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Sexual Assault

Tactics extract critical details

MP’s learn empathy can lead to evidence

Published: 12:44PM March 13th, 2014

Sergeant David Varkett wasn’t looking for a challenge last November.

The military police officer with the 42nd Military Police Brigade was told a sexual assault victim wasn’t interested in talking to law enforcement personnel, but he said he wanted to give it a try.

Varkett the day before had completed a tactical communication class with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. He said he couldn’t just let the case go. First, he broke up the groups of officers around the scene, making sure only essential personnel remained. Doing that made the woman feel more comfortable, as it eliminated the perception that the groups could be talking about her.

Then he asked her if she would go on a walk with him.

After they got away from the others, they talked. Her body language opened up. He referred to her by her first name. He didn’t interrupt.

She started to tell him what happened.

From downrange to home range

The class Varkett took was designed for warfighters going to Afghanistan and elsewhere, said Stephen Lettic, advanced training and special projects manager for the commission.

Paid for by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the class focuses on teaching service members how to interact with anyone with respect and dignity, but still maintain control of the conversation and get desired information from them.

The class borrows tactics from civilian law enforcement as well as more advanced research, Lettic said. The tactics can be applied in any situation, but mainly is focused toward people who do not want to talk.

That can be anyone, from a wary Afghan villager to a DUI suspect.

“You want to leave them feeling, ‘that wasn’t so bad,’ ” Lettic said.

Building trust

Varkett said he almost lost all the ground he covered with the woman when he pulled out a pen to start writing things down.

Her body language changed. She started to close herself off again.

Varkett said it was a reaction to pull out his pen, but the class had taught him to take more care when it came to basic reactions.

“It’s someone’s life you’re dealing with,” Varkett said.

He put the pen away and they started talking again. Understanding her position, he told her that she wasn’t a victim here — she was a survivor.

Varkett said she broke down. Everything came spilling out, “and I was writing as fast as I could,” he said.

Safety, effectiveness

Some law enforcement officers say the tactics compromise officer safety, Varkett said, but he thinks just the opposite.

The class emphasizes situational awareness above all else, not just to keep the officer safe, but to inform the officer about things that could influence the conversation with the subject — like the groups of officers Varkett broke up.

“It doesn’t jeopardize my safety,” Varkett said, though he does have to multitask better.

It also boosts the mental health of the officer, Varkett said, likening it to a “refresh button” after three deployments, his last as a dog handler. The class allowed him to express himself, be more open not just with subjects in his law enforcement career but at home.

Varkett’s experience shows how effective the training can be, said D.C. Lescault, another organizer with the training commission. Soldiers who take the training can pass it on to other Soldiers, enhancing not only the Armed Forces’ communication skills, but its reputation.

It’s that kind of attitude that makes Varkett and his training valuable, said Varkett’s commanding officer, police Lt. Thomas M. Martin. How much an officer cares, and how he applies the training he’s got, makes all the difference.

While Lettic said more classes are in the works, Varkett said he will keep using it, and spreading it as much as he can.

“You should go home and try it,” he said.