Policing Needs an Evidence-Based Definition of De-Escalation

Controversies over high profile police shootings have led to a demand for de-escalation in policing. Unfortunately, in their hurry to avoid becoming the “next Ferguson,”many agencies rushed to implement new de-escalation training programs. This is a problem because there is currently no evidence surrounding de-escalation in policing and no consensus on what the term even means. Further, reforms implemented quickly without thought to how they fit within the organizational structure of the agency, or whether they will effectively address the community’s concerns, can actually cause unanticipated consequences.

Many officers, for example, view calls for de-escalation as demands that they hesitate when they really should use force. They believe this expectation will put them and others at serious risk. In public rhetoric, the term “de-escalation” seems to be a buzzword referring to any progressive tactic producing a more positive or less violent outcome. This ambiguity creates a challenge for researchers seeking to generate evidence on the topic, and for agencies balancing the requests of the public with the practical realities of their work.

A few efforts have been made to create an evidence-based definition of de-escalation. The IACP (2017)issued a National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which viewed de-escalation as both an overarching philosophy for how the police should approach potentially violent situations, and a collection of tactics for handling situations using the least amount of force. De-escalation was conceptualized as follows:

Taking action or communicating verbally or non-verbally during a potential force encounter in an attempt to stabilize the situation and reduce the immediacy of the threat so that more time, options, and resources can be called upon to resolve the situation without the use of force or with a reduction in the force necessary. De-escalation may include the use of such techniques as command presence, advisements, warnings, verbal persuasion, and tactical repositioning (IACP, 2017, p. 2).

Based on a systematic review of de-escalation training evaluations in professions outside the criminal justice field, Engel and colleagues (2019)suggested the following definition: “[the] prevention or management of clients’ violence, aggression, agitation, or similar behaviors, based on a process designed to defuse situations and reduce the likelihood of physical or verbal confrontation between parties.”

Based on interviews with veteran officers, my colleague Dr. Michael White and I defined de-escalation as bringing a situation or citizen in crisis back to a calm state, or preventing a situation from escalating into a conflict, using the least amount of force possible (Todak & White, forthcoming). Most of the tactics described by the officers in our study were verbal – talking to the citizen as a human being and not a suspect, listening to their side of the story, engaging them in decision making, compromising in minor situations, and showing respectfulness and empathy (putting yourself in that person’s shoes).

These studies are just the beginning of the conversation, and a number of questions still need to be answered.

  • What is de-escalation in policing?
  • What are the goals of de-escalation for encounters, agencies, and communities?
  • How is de-escalation performed (i.e. what are its tactics)?
  • In what situations should these tactics be used, and when should they not be used (i.e. in what situations are these tactics unsafe or ineffective)?

More work needs to be done to reach an evidence-based definition of de-escalation. A range of stakeholders should be involved in the conversation, including experienced police officers, administrators and training personnel, members of civilian oversight boards, police experts, and the public, to name a few. And of course, once the evidence begins to accumulate and evidence-based training programs are developed, they should be rigorously evaluated in collaboration with trained researchers. Despite the good intentions of de-escalation reform proponents, and the efforts made by police agencies to make moves to reduce unnecessary use of force by their patrol officers, it is absolutely essential that these changes be grounded in evidence, and that training programs be rigorously evaluated to ensure it does not put officer and citizen lives at risk.


By Natalie Todak

This blog post was adapted from:

Todak, Natalie& Madison March. “De-escalation in policing: Preliminary answers to key questions.” McLean, Alpert and Dunham (Eds.) Critical Issues in Policing, 8thEdition.



Engel, R. S., McManus, H. D., & Herold, T. D. (2019). The deafening demand for de-escalation training: A systematic review and call for evidence in police use of force reform[Unpublished Manuscript]. Cincinnati, OH: IACP / UC Center for Police Research and Policy.

IACP. (2017). National consensus policy on use of force. Alexandria, VA: Contributing Organizations.

Todak, N., & White, M. D. (forthcoming). Expert officer perceptions of de-escalation in policing. Policing: An International Journal.


Investigating Secondary Trauma in police/community relations

By Dr. Obed Magny


If you talk to some members of the law enforcement community, they’ll say today’s climate in policing is causing them to be less proactive in the streets. Factors such as political headwinds have officers questioning whether their agency would support them in a use of force event, even if it appears to be justified and within policy. Another major issue is recruiting and retention. Agencies are struggling with staffing across their organizations leading to officers having to do more work with less resources. In many areas, officers are handling high volumes of calls for service, leaving little to no time for proactive activities. Pension reform, social media, and other causes mentioned earlier are contributing to the profession becoming less appealing. With that being said, what kind of toll is this having on today’s police officer? One thing I know for sure is this trend leads to less communication about crime, and other neighborhood problems. If officers are not engaged with the communities they serve, they’re less likely to know the people living there.

Being a police officer can be the most rewarding job in the world. Making a difference in people’s lives, and effecting positive change is an experience few people get to experience. Being the next hashtag or social media target are some of the reasons behind why some officers feel this way. But in all of this conversation, something else is seldom spoken of, and that is the effect of secondary trauma on the community and the police. Secondary Trauma is defined as the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about or sees the trauma experienced by another. I’m writing this piece to speak of a qualitative approach that can help in the healing process for communities and police altogether.

The qualitative approach that I’m speaking of is phenomenological studies. With phenomenological studies, you get data specific to the phenomenon based on the experience of the individual. This type of study tries to eliminate predetermined suppositions about human experiences, especially when it comes to how people feel and respond to events. This has led some of us to ask the question of, how can we use research to help not just identify secondary trauma, but help in the healing process too? Deputy Chief Tarrick McGuire (Arlington, TX), Deputy Chief Shon Barnes (Salisbury, NC), LaQuesia Love MS, LPC-S (Psychotherapist), and I are currently in the process of focusing on those questions. In order for us to come up with evidence-based solutions to help the police and communities come together, we have to know specifically the degree of trauma they are going through, and what those triggers are. Having a better understanding will aid in creating specific evidence-based policies and procedures everyone can trust.

