Last week, I attended the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement Conference. The conference opened with a keynote by Sierra Bender, who invited a room full of police officers to step out of their comfort zone.
As Police Officers, we don’t live comfortably, yet we’re terrified of “uncomfortability.” Allow me to explain. We carry around approximately 20 pounds of gear for approximately 40-70 hours per week. It’s not comfortable, but we get used to it. We work nights, overnights, weekends, double shifts, and holidays. These aren’t comfortable hours, but it’s how we earn our living, and protect our communities. We respond to incidents of death, domestic disturbances, child abuse, and see the ills of society on a daily basis. It’s not comfortable, but it’s our job.
We create these broad justifications, but at the end of our tour of duty, we are only left with ourselves. Our shift has ended, but we are still tired from the double shift we just worked. We are short on patience with our children because we have a headache from the long report we just wrote, the lack of sleep, and the frustration we’re still feeling from the call we went on. We’re still emotional about the teenager who committed suicide, even though we tell ourselves to “suck it up, it’s our job.” Unfortunately, these defenses detach us from our emotions.
At the conference, Sierra offered a way we can "step into our power" as Police Officers, yet found many of us were actually powerless over our emotions. Most Officers in attendance weren’t in uniform, but were still shielded by the bullet proof vests worn to protect themselves from the physical and emotional harm of the job. The fear of being physically and emotionally vulnerable makes it difficult to be authentic…. but it’s how we’ve been trained.
Law enforcement emotional intelligence is defined as the ability of the officer to manage and use his/her emotions in a positive and constructive way, and to manage healthy relationships within the department and within other supporting agencies in the criminal justice system. (Allam, 2011; Dumbrava, 2011).
After Sierra’s presentation, I had a conversation with her, where we talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in policing. There are strong correlations between her work, and the emerging shift in police training; if only people can become open minded enough to see it.
I had the opportunity to present my talk (which had some beautiful parallels to hers) titled, “Building Villages in a Disconnected Society.” I talked about ways we can truly connect with our communities, stepping out of our comfort zone and making ourselves available, physically and mentally.
Police training is slowly shifting from the promotion of robotic canned responses, to embracing the universal human dialect of empathy.
Building Villages means bringing the community together by way of personal connections. Police Officers are an integral part of the village, and as such, building trust and legitimacy is critical. To “community police” effectively, we must shift our responses so we communicate an understanding of the issues that matter to our community.
I offered the L.E.A.P. Program “CLUES” model to attendees, inviting them to step out of the box, and into an area of greater understanding and support through: Collaboration, Listening, Understanding, Empathy and Solutions.
I spoke about honest and transparent communication, and how empathy increases trust and confidence. When our citizens trust us, we get more cooperation and can master the true meaning of "serve and protect."
I provided success stories, but also spoke to the inevitable failures. I’m realistic in knowing that the CLUES model isn’t going to solve every problem, and change every person who engages in criminal or risky behaviors. However, I live each day with this model in mind… in both my personal and professional life. I know that I must try, or else I’ve failed myself, and my community. I know that "fake it 'til you make it' only lasts so long, and personal development breeds genuine professionalism.
Since giving this presentation, I’ve had people reach out with stories of inspiration, and a willingness to do more, give more, and be more. The model works to inspire Officers to do the work we’re sworn to perform.
I had one attendee write to me: “Great job today wish we could all see the importance of extending ourselves & how much of an impact that makes.” I don’t wish; I just do the work with the hope that others follow.
I had another Officer write to me saying, “My coworker told your story at roll call today. That was awesome work. This is what it's all about.” Yes, this IS what it’s all about; inspiring each other with success stories, when our job is filled with so much despair and negativity.
We can build our own villages in the law enforcement community. Let’s share our successes, and support each other with positive community engagement, and problem solving!
Brené said it best! If we, as Officers, can learn this ONE truth, our lives will change for the better. If we, as Officers, can support this truth with each other, we will shift the culture of policing, and produce Officers who are emotionally intelligent, compassionate, and authentic. Let’s change the narrative.
Allam, Z. (2011). Emotional intelligence at workplace: A psychological review. Global Management Review, 5(2), 71-80. Retrieved from EBSCO Suite database.
Dumbrava, G. (2011). Workplace relations and emotional intelligence. Annals Of The University Of Petrosani Economics, 11(3), 85-92. Retrieved from EBSCO Suite database.