Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in Policing

As the FTO coordinator of my former agency, I had the unfortunate responsibility of terminating employees who failed field training. I remember one instance where a very bright officer seriously struggled with all areas of human interactions and was eventually let go. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do during my career.


His shortcoming? He was a human robot with his interactions with victims, suspects, and coworkers. His machine-like behavior confused and often angered those who came in contact with him. More than once he heard, “why you clowning me man?” from suspects who believed his questioning style lacked respect.


When we conducted counseling sessions with him regarding his catatonic behavior, he kept asking where in the policy manual he was failing. He had a valid point; we didn’t have a policy about how to empathically listen to a victim. We didn’t have a policy on intelligently questioning a street wise criminal. We didn’t have Emotional Intelligence (EQ) training.


EQ has many definitions and includes the following common elements; understanding and controlling personal emotions and recognizing and influencing the emotions of others (Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, Goleman). Seems pretty basic but can be hard to implement on the streets, and in the interactions law enforcement leaders have with subordinates.


We are in the people business as law enforcement professionals. In today’s climate, police officers are being watched more than ever before in their interactions with the public. Police officers are held to a higher standard for a reason; policing is about EQ more than it is about tactical, policy and procedural knowledge.


Here are some examples where I’ve seen EQ in action;


  • Recent protest by anti-police elements where the officers were called every name in the book and still kept their composure.
  • Patrol officers replaced the bedding of a young child molestation victim who was upset her favorite cartoon character bedding needed to be booked as evidence. They purchased the same character bedding with their own funds.
  • An astute 9-1-1 dispatcher received a cryptic call about ordering a pizza. Instead of dismissing the caller as a prankster, he parlayed the “pizza order” into an actual call for domestic violence.
  • A sergeant observed an underperforming, yet very capable employee, spirally out of control. She did what every good supervisor should do; she set up a meeting between the two. The sergeant provided a few examples of the observed poor performance, and then simply asked, “What’s going on, this isn’t like you?” The tears flowed as a very personal and painful situation was conveyed to the sergeant.


Being the positive person that I am, I chose a few examples that highlight the benefits of EQ in action in policing. However, a quick internet search provides more examples of law enforcement professionals letting their emotions get the best of them. Their actions, usually caught on cell phone cameras, body worn cameras, or recorded 9-1-1 lines not only caused their own career demise, but diminished the community trust.


There is very little research on EQ in policing. Although there aren’t enough studies showing the benefits of EQ in the policing profession, there are many examples showing the benefits of emotional intelligence training across other professions. Studies on emotional intelligence show how vital it is to individual as well as organizational success. A study by Parke, Seo, and Sherf (2015) show employees can be trained to increase their EQ when working in difficult work environments, by regulating their emotions.


A cross sectional study at AT&T discovered employees high in EQ accounted for nearly 60% of job performance (Bradberry). Boyatzis, et al, examined the EQ levels of partners at a multinational consulting firm, and found partners high in EQ were responsible for $1.2 million more in profit than low EQ partners (which equated to a 139% gain in profit).


Examples like the one I just mentioned are simply a fraction of the different success stories companies have made by making EQ training a premium. From the prism of evidence-based policing, this level of training has the potential to be extremely beneficial for law enforcement organizations looking to make inroads in establishing trust with their communities. If we’re going to use an evidence-based approach to increase the legitimacy between the police and the public, EQ training must be mandatory in the process.


Can a person improve their EQ level? The answer is yes! While IQ is pretty much a fixed competency, EQ is flexible and can be improved (Chamorro-Premuzic, et al). There are several emotional intelligence assessments and training programs in the public space for agencies to utilize. EQ training should start at the academy and continue throughout an employee’s career.


