How Does Your Situational and Self-Awareness Rate?

Do you know the laws (federal, state, local), police procedures, and how they apply? Can you read people, think on your feet, communicate well, and problem solve? Can you do all of these at the same time? In other words, do you practice circus tricks much?

That’s right. A person can’t just occupy a uniform and pin on a badge and expect to be an effective peace officer. Of course, the profession holds much more substance than physical capability. It also requires emotional intelligence. I can guarantee most, if not all, police officer candidates overlook this factor as a preferred characteristic. Perhaps many have never heard of the concept.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to discern your own emotions and the emotions of others around you, while evaluating both in order to guide thinking and actions. A law enforcement officer must not only be a resource of laws, procedures, community programs, and social issues, but he or she must also understand emotional behavior in a way to be able to respond appropriately to another person. Most likely in a law enforcement situation, having ample emotional intelligence will result in many benefits. These benefits include but are not limited to: an appropriate response from the officer and conflict resolution being suitably communicated regardless of whether it is favorable to the receiver.

Officers repeatedly advise a person or steer a person in a direction. The direction is toward an action of behavioral change or a solution to a problem. What does this encompass? Peace officer duties involve such an array of tasks. However, if we were to lump them into one category, it would be “problem solvers.” They are considered problem solvers to any and all social circumstances. I have rescued elderly ladies from flower eating bunnies to making high risk arrests. And then there are those life-threatening situations. Police must be able to come up with a wide assortment of solutions to various social conflicts and criminal violations. Wow. Not only that, they are expected to come up with good ones. Pressure? How then does one’s emotional intelligence become an asset to the job position?

If all solutions were to be free of any flaws, the end result of each police contact would be favorable to all parties. This is just not possible in law enforcement. An officer’s emotional intelligence should help produce a resolution that I would classify as a “modified perfect” one. Is this word jambalaya? What is the meaning of that coin phrase, you might ask? Hmm. Perhaps perfection in a problem solving environment is never attainable. Many of law enforcement outcomes are for the betterment of the sum, not necessarily always an individual.
Law enforcement officials certainly rule the streets with categories of exceptions, black and white policies, law books, and gray matter. I believe, the ultimate result gained from an acceptable level of emotional intelligence is to have formal reasoning accompanied by proper actions in any given human crisis. What does this mean in simple terms?

An officer, first and foremost, must be able to control their emotions in any given situation. At the same time, they must be able to interpret and evaluate emotional behavior from others and respond accordingly to the matter at hand while also relaying reasonable expectations or advice. The concept of emotional intelligence can be explored more in depth by studying the works of psychologists Peter Salovey, John Mayer, Daniel Goleman, among others. It is still debated whether this quality is learned or inherent.

Gauging from my own experiences, I would say it entails both. Looking back at my early career days, I possessed some inherent ability and as the years progressed, this skill gained momentum from acquiring knowledge and experience on the job, formal police training, and further education.

However, having some foundation of emotional intelligence is a quality a prospective employer is looking for in a police candidate. How is this measured during an application process? Organizations will incorporate written exams, practical tasks, role playing, intense interviews, and problem solving scenarios into their testing phases in order to evaluate a candidate for emotional intelligence. They will use these same methods to seek out other skill sets as well.

Effective communication skills are another crucial element to any profession in criminal justice and have a bearing on the level of emotional intelligence a person possesses. You name the career albeit probation officer, police officer, victim-witness advocate, detention officer, etc., and every position requires communication. My interpersonal communication college courses proved to be most useful in my daily street contacts as a police officer. Impromptu speaking was the most valuable.

A person can improve communication skills through practice. Body language is not universal, but can be studied. One can memorize the federal, state, and local laws, study case law, retain police procedures and department policies, and learn how to apply them. You can also obtain knowledge about social responsibility, mediation and compromise, conflict resolution, and incorporate problem solving drills or role playing which give a student diverse problems to face. These components of emotional intelligence can easily be acquired through study and practice. But is this every piece of the ability? No.

How do you- Read people? Evaluate behaviors? Control your emotions? Be reasonable? Perceive the situation accurately? Appropriately mediate? Offer resolutions, solutions, or solve complex problems and make quick decisions? Good questions. You can develop these modules with experience and on the job training, but your unit of being has to contain some natural ability. Natural ability can be minute or grand in scale. Whether it is born and/or developed is irrelevant to a law enforcement employer. Just mark it off the checklist of desired skills an organization is looking for in a candidate. Law enforcement agencies want leaders with personal and social competencies.