This image of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Tim Purdy recently talking-down a "possibly suicidal" teen with a history of "violent behavior" due to a "neuro-developmental disorder" has recently gone viral.
Of course this is just one moment of a much longer interaction, yet it is significantly illustrative with respect to Officer Purdy's skill in using body language to de-escalate a volatile and potentially dangerous situation.
Purdy brought himself down to eye level with the teen. His body language was thus saying:
- "In this moment, I'm your peer, not your superior"
- "We are both human beings with real feelings"
- "I have empathy for you"
- "I see your point of view"
Purdy's even sitting on a lower surface:
- "I am not here to subordinate you"
- "I'm am not confronting you"
Purdy's leg configuration and hunched shoulders:
- I'm not a physical threat
- I'm relaxed (evoking and maintaining relaxed emotional tones, thoughts and posture in the teen)
Purdy's body is not directly facing the teen, but off to one side:
- I am not a threat
- I'm not here to harm you
- I'm sincerely here to help
- I can be your friend
Whether Officer Purdy's action were instinct/his personality, due to his experience as a parent or via training as a law enforcement professional - his response is an excellent example of using nonverbal skills in de-escalation. Indeed, without using body language in the context of de-escalation is an approach fraught with failure.
The primary reason this image went viral is because it's Empathy Evoking. The moment we see it, most of us immediately feel a wave of emotions for both the teen and the cop.
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