Empathy in Law Enforcement
For the police, the motto of “Protect and Serve” is a noble ambition. Officers, departments and administration prove time and again that they’re committed to these principles at their very core. But on a daily basis, officers face horrors, dangers, despair and scrutiny most of us could never imagine.
In these high-stress jobs, compassion, patience and understanding can “run dry”. We struggle to maintain the empathy needed to “protect, serve, and keep officers safe. Let’s explore 5 important ways fostering empathy can enhance officer safety, then take a look at some ways to improve empathy on the force.
While the below list is focused on police, empathy goes for all of us that interact with police. By acknowledging police as humans with the same emotions as us sets up both sides to enter encounters with empathy. They want to be safe and go home to their families at the end of the day.
- Safely De-escalating a Dangerous Situation
When we use empathic skills, we better understand the feelings and motives of others. We can more accurately predict actions of both our fellow officers and a person with whom we may be engaged in a tense situation.
Empathy guides our words and actions. Officers can think more quickly like an improv actor. They know what to say and how to say it. They can turn a would-be disastrous situation into just a close call.
- Earning the Trust of Witnesses and the Community
Those officers who maintain empathy on the job connect with the community. Witnesses are more willing to come forward when we ask the questions empathically because we’ve demonstrated that we care about our community and everyone in it.
- Reaching Troubled Youth Early
People who show empathy can help bring out empathy in others. Adolescents in tough home and street situations may be headed down a path of crime. But when people in positions of authority show them kindness and patience, they often begin to explore their own more empathic side. And empathic people commit less crime because they can put themselves in the shoes of others more easily.
This doesn’t only apply to youths. But youths are in that stage when a kind word can more quickly turn things around for them.
- Seeing Those Who Commit Crimes as People First
When people see someone, they often see a label first:
These labels lead to snap judgments that alter the entire tone of the conversation. Empathy helps us see a person first. We see the qualities we share and can connect more effectively with even those who commit crime. This improves outcomes and prevents things from taking a turn for the worse.
- Preventing Tragic Deaths of Officers and Civilians
Because we’re seeing people first, we save lives. We’re don’t allow fear and anxiety to cloud our judgment. We can more quickly and clearly assess individuals, threats, and situation to save lives.
Fostering Empathy In Law Enforcement
- Realize that empathy starts at the top. When the higher-ups demonstrate empathy, it encourages empathy throughout. Show that you value empathy during the hiring process.
- Recognize that anyone can make a difference. When one officer shows empathy to fell officers, suspects and the community, it’s contagious.
- Know that departments can do more to foster empathy through team meetings, reinforcing empathic behavior and team building activities. For example, Improv classes are a fun and effective way to help officers explore the empathic side they may think they don’t have.
Often the key to enhancing officer safety isn’t found in more drills, but in empowering officers to explore and reaffirm their natural abilities to understand and connect with others.
A few example modules include:
- Magic Words: Communication and “Yes, And”
- On the Spot: Public Speaking and Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright
- Heal Thyself: Humor and Self Care
- Let Go: Stress Reduction Through Improv
- Us is More: Group Mind and Team-Building
- Feelin’ It: Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
- and many more . . .