For Today’s Law Enforcement, Duty Calls for Emotional Skills


For Today’s Law Enforcement, Duty Calls for Emotional Skills

With every terrorist attack, school shooting or random act of incomprehensible violence, we realize more and more the need to feel secure and safe in our communities. The people helping to protect those feelings of safety and security are more often than not law enforcement officials. But being a police officer is no job for the average Joe; so, what kind of person makes an ideal candidate?

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Police recruits salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the Chicago Police Department recruit graduation ceremony at Chicago’s Navy Pier Grand Ballroom March 30, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Dorsey, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs)

As a psychologist, I’m always interested in how human beings contribute to the greater good. It takes a certain personality to enter high-risk, life or death scenarios, and witness tragedy after tragedy without breaking down on the job. In addition to the physical skills required for the job, they also need to have the communication and listening skills to collect information from civilians, and strong inductive and deductive reasoning skills to solve cases. These so-called “soft skills” are frequently associated with strong emotional intelligence.

Recently, my company, Multi-Health Systems, partnered with Certified Executive Coach and New York Times Best Selling Author, Cathy Greenberg to conduct a study of over 3,000 police officers across the globe to assess their emotional intelligence. We found that police officers tested high in problem solving (ability to find solutions to problems in situations where emotions are involved), impulse control (resisting or delaying and impulse, drive, or temptation to act), and independence (ability to be self-directed and free from emotional dependency on others).

Compared to other jobs, these skills are of unique importance to the police force. Keeping a clear head and solving problems in high-risk situations is a skill that sets police officers apart from the average person. Similarly, impulse control is critical for handling tense situations where things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. Many would assume that police officers have little impulse control, as they need to act quickly on their feet, but there is a sharp distinction between being nimble on the job and taking your time to make smart decisions. In other words, the ability to be patient, observe, and collect information before acting could be the difference between life and death.

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Boston Police Department recruit class 55. (Photo courtesy

Many tend to think of police officers as working together in a pack. Any action movie, for instance, will portray a close-knit group of officers that know each other like brothers and sisters – most of the time, the film’s protagonist is faced with the challenge of being welcomed as a member of the group. However, our study found police officers actually have an exceptionally high degree of independence. Contrary to what we may assume, an officer that seeks confirmation for every decision is not performing at their best. Instead, those who have the autonomy to move forward without leaning on others are able to act quickly and effectively in dire situations; an overly dependent officer runs the risk of missing opportunities to act.

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While these were the three skills they performed well in, our data found that police officers score lowest in empathy, which is the ability to recognize, understand and appreciate how other people feel. While many successful business leaders tend to score high in this category, police officers are a different kind of leader driven by fierce concentration and quick decision-making skills. If an officer gets too hung up on the emotions of others, they may lose sight of the task at hand. That’s not to say police officers are deficit in empathy; rather, their scores are well within the average. The data merely reveals that certain skills are on high alert when handling a position of this caliber.

Undoubtedly, a police officer’s emotional intelligence is a valuable asset to the service, and to the community. Knowing the certain skills a police officer possesses, as well as their areas of development, can help inform the recruitment and training processes of law enforcement agencies. Training emotionally intelligent officers is just one way law enforcement can adapt smartly to emerging security needs of the 21st century. Because when it comes to protecting our country, perhaps the most effective tool is not a weapon at all – it’s using the right emotion in the right place at the right time.

Dr. Steven Stein, a clinical psychologist, is the founder and executive chairman of Multi-Health Systems (MHS), a three-time Profit 100 (fastest growing companies in Canada) winner, one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures and one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies since 2013 maintaining the Gold Standard Status for excellence. Dr. Stein has been a leading publisher of scientifically validated assessments for more than 30 years. A leading expert on psychological assessment and emotional intelligence, he has consulted to military and government agencies including the Canadian Forces, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, special units of the Pentagon, U.S. FBI Academy, as well as corporate organizations including American Express Coca-Cola (Mexico), Air Canada, Canyon Ranch and professional sports teams. He is the author and coauthor of several books on emotional intelligence including the international best-seller “The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success” and “Emotional Intelligence for Dummies.”

Dr. Stein is the author of the new book “The EQ Leader: Instilling Passion, Creating Shared Goals, and Building Meaningful Organizations through Emotional Intelligence.”

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