The purpose of this research is to address our proposition that police officers are also susceptible to secondary trauma due to the weight of responsibility they carry to protect and serve the public. We started this research interviewing police officers (various ranks) from two agencies in the U.S. We also sat down and interviewed civilian personnel, and community members from those same communities. Speaking with civilian and community members, we wanted to compare their experiences with those of the officers. We chose two departments that dealt with a controversial critical incident in their respective jurisdictions. The first goal of this qualitative study was to use a phenomenological methodology to identify and describe the police officers, community members, and other support staff’s perceptions and lived experiences regarding the factors affecting them about the critical incident. Capturing the rich narrative associated with a person’s lived experience, initiating in-depth interviews with the people who directly/indirectly experienced the event was very important to us, and felt this was a great place to start.  We needed those one-on-one interviews to elicit the narratives needed for the first part of this study.

The second part of this study is utilizing a quantitative approach by administering a questionnaire identifying the degree of the stress officers face from the critical incident, and to what degree are they seeking help. An interview questionnaire was drafted containing several questions related to the participants’ backgrounds, and to the research questions to gather more details related to mental health help-seeking behaviors. We wanted to capture data related to secondary trauma after a critical incident from all officers whether they were directly or indirectly involved. The third piece of this comprehensive study is comparing data related to proactive activities before and after the major event in those cities. We wanted to see if there’s a change in the behavior of the police officer in those departments after the critical incident.

It’s well documented that PTSD affects many officers, during and after their careers. Numerous agencies offer some form of EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to help those who seek it. This collaborative effort is part of the groundwork in using research to create a foundation in helping communities heal. More research using phenomenological approaches are needed if we really want to know about the experiences officers and community members are feeling during these times of significant changes in the policing profession. The goal of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing is to put “evidence into the heart of the Criminal Justice System.” This approach is one of the first steps in achieving that goal in solving problems in our communities if we are to bridge the gap of trust.

Is there any evidence concerning the Warrior/Guardian debate in policing?

At some point over the past 10 years, the idea that police officers should see themselves as guardians (i.e., officers valuing working with the public to reduce crime) rather than warriors (i.e., officers seeing themselves as soldiers in a life-or-death battle against crime) became lodged in the debate on police reform. Indeed, the argument found its way into the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and training programs across the country (e.g., the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission; see Kindy, 2015). Academically, scholars began to advocate for the change in a number of outlets (see e.g., Marenin, 2016; Stoughton, 2016a; 2016b; Thibodeau, Crow, & Flusberg, 2016). This debate did not go unnoticed by practitioners who began voicing opinions on the topic within online discussion boards (e.g., Blake, 2016; Brocklin, 2015; Davis, 2015; Smith, 2016) and practitioner-related outlets (e.g., Cullum, 2016; Rahr & Rice, 2015).

The problem – one that the members of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP) are undoubtedly all too familiar with – is that this debate exploded in an environment devoid of empirical research. Despite compelling arguments, no data was presented to suggest that an officer’s approach to policing could be altered or that these two apparently distinct approaches to policing even existed. To address this issue, my colleagues and I constructed a survey measure that was intended to tap into the relevant orientations to policing, administered the instrument to two police departments in the United States, and subjected the data to rigorous analyses to determine if the warrior and guardian mentalities existed and whether there was any merit to the debate. The findings of our study were recently published in Justice Quarterly and are reviewed here.

Generating Evidence

To construct the survey measure, we examined the existing arguments on the issue. Using the literature, we defined the warrior approach as an orientation to police work that “prioritizes crime fighting as a law enforcement officer’s primary mission” (McLean et al., 2019). On the other hand, we defined the guardian approach as an approach to police work that “prioritizes service over crimefighting” (Stoughton, 2016a, p. 231) and “emphasizes building relationships between the police and the community” (McLean et al., 2019). Using these definitions, we constructed nine survey items, three of which were aimed at the warrior mentality (e.g., “My primary responsibility as a police officer is to fight crime.”) and six of which were aimed at the guardian mentality (e.g., “As a police officer, it is important that I have non-enforcement contacts with the public.”).

With the measure constructed, we then needed a way to determine if the measure was related to the concepts it should be related to – an idea referred to as predictive validity. Again, we returned to the literature and determined that:

  1. The guardian approach should lead officers to value communication in an interaction with a citizen (Rahr & Rice, 2015; Stoughton, 2016a).
  2. The warrior approach should lead officers to value physical control in an interaction with a citizen (Rahr & Rice, 2015; Stoughton, 2016a).
  3. The warrior approach will result in officers being more likely to use force inappropriately (Stoughton, 2016b).

With these hypotheses in mind we constructed a hypothetical vignette of a police officer/citizen interaction (the scenario involved an officer responding to a suspicious persons call; see article in Justice Quarterly for full details) and constructed measures of communication priorities (e.g., “How important is establishing rapport with the subject?”) and control priorities (e.g., “How important is making the subject stop walking away?”). Finally, we asked officers for their attitudes regarding force misconduct (e.g., “Verbally disrespectful suspects sometimes deserve physical force.”).

The survey was administered to two police departments in different parts of the United States. Data from one police department was subjected to exploratory factor analysis – a process that makes no assumptions about the structure of the measure but generates a proposed measurement model based on the statistical properties of the data. Next, data from the other police department was subjected to confirmatory factor analysis – a process that takes a proposed measurement model (generated by the first department) and tests whether the model is supported by the new data. Finally, data from both departments was combined and used to test the predictive validity hypotheses reviewed above.

The results from the exploratory factor analysis proposed a model that was consistent with our expectations – the Warrior/Guardian items separated into two factors, one for warrior, one for guardian. However, the warrior and guardian factors were correlated. This suggests that while there are two distinct approaches to policing consistent with the arguments of the Warrior/Guardian model, officers were able to adopt both mentalities. The results from the confirmatory factor analysis replicated this finding in the second police department.

