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