The psychology behind police techniques: "DO IT NOW!"

Does yelling “DO IT NOW” at a suspect really want to make them do it now?

I was driving on an interstate when I passed a police car stopped on the right shoulder. I drove by there about once a week and had never seen any speed enforcement on this part of the road so it was unusual to see a car just parked there, in a very visible spot. I continued driving and suddenly two or three police cars passed me on the shoulder with lights and sirens, cut in front me, and blocked all lanes. Another police car seemed to be there, having pulled someone over. I had a front-row seat but the scene was a little chaotic and it was clear exactly what was happening. This did not appear to be a traffic stop but some sort of coordinated apprehension. I could hear them shouting directions: “Close your windows, get out of your car with your hands up, DO IT NOW!!” I could not see well enough to tell if officers had guns drawn. After several minutes, two of the police cars pulled out, letting traffic by in the right lane, and others had a guy up against a car in handcuffs. Other than that I have no idea what was going on.

I always thought this was a movie cliché until I saw it happen. The information carried by “do it now” is clear and unambiguous. But the information is delivered by yelling. I would think that approach would ratchet up the adrenaline in the perp, making the situation more volatile rather than getting it under control. So here are my questions.

  1. Is this is a standard part of police training, or is it just part of police culture?
  2. If is it standard training, what is the psychological principle behind yelling “DO IT NOW” at a suspect? Does this in practice result in immediate compliance vs. other methods? Is it a short of “shock and awe” idea to make the perp feel hopelessly overpowered?

Sounds like a felony stop.

I suspect there is a body of experience that deems yelling at a suspect to get out of the car and “DO IT NOW” more effective than saying in a conversational tone, “um, please exit the vehicle, sir.”

I do wonder about the effectiveness of bellowing “STOP RESISTING” at someone you’re trying to handcuff, unless it’s to help document for a bodycam that the suspect is in fact resisting arrest.

I suspect movie cliches are what many real life police officers base their actions on.

I’d think in dealing with a suspect who is probably in an angry and stubborn state of mind that yelling “Do it NOW!” would actually escalate the situation and they would be LESS likely to comply.
If I was in a grumpy mood checking out at Target and an employee told me “Step down to register 5” I’d do it without hesitation. If they told me “STEP DOWN TO REGISTER 5! DO IT NOW!” not only would I NOT follow their order I would immediately want to confront/challenge the person.

Even if they were pointing a gun at you?

Police operate under a checklist commonly described as “Ask. Tell. Make.”

First you ask the subject to do something. Then you tell the subject to do something. Then you (and your pals if necessary) make the subject do something. “Make” as in use force.

The “DO IT NOW” is shorthand for “Or else we’re going to grab you / beat you / tase you / shoot you. This is your last chance to avoid that. Be smart or be hurt.”

Whether that’s how we ought to be running policing is not a topic I’m able to comment on. But we do have to have an answer for what happens next when the subject, by word or by deed says “No. And you can’t make me.”

In the videos I’ve seen, the police usually issue commands like that multiple times before resorting to force. So it’s kind of a mixed message.

In any kind of crisis situation people need clear, direct, unambiguous instructions, a direct order. During CPR classes we were taught that if there is another bystander available that you give them a direct “YOU, (pointing at them) CALL 911!” Not some nebulous hope that someone else is going to call for help. Clearly ordering them.

This is not just a police thing.

If they’re actually yelling “close your windows” and “get out of the car” in rapid succession, that’s also a mixed message. It’s not possible to do both of those things NOW.

I too was wonderin’ about the “close your windows” thing.
Why would they want you to do that ?
It involves a degree of hands out of sightedness.

Maybe it was drizzling.

It seems to me that the command enforces immediacy. The whole point of such an encounter is for the police to assert control. They don’t want to turn it into a debate, they don’t want the guy to argue, or suggest other things, or to have time to think of other ways to get out of his dilemma, they want compliance, the sooner the better. When he’s complying with orders, he’s not randomly doing other stuff and more visibly doing something - get out of car, hands visible - that minimizes the risk he may impulsively try to do stupid acts while debating with the police.

We’ve all heard of the person who gets tazed for a stupid reason, not handing back the microphone or not hanging up the cellphone to get out of the car. The point is, when the police are doing something (or in the mike case, a security guard) they don’t want an extended debate. They have the right to request you do something, and failure to do so is a direct challenge. Whether force is appropriate is another story.

OTOH, yelling “stop resisting” while up close and enforcing an arrest (Perhaps by kneeling on the back or neck) the bodycam isn’t necessarily getting the correct angle or panoramic view so it allows the policeman to construct a favorable narrative for future reviews, true or not. Techdirt, for example, mentioned a case several years ago where the police were yelling “Stop resisting” while physically abusing a non-resistive subject (according to other witnesses) while their bodycam and torso position did not capture the real actions.

I may not be remembering exactly what was said in what order. That was from contemporaneous notes I wrote a short time later, although this was in 2019. I recorded video but my own windows were closed and the phone did not pick up what the officers were saying. For all I know they were telling one of the bystanders to close their windows. Because of the glare of the flashing lights at night (there were five police cars) it was hard to see what was going on. I do not know what could possibly be the purpose of demanding he close the windows first. I would want to see hands as much as possible.

Ah. That would actually make more sense. They presumably wouldn’t want projectiles through bystanders’ windows (in either direction).

Life imitates art.

Maybe, in terms of getting a response, it somehow relates to this, from The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley:

In river rescues, members of the Kansas City Fire Department rescue squad yell profanity-laced threats at victims before they get to them. If they don’t, the victim will grab on to them and push them under the water in a mad scramble to stay afloat. “We try to get their attention. And we don’t always use the prettiest language,” says Larry Young, a captain in the rescue division. “I hope I don’t offend you by saying this. But if I approach Mrs. Suburban Housewife and say, ‘When I get to you, do not fucking touch me! I will leave you if you touch me!’ she tends to listen.

I remember watching the film 6 Days, about the famous siege of London’s Iranian Embassy by a terrorist group and subsequent response and rescue of hostages by the SAS. During the hostage rescue sequence in the film, which you can see in this clip beginning at 6:36, which I assume was intended to be as realistic as possible, the soldiers are really shouting at the hostages in an intimidating manner in the process of moving them to safety - “MOVE! EYES FORWARD!” - at 6:41 you can hear one of them yell what sounds like either “fucking hell!” or “don’t fuck it up!” - they are being anything but polite. I remember specifically during that scene, imagining how terrified those damn hostages must have been! I guess I was kind of expecting the soldiers to be more reassuring and make more of an effort to calm the hostages, but that’s the expectation of a layman with no knowledge of how it’s actually supposed to work.

Sounds like a felony stop. Ask isn’t an option. It’s reserved for situations like a stolen car up to apprehending a murder suspect. It’s not for routine traffic stops. In 25 years I’ve had to do it no more than a handful of times. There are times when it’s necessary to not be nice.

I don’t think the aggressive tone is the primary problem. I think the problem is that the commands are much too complicated and often make no intuitive sense to someone under extreme stress at gunpoint. I think a lot more thought should go into protocols for issuing instructions that are both safe for the LEO and simple for the suspect to follow. None of this bullshit telling people to not move - then to lie down - but not that way! - then to crawl towards the cop - but don’t put your hands anywhere near your pockets! Let alone when you have multiple cops screaming and they can’t decide who is issuing the instructions.