Finally, the predictive validity tests supported the hypotheses found in the literature. Higher scores on the guardian measure were related to greater prioritization of communication. Higher scores on the warrior measure were related to greater prioritization of physical control and more favorable attitudes towards force misconduct.

Reviewing the Evidence

At this point, given the mission of the ASEBP it is important to review the quality of this evidence. The process used to test the measurement of the Warrior/Guardian mentalities was very rigorous. It is rare in criminology for survey measures to be collected in independent samples with the data from one sample confirming findings generated in another sample, as was done here. Additionally, the exploratory method used to generate a proposed model did not assume that the items would separate into the warrior and guardian measures – in fact, it did not assume that there would even be two measures. In other words, the exploratory method used would have generated a single measure (or factor) if there were not two distinct mentalities. Thus, the evidence that these two mentalities exist and can be assessed in a survey is fairly strong. On the other hand, the predictive validity tests were not rigorous. In conducting these tests we merely provided preliminary support for the idea that an officer’s overall mentality is related to the way they approach individual encounters – there was absolutely no causality established.

Moving Forward

In sum, our project was able to make the first steps towards establishing an evidence-base regarding the Warrior/Guardian debate. Our findings demonstrated, in a rigorous manner, that these mentalities do exist AND are able to be measured in a survey. If this debate is to continue informing policing policies, such as approaches to training new recruits, further research should be done to explore whether and how the mentalities can be trained or socialized, as well as whether the mentalities impact officer behavior on the job.

This post is based on the article “Police Officers as Warriors or Guardians: Empirical Reality or Intriguing Rhetoric?” published in Justice Quarterly.


Blake, D. (2016, July 12). Guardian vs. warrior: The many roles of a police officer. Retrieved from: https://www.policeone.com/community-policing/articles/197064006-Guardian-vs-warrior-The-many-roles-of-a-police-officer/

Brocklin, V.V. (2015, July 1). Warriors vs. guardians: A seismic shift in policing or just semantics? Retrieved from: https://www.policeone.com/leadership/articles/8633970-Warriors-vs-Guardians-A-seismic-shift-in-policing-or-just-semantics/

Cullum, J. (2016). When serving meets surviving – Officer mindset matters. Community Policing Dispatch: The e-newsletter of the COPS Office, 9. Retrieved from: https://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/07-2016/serving_meets_surving.asp

Davis, K. (2015, July 3). Warrior or guardian? Retrieved from: http://www.officer.com/article/12089105/warrior-or-guardian

Kindy, K. (2015, December 10). Creating guardians, calming warriors: A new style of training for police recruits emphasizes techniques to better de-escalate conflict situations. Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/12/10/new-style-of-police-training-aims-to-produce-guardians-not-warriors/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e486b13a89dd

Marenin, O. (2016). Cheapening death: Danger, police street culture, and the use of deadly force. Police Quarterly, 19, 461-487.

McLean, K., Wolfe, S.E., Rojek, J., Alpert, G.P., & Smith, M.R. (2019). Police officers as warriors or guardians: Empirical reality or intriguing rhetoric? Justice Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2018.1533031

President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015). Final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Rahr, S. & Rice, S.K. (2015). From warriors to guardians: Recommitting American police culture to democratic ideals. New Perspectives in Policing Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Smith, D. (2016, January 13). Warriors or guardians? Uninformed activists who would change police officers from warrior to guardians should be careful what they wish for. Retrieved from: http://www.policemag.com/channel/patrol/articles/2016/01/warriors-or-guardians.aspx

Stoughton, S. (2016a). Law enforcement’s warrior problem. Harvard Law Review Forum, 128, 225-234.

Stoughton, S. (2016b). Principled policing: Warrior cops and guardian officers. Wake Forest Law Review, 51, 611-676.

Thibodeau, P.H., Crow, L., & Flusberg, S.J. (2016). The metaphor police: A case study of the role of metaphor in explanation. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, doi: 10.37.58/s13.423-016-1192-5.

Evidence-Based Policing is a Movement

By Meme Styles

Left to Right: Paulette Blanc, Chris Vallejo, Meme Styles

A Different Kind of Movement

A person’s most admirable ability is their capacity to drive social change. Throughout history, world-wide movements that promote good and awareness have been driven by passionate leaders and fed-up loyalists to the cause. Whether it was Women’s Suffrage, The Civil Rights Movement, The Gay Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter, Resistance against Apartheid, or The Movement for Indigenous Rights, humanities unwillingness to accept the status quo and commitment to realizing a new-normal marked these efforts of advancement and positive reform.

As we acknowledge the results these world-changing social movements produced, I’d like to suggest that Evidence-Based (EB) Policing is also a movement.

The Evidence-Based Policing Movement, while not dripping in passion or heart-wrenching realities of mistreatment, systemic racism, or oppression, has taken on a life, philosophy and is quickly becoming a thing as it moves outside the ranks of the police department and into the minds and practice of community members, researchers, open databases, and activists. The EB Policing Movement is multifaceted, embracing a diverse culture of leadership to include Dr.

Renee Mitchell, Chief Jim Bueermann (ret), Lt. Chris Vallejo, Paulette Blanc (Measure), Eric Byrd (Measure), or Dr. Obed Magny.

What is Evidence-Based Policing and why is it important?

The College Of Policing says, “In an evidence-based policing approach, police officers and staff create, review and use the best available evidence to inform and challenge policies, practices and decisions.”[

A policing methodology controlled by proven testing is where we EB Activists want the system to go. Would you ever undergo a surgery that has never been proven to work, or allow a Doctor to do a procedure that has had no results of fixing a problem? Probably not. In this same way, a Law Enforcement Officer has the ability to take or preserve life in the matter of moments.

