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Communication to strengthen the officer-client relationship

Appropriateness Statement Outline

Communication strategies that can help maintain and/or strengthen the officer-client relationship when the practice is used.

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Types of Contacts

  • Officers should be aware that contacts can severely disrupt a client’s life and schedule.
    • In-person/face-to-face contacts require clients to visit the probation office, which may be located far from their home or workplace.
    • Telephone contacts (especially when unscheduled) may require the client to drop what they are doing to respond to the officer.
    • Kiosk reporting requires clients to visit a kiosk, usually located at probation offices, police stations, and courthouses. These locations can require the client to travel far out of their way.
  • Officers should acknowledge that contacts can interfere with a client’s personal and professional life, and that they may make it more difficult for them to comply with the conditions of supervision.
    • Officers should work with clients to schedule contacts at times that will minimally disrupt the client’s schedule.
    • If the client lives far from the probation office or kiosk locations, officers should use face-to-face contacts and kiosk reporting only when necessary.
      • Officers should consider using telephone contacts more often in these cases.
  • Officers should make it clear that contacts are not just a way to monitor client compliance; they are a way to check in with clients and make sure they are doing alright.
  • Officers should use face-to-face and telephone contacts as an opportunity to interact with the client and build rapport.
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Frequency of Contact

  • Officers should communicate with clients to specify the frequency of their regular contact.
  • Officers should be transparent about the process of determining the frequency of regular contact.
  • When placing clients on weekly contact, officers should communicate how that level of contact will benefit their client during supervision.
  • When placing clients on weekly contact, officers should inform the client of the purpose of the frequency of contact—it’s not to catch the client doing something wrong.
  • The frequency of contact should be framed in terms of benefiting the client.
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Collateral and Employer Contacts

  • Officers should be aware of potential tension when conducting an in-person home visit or employer visit.
    • Officers should be aware that showing up at a client’s home or workplace can be embarrassing and stigmatizing.
    • This tension can be dissipated by a positive and encouraging tone and the use of active listening skills when communicating.
  • Officers should explain their intention of making collateral contacts in the client’s life. This is especially important with spouses or other family members who may feel nervous around officers.
  • Officers should discuss employer contacts with clients to avoid embarrassment,  damaging rapport, or jeopardizing employment.
  • Information gathered through collateral and employer contacts should be discussed with the client.
    • Information received through collateral/employer contacts should be shared with the client.
    • Officers shouldn’t automatically trust the information received during collateral/employer contact over that given by a client.
    • If concerning information about a client is communicated during collateral/employer contact, this information needs to be discussed with the client.
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Drug Testing

  • Officers should explain to their clients their intention when performing drug tests.
    • Drug tests should be done to help the client stop using narcotics, not to catch the client breaking the rules and punish them.
  • Officers should be aware that many clients may see drug testing as an additional burden and resent it as a result.
    • Drug testing requires the client to come into the probation office. This may require clients to travel long distances (potentially on public transportation) and can interfere with their other responsibilities (personal and professional).
      • Officers should be aware of the impact on the client and try to schedule drug testing at times most convenient for the client.
    • Urinating in front of an officer can be an uncomfortable experience for clients. This should be acknowledged and discussed with the client as a necessary process.
      • If clients are unable to urinate in front of an officer, they should not be immediately sanctioned for this. Instead, officers should discuss with the client how they can be made to feel more comfortable.
  • Officers should discuss any test results (positive or negative) from the drug test with the client—negative tests should be acknowledged and affirmed. Positive tests should involve discussions about options to support non-use such as treatment, self-help groups, etc.
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Electronic Monitoring

  • Officer should be aware of the restrictions EM places on clients at home and in the community.
  • Officers should be aware of and acknowledge the potentially harmful effects for clients (e.g., shame, embarrassment) of being on EM.
    • Officers should help clients develop strategies to manage these negative emotions.
  • Officers should be aware of and acknowledge the potential financial burden placed on clients and their families when considering EM.
  • Clients should be reminded of potential positive outcomes of EM (e.g., ability to keep working, not going to jail, remaining with family) when discussing EM.
  • Officers should promote EM as an opportunity for the individual to demonstrate they can comply with conditions.
    • Completion of an EM sanction should be presented as a way for a client to regain the trust of their officer.
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Financial Restrictions

  • If your agency has a sliding scale for fees, the officer should discuss it with the client and advocate for reduced fees.
  • Officers should express their understanding of the extra burden placed on clients by fines, fees, and restitution.
  • Officers should speak to their clients about the purpose of fines, fees, and restitution, explaining the reasoning behind each.
  • Officers should distinguish restitution from fines and fees as a means to be accountable for their actions.
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House Arrest

  • Officers should be aware that house arrest and electronic monitoring place restrictions on clients at home and in the community.
  • Officers should be aware of and acknowledge the potentially negative effects for clients (e.g., shame, embarrassment) of being on house arrest.
    • Officers should help the client develop strategies to manage these negative emotions.
  • Officers should remind clients of positive outcomes of house arrest (ability to keep working, not going to jail, remaining with family).
  • Officers should communicate that they understand and acknowledge the financial burden being placed on them and their families when sentenced to house arrest.
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Phone-Based Monitoring

  • Officers should use rapport-building techniques when communicating by text message with their client.
  • Officers should be aware of essential milestones in their client’s life (i.e., sobriety date, graduation) and recognize those accomplishments when they come.
  • When using a cell phone as a GPS monitoring tool, officers should discuss with the client the extent to which they will be monitored and remind them how this contributes to their long-term success.
  • Officers should communicate clearly when texting so that nothing gets lost in translation.
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Restraining Orders

  • Officers should make sure that clients fully understand the conditions of any restraining or no-contact orders.
  • Officers should walk through troublesome scenarios (e.g., victim contacting client) and options for handling the situation.
  • Officers should communicate the consequences of breaking a restraining order.
  • Officers should communicate their obligation to protect victims so that they do not jeopardize their position as a change agent for the client.
    • This can be done by avoiding overly authoritarian communication and reassuring client that the officer is working to help them.
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Anger Management

  • Officers should be aware that clients may have participated in anger management before (including in jail/prison).
    • Clients may perceive anger management programs to be ineffective if they have been mandated to participate in them repeatedly and have not benefitted or learned effective anger management skills.
    • Not all anger management programs are effective or based on evidence-based principles.
      • Anger management programs that are educational or awareness building are not effective.
      • Evidence indicates that CBT-based anger management programs are effective in reducing general and violent recidivism.
      • It is important to discuss past anger management programs the client may have participated in, since a negative experience may be due to an ineffective program.
  • Officers should communicate that anger management is not just another “hoop to jump through,” but a way to learn effective emotional regulation skills.
  • Officers should discuss anger management programs in a nonjudgmental way with the client.
    • Having difficulty controlling emotions does not mean that the client is “sick.”
    • Emotional regulation skills are important for people regardless of whether they have difficulty managing anger without resorting to violence. This should be communicated to the client.
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