who is not skilled in nonverbal communication may be unaware of the message he or she is transmitting through body language.

Verbal communication involves word choice, tone, and delivery speed and nonverbal communication involves body language such as expressions, movements, positioning, and posture (Wallace & Roberson, 2009). An officer testifying at a hearing will use verbal communication; but his or her communication also involves the written arrest report prepared prior to the hearing. Effective writing principles are valuable to police officers from the moment of arrest and continue through testifying at a court hearing. An officer must write the report, prepare for court, coordinate with the prosecuting attorney, and then testify in court (Wallace & Roberson, 2009). The information in the officer's report will be read by all involved in the case and any discrepancy or misuse of wording can cause a guilty person to walk away unpunished.

Welsh (2006) uses the acronym CARE, connect, articulate, reflect, emote, to instruct witnesses in effective testifying. First, the witness must connect with the jury through eye contact. Lack of eye contact is a body language read as deception. Articulate details using descriptive words. Reflect on the question before giving an answer to be certain the question is clearly understood. Finally, emote through verbal and nonverbal communication. Speak with confidence, persistence, commitment, and enthusiasm (Welsh, 2006).

Correction Facility

Though innocence or guilt is no longer a factor, communication continues to be important for both the justice system employee and the offender. In correctional facilities, it is crucial for an officer to possess strong skills in reading the verbal and nonverbal communications of inmates. Inmates may use aggressive statements with hopes to invoke a response such as fear from an officer. An officer must be cautious when reacting to the inmate's threatening behavior and document the situation for future reference should the officer ever become a victim of physical assault by the inmate (Barnhart,



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