Testing and proving their actions and responses to people is the best way of ensuring professionalism in the practice of policing.

Rigorous testing and analysis may help officers too. We constantly hear reports of the mental toll that policing takes on those who choose the job, but what local evidence do we have that says this is true? Many believe that working long hours causes unnecessary pressure on police, but where is the data on this “fact?” Many agree that post-traumatic stress may set an officer on a lonely journey after responding from one traumatic event to another. What are police departments doing to address this, (and perhaps more importantly) and is it evidence-based?

For many agencies, officers are spending countless hours using Records Management Systems (RMS) that are archaic. Because of these old systems, officers have less time to be proactive in their daily shifts due to time and energy wasted in filtering through messy records. If there are software systems known to make police officers’ jobs easier (such as time saved writing reports), why wouldn’t most agencies take advantage of that? Through Evidence-Based Policing research, we are able to answer these questions and identify the most effective way to better serve all of the stakeholders.

Big Data & Community Policing.

Through the power of big data analysis, randomized control testing in the field, an increasingly robust body of experimentation, and our willingness to embrace it – the EB movement is quickly becoming a go-to solution for assessing best practices in policing.

My organization, MEASURE – A data-driven, public education nonprofit in Austin, Texas noticed a communication & networking gap between social justice advocates, local research institutions, law enforcement practitioners, technology experts, and the application of EB Policing. For better understanding as to how EB Policing can help them speak a common language and possibly spark innovative research design, we hold an annual conference and several workshops to bring all parties these together. So far we’ve held conferences and workshops in both Austin and Dallas, Texas with hopes of branching out to other cities in 2020.

The results of the Big Data & Community Policing conferences and workshops include:

  • A newly formed Evidence-Based Policing think-tank at the Austin Police Department.
  • Free training on mindfulness & de-escalation, performance measure development, EB Policing 101, Compstat360, records management and Community Policing for all participants.
  • The application of design-thinking to address community policing.
  • Relationship building between traditionally siloed groups.
  • Organizational connections for increased EB Policing studies.
  • The City of Austin’s mandate to create Evidence-Based Metrics to assess the local police department’s performance.

It’s Global.

 Australia & New Zealand:

Evidence-Based Policing unit trial may reduce the amount of prison time committed by a first-time offender by 62% over a year. Picture: Lincoln


 The UK:

The College of Policing funds a study to look to test “mindfulness” as a way to combat high stress and record numbers of sick days.

Making It Meaningful To Your Community.

Far too often biased data feeds the narrative about communities who are most impacted by potentially harmful and un-evaluated policies and procedures. MEASURE seeks to empower people impacted by substandard data and the related narrative by allowing the people to own the information gathered about them, and to tell their own story unabridged.

Evidence-Based Policing allows a unique space for community members to become an active partner in the process of community policing and science. By collecting data, applying research and rethinking old ways of doing things with your community, newly created insights may help rewrite the narrative.

Share Data

The collection and analysis of police data for social good has taken off in recent years. Organizations such as Data.World and the Texas Justice Initiative are demonstrating how open data can make a difference.

In 2016 President Obama launched the Police Data Initiative which urged department Chiefs across America to volunteer their data to an open portal. Several cities signed on allowing for data-driven community engagement.

Sharing data with your community is a best-practice as it relates to transparency and making information available to a broader audience. Be sure to show community members where the data is stored online, how to download it and allow opportunity for feedback about the collected and shared data points. Community members may suggest very useful data elements in which the department may have never thought of.

Partner With Non-Traditional Research Partners

Think outside the box when completing a grant for community policing. Instead of partnering with the local go-to researcher, choose to work alongside grassroots organizations, activists-led nonprofits, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).

Data has a way of helping both police and community groups speak a common language. By reaching out to non-traditional research partners such as these, you have the opportunity to help provide financial resources to local under-resourced organizations and grow a pipeline of Black and Brown data collectors, interpreters, and community policing experts.

Connect with MEASURE.

MEASURE’s mission is to bridge divisions through data and public education in active partnership with local communities to address complex social problems.

MEASURE’s objective is to leverage quantitative and qualitative information, in the form of research and education, as a tool to bridge divisions and empower communities to address complex social problems. We ask impacted communities to become active participants in the process of changing the statistics.

MEASURE is available for research & public education partnerships, community surveys, facilitation, and consultation.

Contact us at: contact@measureaustin.com

About Me

Jameila “Meme” Styles is the founder and visionary behind MEASURE. As “chief volunteer,” Meme works with the board, leadership team, and community to further the MEASURE mission worldwide.

Ms. Styles holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Communications, completing a Masters of Public Administration at American Military University and is certified in Performance Measurement through George Washington University College of Professional Studies.

Follow MEASURE on Twitter: @MeasureAustin

Follow Meme on Twitter: @memeofaustin

The harmful effects of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD): Why police departments should stay up to date on evidence-based practices

I attended the 2018 International Association of Chiefs of Policing Conference in Orlando, FL where I had the good fortune to sit in on a Critical Incident Peer Support session led by Dr. Bradley S. Feuer, the Chief Surgeon of the Florida Highway Patrol. I was looking forward to this class because I have read several books that mentioned there was empirical evidence to show that Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) has no effect on PTSD symptoms or may even increase PTSD symptoms, something social scientists call a backfire effect. These books piqued my curiosity about what the empirical research showed, as books will cover some of the research that supports their point of view, but not necessarily all the research in the field. I was unable to access some of the most pertinent articles, leading me to email the researchers directly and asking for the articles. I explained that CISD is often a requirement for police officers involved in a critical incident with some agencies going so far as having a general order mandating, “The involved employee’s commander/manager will ensure the Department psychologist is notified within 24 hours after the critical incident. (a) The Department psychologist will conduct a debriefing session within 72 hours of the incident. The employee’s immediate family may be included in the debriefing session.” The psychologist I spoke with, Dr. Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University, sent me several studies and a graph visually depicting that CISD has either no effect or increases PTSD symptoms. He was disappointed to hear that policing was still using CISD as an intervention when his opinion was that this method was debunked in psychology over ten years ago. By not staying up to date on current research, police agencies are potentially causing harm to their employees by endorsing an intervention that has been shown to either be ineffective or harmful to participants and potentially exposing the city to legal liability by using CISM/CISD interventions.