About Dr. Goold

Dr. Michael Goold retired after 23 years of law enforcement service with the last three years a Chief of Police. He coaches individuals and agencies on emotional intelligence. In his spare time Michael competes in marathons, triathlons, and the Police Unity Tour.  Dr. Goold can be reached at michael@sitnasolutions.com



Emotional Intelligence Assessment Links







The Curfew Myth How a ‘90s panic spawned an anti-crime measure that doesn’t make you safer.

It’s a summer ritual in many American cities—declaring a juvenile curfew to keep troublemaking teenagers off the streets. This summer at least one city—Austin—has decided not to sound the alarm.

“We looked at the evidence and decided it was time to discard the curfew law,” the Austin Police Department’s assistant chief, Troy Gay, told The Marshall Project. “It wasn’t making an impact on juvenile victimization.” The evidence was a report drafted by a consortium of community groups that banded together to challenge Austin’s curfew law in 2017. Police Chief Brian Manley was persuaded and asked the City Council to rescind the law.

Juvenile curfew laws are ubiquitous and deeply entrenched. By 2009, 84% of cities with populations greater than 180,000 had enacted curfew laws. They remain an alarmist staple in communities across the country.

A voluminous body of research has cast strong doubts on the claims that juvenile curfew laws prevent victimization or reduce juvenile crime, but these findings have received scant attention from policymakers or police.

A systematic review of research literature on juvenile curfew programs was published in 2016 by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit that synthesizes research studies for policy-makers. Campbell examined over 7,000 studies on juvenile curfews and synthesized the 12 most rigorous studies.

As the report stated, “evidence suggests that juvenile curfews are ineffective at reducing crime and victimization. The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime — and close to zero for crime during all hours. Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.”

Why are juvenile curfew laws ineffective? The studies found that they damage already-strained relationships between police and youth of color and in some instances have “blowback” effects, increasing juvenile victimization or overall crime.

Another factor is that on empty streets there are no witnesses. Urban activist Jane Jacobs theorized that well-populated streets are safe streets; deserted streets invite crime.

A study published in 2015 tested the effect of Washington D.C.’s juvenile curfew on gun violence. Using ShotSpotter audio sensor data, the authors found that gunfire incidents were significantly more frequent when the curfew was in effect.

Many argue that continuing curfew laws in the name of juvenile crime reduction is draconian, in light of actual crime data showing juvenile crime rates are at all-time lows.

Dr. Mike Males, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Research told TMP that crime rates are lower for juveniles than for adults in their 40s or 50s.

The use of juvenile curfew laws soared in the mid-1990s at the urging of the Clinton administration. The “tough-on-juvenile crime” stance was a product of Princeton Professor John DiIulio’s “super-predator” theory; in 1995, he warned that unless decisive action was taken, the next 10 years may “unleash an army of young male predatory street criminals.”

The result was an abrupt shift in laws, encouraging prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults and urging municipalities to enforce curfews.

It turned out the super-predator theory was terribly wrong. Juvenile crime in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s soared, fueled by the crack epidemic and, perhaps, the effects of lead poisoning on inner-city children, but then dropped precipitously. DiIulio’s army of  “homicidal juveniles” never materialized.

Juvenile justice advocates and community groups have been working tirelessly to reverse “tough-on-juveniles” policies created in response to the prophesized super-predators. They have made some headway in reducing juvenile incarceration rates, with DiIulio himself signing an amicus brief in 2012, petitioning to end life sentences for juveniles.

The same can’t be said for curfew laws.

Males contends that police and politicians continue using curfew laws because “juveniles are a politically powerless population, so they are an easy group to target and blame for any crime concerns in an area.”

Since the rescission of Austin’s juvenile crime law, juvenile victimization has decreased by 12 percent, officials say. Though it may be too soon to draw conclusions, Gay says Austin’s “youth aren’t hiding from the police anymore, in places they weren’t supposed to be. Now they can be in a public place and not fear the police, and maybe that makes everyone safer.”


Ivonne Roman, a captain in the Newark (N.J.) Police Department and board member of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing wrote this article while working as a journalism intern at The Marshall Project.