The staff on hand didn't want to use force. We generally avoid force whenever possible, but if there is no immediate threat to others (the inmate was successfully isolated) no active self-harm and it's probable that the deeper reasons are avolitional* we will go to great lengths to not hurt somebody. Great lengths, in this case, involved waiting for me to clear another duty and try talking.
Last night it worked out very well and there is some stuff in there to analyze.
1) Reading the threat: I invited the inmate to sit down immediately, which gave me a read on his understanding level (0 to english, okay to his native language) and general compliance level. Entered the cell to get a read on his territoriality. Stood at different distances and with different postures to examine his comfort zones and see if I could work my way into his 'intimate distance' without setting him off. At one point, trying to rule out fear based on recent trauma, I stood too close and put a hand on his shoulder. No excessive flinch response. Note- all of this proximics stuff is extremely valuable but you must be superbly confidant in your close-range ability to defend yourself.
2) Comfort: I knocked before I went in. Didn't wait for an invite, but it's a courtesy that many respond to even if they don't consciously register it. Didn't wear gloves- to some inmates, they presage violence (I have put on gloves very ostentatiously in the past to let an inmate know that force was imminent and give them a chance to back down. Most do.) Gloves can also become a focal point for schizophrenic or paranoid inmates. My body language was extremely relaxed- a little slumped, rare direct eye contact, very casual, sipping a cup of coffee (a posture that also covers my center line, allows me to explode directly into the threat if necessary and takes full advantage of the design of the cell for obstacles and power generation). Voice low, slow, a little sleepy.
3) Back-up. This could have been handled better. The more officers involved in a back-up, the less likely for anyone to be hurt. It seems counterintuitive, but if you really want to fight and I have six guys, I can probably get cuffs on you just by holding you down. If I'm alone and you want to fight, I may have to break you. When dealing with EDs (Emotionally Disturbed) I like my back-up out of sight. Too many uniforms can trigger their paranoia and make my relaxed mode seem insincere. If available, you need B/U there (you CAN NOT do a hostage negotiation without a tactical response ready), but better not to be seen. A few wanted to watch and stayed in the inmate's line of sight.
4) Timing. The third time into the cell was for the nurse. I gloved up for that one. In his home country, a child will be beaten for merely making direct eye contact with any law officer. Each time I had entered the cell, he had expected physical violence. I figured the third time he might be toying with the idea that I might be reluctant to use force and he might get brave.
5) Physical. I touched the inmate four times. Once was the early hand on the shoulder mentioned above. I did the same thing later and looked in his eyes and very softly said, "I know you don't want me to hurt you. Please don't make me." It helped, (he did understand quite a bit) because it allowed him the chance to not fight as a favor to a nice guy (me) rather then out of fear. At one point he started to move suddenly and I put one hand on the back of his elbow ( a leverage point) and one on the wrist- our standard escort hold. He tensed, testing my strength and whether it would provoke a reaction. He got no reaction so he didn't escalate. I did, however, warn him that moving fast would be a very bad idea. The fourth time was holding his arm so the RN could take his blood pressure and trying to take a BP by palpation. No big deal, but the dynamic with a second person (small and untrained) in the room was different. I had to be ready to knock him off his balance if he made any threatening move towards the nurse. The leverage point at the back of the elbow again.
6) Remote control good-cop/bad-cop: You've all heard of it and it works. One of my best partners had this perfect work persona as the Bitch Queen from Hell. It was a delight working with her- if a new arrestee started working himself up to fight she would turn towards him with this indescribable look and I would put a hand on his arm and plead, "I can't control her when she's like this! Please, please don't say anything." We almost never had a use of force. Working close-custody and max, I got pretty good at playing GC/BC all by myself: most of the inmates would warn the others that I was a pretty nice guy, but not all there. I could snap. For the incident last night I got on the radio and told the OIC that we couldn't quite get there and the guy was demanding we use force and asked for his blessing. The OIC said, "We have no choice." This was all done in the inmate's hearing. I said, "You heard the man." The inmate complied.
7) Detail. I noticed early on that whenever I started to leave the cell, the inmate would start to comply and then catch himself, consciously forcing himself to stop. I don't know what this means and didn't figure out how to exploit it in the time we had. With the language barrier (and because it appeared unconscious), it's unlikely that I'll ever figure it out, but I will watch for it in other incidents. Just a data point.
8) Restoration of normality. The primary officer decided to treat this as a probable psych issue instead of a disciplinary matter, so we took him to a module. This got a little weird because every officer that didn't have anything specific to do was hanging around. That's good- this was the most likely place to go bad in the jail- but for an ED inmate it can feed into paranoias or delusions. One offered to carry the inmate's property. It was natural, because when you've been waiting around you want to do something and he's a good officer who wants to be useful. But it was important to make the move as normal as possible, so I had the inmate carry his own stuff. It's also very important for EDs, especially as they are coming out of crisis, to get a feeling of control. Something as simple as carrying their own things or cleaning up can give them a feeling of normality and control that they value very much.
*Avolitional. Most criminals are extremely self-centered and manipulative. They have done criminal acts because what they wanted was more important to them than their victim's rights or feelings or even lives. EDs- truly terrified or mentally ill people sometimes display behavior or have motives that they can't control (it's actually rare- most can control their behavior most of the time, but not their motives). If it's not a choice (avolitional) we try to cut as much slack as we can; when it is a choice, especially if the criminal is counting on us being nice or taking time that is manipulative behavior that we work hard not to reward.