I attended Dr. Feuer’s session because I wanted to know if he was reading what I was reading, that there is overwhelming research that supports the discontinuation of CISM/CISD as a therapeutic intervention for individuals involved in a critical incident. That was exactly what his session was about; showing how the development of CISM/CISD was created and almost entirely supported by research from the founder of the program and/or affiliates of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (ICISF) and that studies done by unbiased researchers demonstrated no efficacy of the intervention. The best article I read that reviews CISM/CISD was written by McNally, Bryant, and Ehlers (2003) Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from posttraumatic stress, where they not only review the extant literature but analyze Jeffrey Mitchell’s (the co-creator of CISM/CISD with Dr. George Everly) arguments refuting the research that does not support CISM/CISD. McNally et al. (2003) demonstrate that Mitchell consistently contradicts his earlier arguments using the same factors when arguing unsupportive research is ‘invalid,’ as when he argues the research is ‘valid’ when it supports CISD. Even the CISM primer on the ICISF website refutes the research that shows CISD is ineffective and/or harmful where seven of the nine articles cited are written by Mitchell or Everly.

What is Critical Incident Stress Management/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing?

For those who have not heard of CISM/CISD, it is an intervention where a trained therapist (usually trained through ICISF) conducts a debriefing session either individually or with a group of individuals who have experienced a critical incident. Mitchell now advocates for CISM/CISD to be performed in groups. The debrief has seven components as described by McNally et al. (2003): 1. explanation of the debriefing process, 2. fact gathering (what happened during the critical incident), 3. thought phase (participants describe cognitive reaction to the event) 4. reaction phase (expressing their feelings about the event), 5. symptom phase (asking what psychological or physical reactions they are experiencing), 6. teaching phase (demonstrating that stress reactions are normal), and 7. reentry phase (facilitators’ attempts to attain closure). According to the ICISF website “CISM is a comprehensive, integrative, multicomponent crisis intervention system” also consisting of seven steps: 1. pre-crisis preparation, this includes stress management education, stress resistance, and crisis mitigation training for both individuals and organizations. 2. disaster or large-scale incident, as well as, school and community support programs including demobilizations, informational briefings, “town meetings” and staff advisement, 3. defusing, this is a 3-phase, structured small group discussion provided within hours of a crisis for purposes of assessment, triaging, and acute symptom mitigation, 4. Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), 5. one-on-one crisis intervention/counseling or psychological support throughout the full range of the crisis spectrum, 6. family crisis intervention, as well as, organizational consultation, and 7. follow-up and referral mechanisms for assessment and treatment, if necessary (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. Primer, 2018). CISM is a comprehensive program starting before the crisis begins, including community and family, where CISD is a onetime debriefing for the individuals directly involved in the critical incident.

What does the research show about CISM/CISD?

Barlow (2003) and Lilienfeld (2007) have written about psychological interventions that have backfire effects and both specifically mention CISD as a psychological intervention that has increased the participants PTSD symptoms. Hobbs, Mayou, Harrison, and Warlock (1996) conducted a randomized controlled trial on victims of road traffic accidents. The victims were randomly assigned to either a single debriefing session or an assessment-only control condition. The debriefing occurred between 24 and 48 hours after the incident. At a four-month assessment, neither group experienced a reduction in symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression. However, the debriefing group experienced worse scores on two areas in the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). The BSI is a questionnaire concerning symptoms of emotional distress. The research team then did a three-year follow-up with both groups and found that relative to the control group, the debriefing group had significantly more PTSD symptoms (Mayou, Ehlers, & Hobbs, 2000). Further, they found the individuals who had initially scored high for PTSD symptoms and were debriefed remained highly symptomatic compared to individuals who also had high PTSD scores but were only assessed. The hypothesis was that debriefing interferes with the natural recovery of PTSD. This is just one example of one study.

What if research articles find different outcomes?

I was once asked by an officer, “What do you do when one research article demonstrates a positive outcome and another study examining the same intervention demonstrates a negative outcome?” One way of deciding is to look at where the studies land on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (Farrington, Gottfredson, Sherman, & Welsh, 2002). I do not want to get off on a tangent explaining how to evaluate the quality of a research article, so the best way of determining the overall impact of an intervention is to find a systematic review or meta-analysis which takes all of the high-quality research in the field and examines the quality of the research, the effect size (how large of a finding discovered from the study) and statistically examines the outcomes to determine the overall effects. Rather than trying to make a decision from reading 10-20 studies, a meta-analysis or systematic review gives an objective review of those research articles to date. A meta-analysis article will explain what studies the authors have included and excluded, how they completed their search of databases, what databases they searched, and how they performed their statistical analysis. The process by which the authors come to their conclusions will also be clearly laid out in the methods section.

Examining the totality of CISD research: What does the meta-analysis show?

