Early in my career, I spotted a crying, bleeding woman walking down the street. After I made contact with her I was able to determine her live-in boyfriend had assaulted her. After attending to her, I asked for backup to come to the house to help me make this arrest.
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The suspect was a well-known person, who in most cases when facing arrest, fought with the police. He was a formidable foe and since only one other officer was available I hoped it would be one who would be able to pitch in if the suspect resisted, which I absolutely believed he would do. He always did.
I didn’t know Wally so well then and was not familiar with his particular set of skills, which I would grow to appreciate. I wondered if the two of us would be enough to handle the challenge I thought was inevitable.
As we arrived at the house, the screen door was closed, but the interior door was wide open and the lights were on. Inside, the man, Tommy, was using a couch as a battering ram, smashing it against the wall of the living room, and causing considerable damage to the wall.
Since there were grounds for the arrest, I began to quietly tell Wally, “I will move to his right and you go to….” formulating a plan to control on contact.
Wally confidently and politely said, “Let me talk to him first.”
I could see no good coming of that.
Wally knocked on the door and said, “Hey, Tommy. Is it OK if we come in?”
Tommy turned to see the uniforms and it appeared by the way he dropped the couch and turned that we would have to fight this man.”
“Sure! Come on in!” he said with a tone of challenge in his voice.
Wally smiled, extended his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Officer Walters, my friends call me Wally. You can call me Wally if you like.”
Tommy shook his hand and Wally bypassed him to run his hand over the damage to the wall and asked, “Doing a little remodeling tonight Tommy? I could recommend a lighter tool if you are planning on opening up a new doorway here.”
Tommy turned his head as if a bit puzzled and stuttered, “I-I-I,”
Wally said, “All kidding aside what has got you so troubled tonight?”
Wally said this in a most caring tone and Tommy sat down on a nearby chair next to a table and offered the chair next to him to Wally. “Have a seat, Wally,” he said as he covered his face trying to hide the tears.
Now there was a conversation that was amazing to watch between Wally and this once enraged man. The conversation ended when Tommy said, “I suppose you’re going to have to arrest me, Wally. Right? Can you put the handcuffs on in the front?”
Wally responded, “If it’s not too much trouble, I will have to put them on with your hands behind your back. This is my instructor here and I got to do it right, with him watching me. Tommy, could you do me a favor and please turn around and put your hands behind your back, Tommy?”
“Sure, Wally,” and he did. We had no problems with this usually belligerent suspect on that night.
Watching this arrest unfold as it did, inspired me to use the term for the first time to describe what I saw that night. I would tell people, “One day I want to have a black belt in dialog, just like Wally.”
It is important to note that Wally was great to have when we met resistance as well. He was a highly trained Vietnam-era US Army Captain who was good to have with you when words failed. However, I could not help but notice that if Wally could get one complete sentence out with a suspect in most cases, but certainly not all, his words worked magic.
For me, Officer Greg C. Walters (Captain U.S. Army) was the original “black belt in dialog.”