Originally developed in the early 1980s by Dr. George Thompson, Verbal Judo is a training program aimed at providing officers with various verbal skills that facilitate the successful resolution of situations and reduce the need for the use of force when possible. The skills and competencies taught in the program involve being professional, learning communication and deflection, developing an understanding of two different “contact models” that can be used to gain voluntary compliance, identifying when talking is not working and how to deal with that, and finally provides case studies and practice exercises to convey the material.
Is the program based on research?
The program was developed based on Dr. Thompson’s experience as a police officer and adapted through interviews with police officers over the years. While it is has been suggested that the basis of the program is consistent with social psychology literature (e.g., Giacomantonio et al., 2019) it is unclear as to whether evidence was used to develop the program.
Has the program been independently evaluated?
We could only locate one independent evaluation of the program (see Giacomantonio et al., 2019). This study found that officer perceptions of the program were largely positive (84%) and the majority of officers felt they would use the skills they learned during Verbal Judo in the field (90%). However, when comparing those who had completed Verbal Judo and those who had not yet received the training, there were no significant differences between groups in the proportion of individuals who used force during simulated scenarios, nor were there significant differences in the average time to use force. Further, five of the 15 coded de-escalation behaviours were significantly different between groups. Specifically, after controlling for gender, experience, and scenario-specific effects, officers who received Verbal Judo were more likely to introduce themselves and their agency, use an appropriate greeting, and use less excessive repetition and verbal commands. Administrative data revealed little to no change in use of force after Verbal Judo training. Further, after Verbal Judo was implemented, a greater proportion of use of force reports indicated that the officer used de-escalation. However, given that officers had to use force in order to report the use of de-escalation, it is currently unclear whether this increased use of de-escalation actually reduced the need for force.
Was the program rigorously tested?
A condensed version of the program was evaluated by using control and treatment groups, however, individuals were not randomly assigned to their group. Further, administrative data was compared before and after all of the police service’s officers were trained in Verbal Judo.
Has the program evaluation been replicated?
We could find no other published, peer-reviewed studies.
Was the program tested in Canada?
Yes. See Chris Giacomantonio, Stephanie Goodwin & Garland Carmichael (2019).
Only one empirical evaluation of this program could be located and yielded mixed results at best regarding the effectiveness of Verbal Judo. Additionally, officers were trained in a condensed form of Verbal Judo and therefore the results of this evaluation may not necessarily reflect the effectiveness of the original Verbal Judo. However, considering that we could not find any independent evaluations of Verbal Judo, we cannot conclude that this program “works.”
Our expert reviewer had an additional comment: "I think it’s problematic to call the verbal judo skills “de-escalation” as though the two concepts are interchangeable. We don’t really know what de-escalation tactics are yet, and there’s certainly overlap, but the way it’s going, deescalation will probably be more encompassing of different strategies compared to verbal judo. I think the outcome goals of these two are very similar. Basically, if evidence based is the goal, there isn’t any evidence on de-escalation, nor is there an agreed upon definition of what it even is, so we can’t claim that these two are the same yet."
Tori Semple, Carleton University
Tori Semple is a Master’s candidate in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University. Her research focuses on understanding and improving interactions between the police and persons in crisis. Her current research examines police use of de-escalation and the use of mobile crisis intervention teams.
Dr. Natalie Todak, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Dr. Natalie Todak is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research focuses on issues in policing, with an emphasis on mixed and qualitative research methods. Her current work concerns police de-escalation strategies, women and minorities in policing, and body-worn cameras. She is published in leading journals, such as Criminology, Criminology and Public Policy, Women & Criminal Justice, and Police Quarterly.
Chris Giacomantonio, Stephanie Goodwin, & Garland Carmichael. (2019). Learning to de-escalate evaluating the behavioural impact of Verbal Judo training on police constables, Police Practice and Research.