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Six Major Obstacles to Law Enforcement Communications

The major obstacles to effective communication between law enforcement superiors and their subordinates. While there are many more obstacles impeding communication between officer, superiors and the public at large, only these six major issues are discussed.

Knowledge concerns may impede communication by preventing an officer from asking for clarification. This failure to request necessary additional information is based on an officer’s belief that it is an admittance of inferiority. The officer believes that by questioning further about a task, duty or procedure he may present himself as unworthy or less knowledgeable to other officers. Many officers believe that lacking knowledge in a given area is a sign of weakness and that it might later be used against them (p. 67). 

A second common barrier to communication is built upon fear of negative response. A desire not to offend or displease others, especially those in the higher ranks. This fear of reprisal will prevent an individual from speaking out with their own input especially if it is one which is not in keeping with popular opinion.  It will hinder the group decision making effort if an officer does not put forth their own opinion.  As a Supervisor it is important to continually stress to the subordinate group that the popular response to a situation is not always going to be the best response and everyone should have an opportunity to make their own suggestions when the situation necessitates a group decision making process.

Environmental influences will be the most common obstacles in communicating on the job. Whether communication is a face-to-face situation or a ten-code that was unintelligible each time what is said is not completely understood the safety of everyone becomes a factor in the line of duty.  Pronouncing all words clearly and slowly will better facilitate understanding amongst the group. In face-to-face communication, body language and individual physical cues will aid in comprehension of the spoken word. Non-verbal cues are impossible in radio transmission so be sure if at all possible to transmit from a strong signal area to prevent misunderstandings. Ask for clarification when what is said runs the risk of being misinterpreted.

Two areas which will prove difficult for communication is between intercultural exchanges where different languages is a factor and serves as  barriers and the hearing impaired  where one individual does not possess the adequate ability to hear as well as others. Always be sure to use gestures and body language when an interpreter is not available to facilitate the exchange.  For hearing impaired, the use of written language is also appropriate.  The intercultural barrier will prove most difficult in taking statements from witnesses in the field and can prove the most stressful short of a bullet but it can also be very useful in developing human skills based on the development of instinct and the art of listening.

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