The Role of Command Presence in Corrections
Gordon Graham here with today’s tip from Lexipol. Today’s tip is about command presence or the image you project. Especially when you’re in uniform in a correctional facility.
You can treat them right without being overly familiar. You can maintain control without being unprofessional. Make these your standards and don’t compromise them.
We often talk about options when a situation escalates towards the use of force. The least aggressive option is no force at all. Sometimes the effect of your presence alone is enough to deter someone who may be considering violence.
Command presence can be defined as non-verbal communication that influences the actions of others, using your bearing alone. Your command presence is determined based on a first glance or your first instructions or comments.
In a correctional facility when your shift begins, it’s showtime. Every inmate is watching you looking for signs of weakness. They are assessing whether you can be manipulated, coerced, or overcome.
Command presence starts with your appearance. Is your uniform squared away? Gig line straight? Boots polished? Is your duty belt clean? Do you walk upright with your shoulders back and your head up? Do you look people in the eye when you speak to them? Are you well rested? Acting as though your appearance matters to you will make a difference in how inmates view you.
Next is situational awareness. There is no need to be hypervigilant or paranoid. But you should pay attention to what’s going on around you. This includes being aware of activity beyond any one-on-one conversation you may be having at the moment. Inmates use distraction as a strategy. Don’t let them.
Also be professional in word and deed. Don’t use street language. Don’t play fast and loose with the rules. Most of all don’t get overly friendly with inmates. Be consistent and fair in your interactions. Make sure inmates know they can expect this from you. You can treat them right without being overly familiar. You can maintain control without being unprofessional. Make these your standards and don’t compromise them.
Likewise, when you speak do it with confidence. This comes from knowing the rules and understanding the situation at hand. Know what to say, when to say it, and how to deliver the message. This is the essence of leadership. For the most part, in a custody setting every officer is a leader of the unwilling.
Finally, train, train, train. Know your equipment and your physical tactics. Using these tools effectively can make the difference in keeping you, your fellow officers and the inmates safe. Good physical condition sends its own message to wrong-doers. “Don’t try it!”
In short look good and act like you are in command. Speak clearly and articulately. Be alert. Be aware. Be ready. Be the officer inmates will respect. Add all this up and you will have command presence.
And that’s today’s tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham, signing off.