Two meta-analyses have been done on CISD and psychological debriefing. This first meta-analysis examined seven studies, five studies specifically evaluated CISM and three non-CISD studies interventions, and six no-intervention controls (van Emmerik, Kamphuis, Hulsbosch, & Emmelkamp, 2002). The studies chosen for the analysis were those that evaluated single session debriefings within one month after the trauma where symptoms were assessed with accepted psychological measures, and the psychological assessments were performed before (pre-test) and after (post-test) the intervention. The overall finding was that CISD and non-CISD interventions do not improve natural recovery from psychological trauma (van Emmerik et al., 2002). The second meta-analysis examined eleven studies at either a level 4 or 5 of the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale, meaning either a randomized control trial (the gold standard of research) or a quasi-randomized trial of individuals who received a single debriefing session within one month of the traumatic incident (Rose, Bisson, & Wessley, 2002). This review was a Cochrane Review. Cochrane is “internationally recognized as the benchmark for high-quality information about the effectiveness of healthcare” (Cochrane About Us, 2018). Cochrane does not accept commercial or conflicted funding, their level of research is the highest in the world, and the researchers conducting a review for Cochrane must perform the analysis following a strict protocol. In sum, Cochrane reviews are the best empirical evidence on any healthcare intervention in the world. The Cochrane review Rose et al. (2002) stated:

“This review concerns the efficacy of single session psychological “debriefing” in reducing psychological distress and preventing the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after traumatic events. Psychological debriefing is either equivalent to, or worse than, control or educational interventions in preventing or reducing the severity of PTSD, depression, anxiety and general psychological morbidity. There is some suggestion that it may increase the risk of PTSD and depression. The routine use of single session debriefing given to non-selected trauma victims is not supported. No evidence has been found that this procedure is effective.

In this review, Rose et al. (2002) discussed the fact that debriefing may ‘medicalise’ normal PTSD symptoms, meaning that avoidance and disassociation with little affect are a natural occurrence after a critical incident and may be a healthy protective reaction to a critical incident. CISD/CISM forces an individual to talk about or face the incident before they are psychologically ready. This is apparent in individuals where the incident resulted in elevated PTSD symptoms initially and when involved in debriefing sessions, those individuals were worse off four months later than individuals who were allowed to process the event naturally (Mayou et al., 2000).

CISM/CISD is ineffective and can be harmful

There is little evidence, other than supplied by the creators of CISM/CISD and ICISF, that CISM/CISD is an effective intervention for individuals involved in critical incidents to prevent symptoms of PTSD. Studies have been conducted on police officers (Carlier, Voerman, & Gersons, 2000; Carlier, Lamberts, van Ulchelen & Gersons, 1998) and firefighters (Harris, Balolu, & Stacks, 2002; Harris & Stacks, 1998) where both the firefighters and police officers were worse off than the control group. The evidence has piled up and demonstrated that at best CISM/CISD is ineffective and at worst, it leaves our employees worse off than if we would have just left them alone. This research has led several top agencies in the world to recommend the discontinued use of CISM/CISD as an intervention for individuals involved in critical incidents.

            During his talk, Dr. Feuer listed out all the international entities who have issued statements discontinued using CISM/CISD as an intervention. This list was laid out in Bledsoe (2003): The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the British Health Service, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Australasian Critical Incident Stress Association, and the British Navy. Yet, policing across the United States still engages in this intervention and hails it as a ‘best practice.’ ‘Best practice’ in policing usually means that there are enough agencies engaging in the practice and in agreement that the practice is useful. ‘Best practice’ is typically founded upon nothing other than collective opinion, rather than research and science. This experience is what DiMaggio and Powell (1983) explained when they paraphrased Schelling (1978:4) to describe organizations in a structured field such as policing, “respond to an environment that consists of other organizations responding to their environment, which consists of organizations responding to an environment of organizations’ responses.”

            We have been replicating these same types of mistakes with programs like Scared Straight, D.A.R.E, and now CISM/CISD. Police organizations have a history of adopting social interventions without testing them. It took policing 20 years before a properly led randomized controlled trial showed Scared Straight increased the likelihood of offending rather than reduced it. If we do not follow the evidence-base, we can potentially be making people worse off than they would have been had we left them alone. This is part of the reason for the creation of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing; to advocate, educate, and facilitate the use of quality research in policing. ASEBP strives to educate the police profession on up-to-date research to prevent the use of outdated practices. Policing has a responsibility to both the community and its employees to be cognizant of emerging research and alter policies and practices that do not align with the research base. I believe, as does Dr. Feuer and a myriad of other respected organizations, that this is the case for CISM/CISD interventions. Other international agencies have already discontinued this practice, and I believe policing should take the same stance and discontinue the use of CISM/CISD as a therapeutic intervention for individuals involved in a critical incident.

Where do we go from here?

            CISM/CISD forces individuals to discuss a critical incident during a period when they may not be psychologically ready. They may not feel comfortable talking about the incident in front of other people. They may find other ways to deal with negative emotions such as exercise, journaling, prayer, mediation, or just talking with a spouse, coworker, or close friend about the incident. People are resilient and there is evidence that people naturally recover on their own without a prescribed intervention (Pennebaker & Harber, 1993). Conventional wisdom would argue that people who bottle up their emotions will be worse off than people who talk about their feelings and release emotions. Research supports this part of conventional wisdom with Pennebaker & Beall (1986), demonstrating that journaling about an “upsetting personal event” has positive long-term benefits on an individual’s health. It appears it is not the releasing the emotion, it is when and how the emotion is released. We also do not want to leave officers with no social support, as lack of perceived social support is linked to increased risk of PTSD (Brewin, Andrews, & Valentine, 2000). Practical help rather than psychological help improve PTSD symptoms after a critical incident and can be considered “psychological first aid” (Litz et al., 2002; Raphael et al., 1996).

            Dr. Feuer’s talk gave a nice break down of the list of psychological first aid components that is listed out in McNally et al. (2003, p.67): listening, conveying compassion, assessing needs, ensuring that basic physical needs are met, not forcing someone to talk, providing or mobilizing company from family or significant others, encouraging but not forcing, social support, giving information, protecting from additional harm, ventilation of feelings as appropriate for the individual, and when appropriate, refer to mental health specialist. What I have seen repeatedly mentioned across the majority of studies is that if a person shows increased signs of PTSD, then refer to a mental health specialist. Intervening before a person shows signs of PTSD is ineffective and, in some cases, damaging. Dr. Feuer broke the idea down into simpler components for his Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS) program – Listen, Protect, and Connect. Peer support volunteers receive training on psychological first aid. The training is free and online provided by several different agencies: Behavioral Health Professionals, American Red Cross, World Health Organization, and the US Department of Health and Human Services. In summary, Dr. Feuer’s Critical Incident Peer Support teams provide peer support (listening and comforting), normalize reactions (information), DO NOT provide referrals to debriefing, no mandatory interventions by the team, are trained to appreciate individual coping styles, and will refer officers to a competent mental health specialist if they are showing a negative reaction to the critical incident.

