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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Emily Paulson
October 6, 2015
I want to say right away I would love to hear reader feedback on this month’s topic, because organizational development and public safety are my two greatest professional passions. I want to learn as much as I can to understand the place where they intersect. Is there something important I’m missing? Something I’m nailing on the head? A burning question you want answered? Email me at [email protected].
Recent media headlines seem flooded with stories of police brutality, international terrorism, border security and natural disasters. When you throw in our nation’s increasing cultural diversity, cybercrime and social justice strides, it seems times may call for a more holistic approach to the training of our public safety professionals. While physical, tactical and rational ability are clearly of vital importance to this field, our current world refuses to let such skills work successfully if they are taught in a silo.
I have been thinking and reading a lot lately about the training law enforcement professionals receive upon hire, and wondering if their curriculum should more often include topics like emotional intelligence.
Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) as “the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
It isn’t a new topic, but it’s certainly an important one. While they’re both a little dated, these articles from Forbes and The Police Chief Magazine are a couple of my favorites that really showcase why EQ matters.
I should note, too that EQ is not the only alternative intelligence for which federal agencies and local police departments can provide training. There is also social intelligence, cultural intelligence, moral intelligence, body intelligence and spiritual intelligence (SQ).
Spiritual intelligence training in law enforcement has been, based on my personal research anyway, a particular passion of Samuel L. Feemster. With an FBI background, he has written several articles on the topic– including this one and this one– which explain the difference between spiritual intelligence and religion, and focus specifically on law enforcement training. The FBI’s “Law Enforcement Bulletin” also featured an interesting article on the topic.
In their book, Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence, Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar describe spiritual intelligence as,
“The intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value, the intelligence with which we can place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context, the intelligence with which can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another.”
These authors even find spiritual intelligence to be necessary for emotional intelligence and rational intelligence (IQ) to function with excellence.
I’ve never been a cop, so I don’t claim to understand what their days are like. However, I would imagine they face countless situations where having a high EQ or SQ could be of great benefit. Most of the crimes I can think up involve heightened emotions and a need for responding officers to relate to others extra effectively. While general people and communication skills certainly play a big role here, EQ and SQ do, too. Because of their selfless service, we owe it to them to make sure they’re prepared.
Imagine if all law enforcement professionals were trained and equipped with the skillset and resources needed to quickly recognize whether someone is feeling guilty or just nervous. Defensive or indignant. Angry or afraid.
Imagine if they all were equipped with skills and resources to more healthfully manage their own stress, along with the other inevitably difficult emotional effects of their work. Imagine if they all became super stars at calming others down.
Countless police departments are already doing exactly what I’m describing here – they’re heavily incorporating soft skills training, like EQ, into their programs. Whether or not they’re calling by the same name, they’re doing it. This is fantastic.
There are also many that aren’t – at least not with the intentionality I think this kind of training deserves. I hope that the women and men who put on the uniform are already of an emotionally intelligent ilk. But even those who are can benefit from being instructed by experts in the art and science of EQ development.
From a PR perspective, it might also be a great opportunity for police departments to show the public they take soft skills – ethics, cultural competency, communication, alternative intelligences – seriously. In a time when the press hasn’t exactly been positive, announcing the addition of this kind of training might give a nice boost to community morale and trust.
Emotions and meaning cannot, and should not, be removed from law enforcement or its officers. Emotional awareness and connectedness may very well even be what separates the best cops from the rest. Therefore, relevant competencies should be taught and prioritized.
My hope is that all police departments start intentionally including more holistic training in these areas, thus setting up both their officers and communities for success.
Author: Emily G. Paulson is a content marketing manager in Minneapolis, where she moonlights as an MPA student at Hamline University’s School of Business. She’s carving out a career in public safety and organizational learning, and believes in firm handshakes and shameless smiles. Contact her at [email protected].