Training Law Enforcement in Emotional Intelligence

A number of progressive administrators and policy makers realize the importance of teaching emotional intelligence skills to police officers. This is because, as studies have shown, an officer’s job is only 5% apprehending suspects and the rest involves report writing, investigations and interacting with the public. Their training, however, is not focused on emotional intelligence skills. This means officers are not trained with the skills to be successful. When considering incorporating emotional intelligence in officer orientation and in-service training it is critical to understand that the training methodology used to train police as warriors is not going to work with emotional intelligence. It has to be a completely different approach, both structurally and functionally.

The current focus on changing officer behaviors may be politically expedient, but it is only looking at a symptom of a greater issue; that of the overall work culture within police departments. It is the relationships between officers, officers and supervisors, and staff with administration that are creating the problems. Those relationships are the cause of high turnover, over aggressiveness, marital problems including divorce, suicide, health problems [high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes] and a life expectancy 20 years shorter than the general public. If policy makers want to truly turn things around, they must focus on officer wellbeing, rather than just the symptoms of stress and “bad” officers causing conflict with the public. Policy makers must look beyond those symptoms to the cause; the toxic work culture within the department. This cannot be accomplished by simply providing interpersonal skills training.

Emotional intelligence is not just about interpersonal skills; it is much more. It is about attitude or the mindset of the officer. This comes from the subconscious or limbic system in the brain. Lecture and even practice in the classroom will not immediately impact the limbic system. These techniques will not transform relationships.

The foundational skill of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Without establishing self-awareness, emotional intelligence will just be interpersonal skills and can be used as manipulation without any empathy or sense of social responsibility. Only direct experience of a new culture will. The key to training in emotional intelligence is the awareness that direct experience comes before understanding. Actually experiencing the desired work culture precedes understanding the depth and power of a transformed work culture. Knowing a particular skill does not mean you have the cultural awareness to use it appropriately.

A number of training academies with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found staff highly resistant to emotional intelligence training. They were using the traditional style of training, lecture and skill practice without the foundation of self-awareness. Also, the title of the training is critical. Calling it Emotional Intelligence or Soft-Skills training will come up against the warrior identity of many officers and be highly resisted. Teambuilding is a much more effective title for the training and it should begin with developing safety by having the trainees learn about each other and have activities that are fun with a lot of movement.

There is a lot more to learning emotional intelligence than one training. It must be incorporated in the total training program and repeated with regular refreshers. There are many different aspects to emotional intelligence, so the refreshers can be new approaches to and different aspects of emotional intelligence. Some of those aspects might be: empathy, empathy response statements, developing your empathy, deeper self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills, relationship repairing, conflict resolution, mediation, emotional intelligence assessment and testing, emotionally intelligent recruiting, and many others. The reason these topics are important is because they build emotional intelligence in the individual, which increases the emotional intelligence in the unit and department. This will not only improve job performance but staff retention, morale and relationships.

One training methodology has been proven effective in teaching emotional intelligence and has been well accepted by staff. It is the Immersive Experiential training design. The Teambuilding Attitude Conflict Transformation© [TACT] training incorporates this design and is a two or three day emotional intelligence inoculation. This training could be the initial mandatory training in a systemic approach to increasing the emotional intelligence of a department and its members. Adding to this could be a second training, a personal self-awareness growth training. This second training should be voluntary because it would be deeper and more intense and would facilitate personal growth in staff and accelerate the learnings of the first training.

A third training could be a bias awareness training that would include community members. [Note: although well accepted, implicit bias training has not proven to be effective at changing behaviors.] All three trainings would be highly experiential, positive and engaging. This training approach would strongly improve the efforts of community policing; transforming relationships and empowering both police and community to develop creative and innovative strategies to make our communities safer, healthier along with improving the health and wellbeing of our police force. Any serious effort to incorporate emotional intelligence into law enforcement must be systemic, well thought out and not piecemeal. The potential for transformation is unlimited.