            At the end of his talk, I asked if Dr. Feuer had conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on his method. He stated that he had not. He explained that the program was evidence-informed and he was working with academic researchers to first establish the efficacy of the training and planned on conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in the future to determine if individuals receiving CIPS were better or worse off after receiving the intervention. According to the Society of Prevention Research, the cycle of research should be: 1. Conducting research to understand the predictors of problem and positive developmental outcomes and understanding the epidemiology and natural history of the problem, 2. Developing interventions to motivate changes in individuals and environments, based on theories of behavior and our understanding or mechanisms for behavior change, 3. Testing the efficacy of these preventive interventions, and 4. Testing the effectiveness of efficacious interventions in contexts under realistic delivery conditions (Biglan, Domitrovich, Ernst, Etz, Mason, & Robertson). Dr. Feuer’s program is at step three, and once he demonstrates efficacy, then he will be proceeding to step four, demonstrating CIPS is effective at reducing PTSD outcomes.

Why policing needs evidence-based information?

            The psychology field has known for over ten years that CISM/CISD is an ineffective intervention for PTSD symptoms and may be potentially harmful. When I spoke with Dr. Lilienfeld, he expressed dismay that policing was uninformed about the lack of empirical support for CISM/CISD. This quote was from 2003, “Although psychological debriefing is widely used throughout the world to prevent PTSD, there is no convincing evidence that it does so. RCTs of individualized debriefing and comparative, nonrandomized studies of group debriefing have failed to confirm the method’s efficacy. Some evidence suggests that it may impede natural recovery. For scientific and ethical reasons, professionals should cease compulsory debriefing of trauma-exposed people” (McNally et al., 2003 p. 72) And this is not the first time that policing practice fell behind current research. Scared Straight was commonly practiced before it was tested in a randomized controlled trial 20 years later (McCord, 2003). McCord stated in her seminal paper, Cures that Harm, “Social programs deserve to be treated as serious attempts at intervention with possible toxic effects, so that a science of intervention can prosper” (p.17). Although good intentions are behind our social interventions, good intentions do not equal positive outcomes. We have an ethical duty to our public and our officers to be up to date on empirical research concerning our interventions (Mitchell & Lewis, 2017) and when creating a new program such as CISP, to rigorously evaluate the program at the highest research standard possible in order to understand the impacts our interventions have on the individuals involved. To do otherwise fails to protect and serve.


Barlow, B. (2010). Negative effects from psychological treatments: A perspective. American psychologist65(1), 13.

Biglan, A., Domitrovich, C., Ernst, J., Etz, K., Mason, M. J., & Robertson, E. (2011). Standards of knowledge for the science of prevention. Fairfax, VA: Society for Prevention Research.

Bledsoe, B.X. (December, 2003) EMS Myth #3: Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is effective in managing EMS-related stress. Retrieved from https://www.emsworld.com/article/10325074/ems-myth-3-critical-incident-stress-management-cism-effective-managing-ems-related-stress

Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2000). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology68(5), 748.

Carlier, I.V.E., Lamberts, R.D., van Uchelen, A.J., & Gersons, B.P.R. (1998). Disaster-related post-traumatic stress in police officers: A field study of the impact of debriefing. Stress Medicine14, 143–148.

Carlier, I.V.E., Voerman, A.E., & Gersons, B.P.R. (2000). The influence of occupational debriefing on post-traumatic stress symptomatology in traumatized police officers. British Journal of Medical Psychology73, 87–98.

Cochrane About Us, (n.d.) In Cochrane. Retrieved from https://www.cochrane.org/about-us

DiMaggio, P. J., & W. W. Powell (1983). The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review. la, 147-160.

Farrington, David P., Denise C. Gottfredson, Lawrence W. Sherman, and Brandon C. Welsh. “The Maryland scientific methods scale.” Evidence-based crime prevention(2002): 13-21.

Harris, M. B., & Stacks, J. R. (1998). A Three Year Five State Study on the Relationships Between Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, Firefighters’ Disposition, and Stress Reactions. Texas A & M University.

Harris, M. B., Baloğlu, M., & Stacks, J. R. (2002). Mental health of trauma-exposed firefighters and critical incident stress debriefing. Journal of Loss &Trauma7(3), 223-238.

Hobbs, M., Mayou, R., Harrison, B., & Worlock, P. (1996). A randomised controlled

trial of psychological debriefing for victims of road traffic accidents. British Medical Journal313, 1438–1439.

A Primer on International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (n.d.) In International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from https://icisf.org/a-primer-on-critical-incident-stress-management-cism/

Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on psychological science2(1), 53-70.

Litz, B. T., Gray, M. J., Bryant, R. A., & Adler, A. B. (2002). Early intervention for trauma: Current status and future directions. Clinical psychology: science and practice9(2), 112-134.

Mayou, R.A., Ehlers, A., & Hobbs, M. (2000). Psychological debriefing for road traffic accidents: Three-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry176, 589–593.

McCord, J. (2003). Cures that harm: Unanticipated outcomes of crime prevention programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science587(1), 16-30.

Mitchell, R. J., & Lewis, S. (2017). Intention is not method, belief is not evidence, rank is not proof: Ethical policing needs evidence-based decision making. International Journal of Emergency Services6(3), 188-199.

