The Lessons of a Ride-a-Long: How Public Servants Can Help Us Communicate

Officer, Julie Werhnyak

Officer Julie Werhnyak, Tempe Police Department

Thanks to Tempe Arizona Patrol Officer Julie Werhnyak for asking me if I was interested in learning what a ‘day-in-the’ life was like for her. We had met at a NAWLEE (National Association of Women Law Enforcement) conference where my presentation topic was communication and difficult situations.  I immediately said “Yes!” although I had no idea what to expect. Since communication and conflict resolution is a specialty of mine, I knew there was much to be learned from Julie’s point of view and her daily interactions… and I learned some lessons on great communications.IMG_6236

Arriving at the Tempe Police station bright and early, I was ready to go! Excitement and nervousness filled my thoughts. Introductions were made around the precinct, meeting dispatchers, receptionists and other people that keep the precinct running smoothly.

Lesson: Pay attention to the way make introductions. Julie was gracious while being straightforward and did not waste time with too much detail.

We drove through a park where Julie stopped and greeted the regulars. They knew her and one could tell, they liked her. “What do you have in the backpack?” Julie asked a man she didn’t know. “Do you want to take a look?” he replied.  “Sure,” said Julie and he began unpacking a very neatly packed satchel.  She asked him politely to dump out the beer in the paper bag. And he did without any confrontation.  Julie thanked him.

Lesson: Be kind and polite even when the situation doesn’t call for it.

Off we went in the Patrol Car. We had several calls, and even booked a woman in the Tempe Jail! It’s not at all like Hawaii Five-0. As we drove her to the jail, Julie asked the handcuffed woman in the backseat if she was cold. She was, so upon arrival to the booking area, Julie took her sweater and put it over her shoulders.

More lessons from Julie:

  • Make your approach non-threatening.  Watch your body language by keeping it open.
  • Ask questions. Then ask more questions.  Listen carefully to the responses and base additional digging on what information has already been supplied – not on what you want to ask.
  • Suspiciously trust. People are smart and can read through insincerity quickly.
  • Keep a pleasant look on your face, even if you don’t feel like it.  Make it a habit.
  • Hope for the best and plan for the worst.
  • Stay positive, even when it’s difficult.
  • Believe in yourself even when others question you.


Please let me hear your best tips. Email me for a Communication Cheat Sheet for ideas to improve your communication.

Update:  Officer Julie was stabbed this week during a domestic violence call.  She will have a full recovery. To read the full detail of her incident please click here. or

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