McNally, R. J., Bryant, R. A., & Ehlers, A. (2003). Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from posttraumatic stress?. Psychological science in the public interest4(2), 45-79.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of abnormal psychology95(3), 274.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Harber, K. D. (1993). A social stage model of collective coping: The Loma Prieta earthquake and the Persian Gulf War. Journal of Social Issues49(4), 125-145.

Raphael, B., Wilson, J., Meldrum, L., & McFarlane, A.C. (1996). Acute preventative interventions. In B.A. van der Kolk, A.C. McFarlane, & L. Weisath (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 463–479). New York: Guilford Press.

Rose, S., Bisson, J., Churchill, R., & Wessely, S. (2002). Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev2(2).

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Van Emmerik, A. A., Kamphuis, J. H., Hulsbosch, A. M., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2002). Single session debriefing after psychological trauma: a meta-analysis. The Lancet360(9335), 766-771.

Well-Being and the Police Profession

I feel very privileged to be asked to write for the American Society. Having attended a couple of conferences in the States, and visited numerous PD’s I feel at least a little confident to have enough knowledge to give a view. Although ‘snapshots’ are not always helpful, with the right lens they can be incredibly insightful. What I can offer is to draw on 30 years of service as a UK cop, and a lifetime of caring, understanding, and experiencing life as a professional uniformed serviceman.

To provide some context, I now work for the College of Policing in the UK, as the lead for Wellbeing. Wellness, as I know you refer to it, is top of the agenda in the UK in many aspects of working life, not just policing. I am, however, focussed on the policing aspects and all that good officer (and civilian police department staff) wellness can bring to a community. I say community because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of us getting this right. Tired, bored, disgruntled, low-paid, and demoralised cops are not going to offer much of themselves; that is simple. What is slightly more complex, and often contentious, is how we battle against these psychologies. My work at the College is focussed on just that area.

If I begin with the elephant in the room. I have been astounded by the length of hours the US patrol officers work. Wherever I go with this debate, I find myself returning to what appears to be an engrained culture of non-stop work. I must say that I have seen no boundaries (in the US), with seemingly open-ended acceptance of the status quo. Simply put, this cannot be good for you. If you try to search any scholarly database for academic literature that makes a claim for a 70hrs + a week working schedule, I think you may find zero return? So, that said, how do you replace the extra dollars all these hours give you? That is the dilemma! What I can say is that this approach is gradually creeping into the UK police psyche also. But, as you may be aware, extra employ is not the norm in the UK police service, so this is largely achieved within the respected force areas. It being brought about by the simple equation that increasing workload and decreasing officer numbers results in only one thing. There is more than likely a mathematical equation model for this, but that is not my field so I won’t prospect! The outcome, however, is that we have overstretched cops trying to deliver a service designed for a considerably bigger workforce.

Having set the scene, we must now move on to looking at what we do about all of this, where can we make inroads to make life better for our people? Of course, I am going to propose that much of this can be improved by having better wellness interventions. I have always summarised three critical aspects, those being good effective leadership, a focus on personal resilience; and finally ensuring, as much as possible, that the working environment is such that we can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. That is, after all what we came to do, as they say! Policing, is at the very least, a vocation. Many see it as a calling and I have written about this also. I will pop some references at the end of the piece if you wish to read more about any of these aspects in further depth. However, I should give you a little insight into my thinking on these three areas.

First of all is the age-old issue of leadership. A Google search will leave you no better off I feel, but let me say this: for me, leadership is knowing enough about the people you lead to be able to spot when things are not right, seeing when your people are struggling, and have the knowledge, skills and ability to intervene both quickly and effectively. Simply put, it is about knowing yourself and how other people see you, knowing your staff, the people who work for you, and knowing your stuff, being operationally competent. All the other leadership skills can fall out of these three principle areas. My friend Terry Anderson has a superb book out called Every Officer Is A Leader, which is a digest of all you need to know about leadership within the context of policing.

The second area is personal resilience, which can be learned. The seminal work on this is by Southwick and Charnley, who developed a Resilience Prescription. Well worth a read if you get chance. This talks about Thinking Errors and concepts such as Bouncebackability, which suggests that we can consume trauma and hurt if we have enough in the tank. But be careful, everyone has a limit and I refer back to my leadership assertions that it is about others helping you along the way and spotting when you may be struggling.

My final area is that of creating the right working environment. Here I am talking about a multitude of things, from systems thinking to working relationships and engagement. To put simply I am suggesting we create a working environment in which officers can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. In essence this is why we all joined the police department isn’t it? If you take, for example the Engage for Success report, or Thriving at Work recently released in the UK, these points are well made out.

I will finish up by inviting you along to an IACP session on Psychological Risk Management I am doing in February 2019 in San Antonio, TX where I will speak about the journey of our UK Wellness program, which we call Oscar Kilo (OK). I will attempt, along with my colleague Andy Rhodes, the Chief with the unenviable task of landing all of this in the UK, about our journey from conception, gestation, and birth of the UK police Wellbeing Service. I will of course be tweeting about this, so you can follow that also if you wish.

I hope you have found this short blog interesting, and if you wish to read any of my work in more detail please find some references below. I will sign off by saying enjoy your time, in whatever capacity it may be, involved with this great occupation of policing and be careful out there!



Dr Ian Hesketh

Wellbeing Lead

College of Policing
Leamington Road


Coventry UK


+44 (0) 7889 704370


Oscar Kilo Website



Managing Health and Wellbeing in the Public Sector: A Guide to Best Practice


Wellbeing at Work: How to Design, Implement and Evaluate an Effective Strategy

View of Education and Research for 21st Century Policing: Collaboration, Competition and Collusion

Canteen Culture: The Potential to use Social Media as Evidence in Policing

Measuring the People Fleet: General Analysis, Interventions and Needs

Wellbeing and Engagement in Policing: The Key to Unlocking Discretionary Effort? 

Leaveism at Work

Wellbeing, Austerity and Policing: Is it Worth Investing in Resilience Training?

Leaveism and Public Sector Reform: Will the Practice Continue?





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