EQ: The Diversity of Emotional Intelligence in Policing

One needn't look far to find an online video of some copper somewhere losing his temper.

Relax, gender police. I use the masculine pronoun here because of two reasons: #1. Statistically, there's more men in policing. But more importantly...#2. Women police officers are almost never the star attractions in these cops-flipping-out videos. So back at it...

I'm about to enter my third decade of policing. In nearly twenty years on the force, I've let my emotions get the best of me more than a handful of times. I'm not talking about the tears of sadness after leaving the scene of a brutal crime, a deadly accident, a suicide, a failed family, or an abused kid.

I'm referring to the instances where I unnecessarily responded to someone by taking the low road of sarcasm, intimidation, disrespect, insult, name calling, or attitude. Of those times I can recall, I look back on them with embarrassment. Simply, those were times that I lost.

I got introduced to the concepts of Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) late in my police career.

The more I study EQ, the more aspects of policing I see that can benefit from it. My own experiences in American law enforcement have included positions as: uniformed street cop, tactical officer, crisis interventionist, detective, trainer, project manager, and team supervisor. Each of these roles can be enhanced by a deeper understanding of EQ.

Curiously missing from many of these roles and positions are sustained discussions of "the psychological game" - the components of human engagement and conflict. Without delving too deeply into the particulars of EQ(the infographic above gives plenty of foundation), I offer these questions:

  • regulate our own emotions when challenged?
  • maintain calm under stress?
  • introduce ourselves to citizens (rank + last name; first name; nickname)?
  • use humor, self-depreciation, or sarcasm with the public?
  • regain our composure when we realize we're losing our cool?
  • handle our own fears and anger?
  • admit mistakes and errors?
  • recognize emotional, cognitive crises or mental illness?
  • modify our approach with those persons-in-crisis?
  • adapt to our lack of sleep and fatigue?
  • identify our own personal "trigger points" that set us off? 
  • reply to questions that make us uncomfortable?
  • respond when we do not have the answer?
  • ensure everyone maintains a sense of dignity?
  • engage with those with views/lifestyles/choices we deem as wrong?
  • give people a sense of control or ownership? 
  • respond to allegations of wrong-doing?
  • respond to non-compliance to commands or requests?
  • manipulate time, distance & tone in engagement?
  • use tone and body language to elicit the best response?
  • discern between threat & non-threat?
  • articulate behavioral clusters or analysis?
  • use intimidation for compliance or treat mitigation?
  • reply to questions about our personal life, families, home life?
  • recognize the impact of wearing sunglasses during conversations?
  • respond to an outstretched hand for a handshake?
  • approach interviews with witnesses?
  • approach interrogations with suspects?
  • respond to denial in suspects?
  • build rapport with suspects?
  • introduce conflicting evidence to lying suspects?
  • introduce ourselves to suspects (rank + last name; first name; nickname)?
  • solicit truth from those unwilling to give it?
  • show (dis)respect to suspects?
  • show compassion with victims?
  • give direction/commands to our subordinates?
  • praise our subordinates?
  • expect subordinates address us (rank + last name; first name; nickname)?
  • address poor performance/attitude in our subordinates?
  • motivate our subordinates?
  • influence our own supervisors?
  • impose our authority over subordinates? 
  • address allegations of wrongdoing with complaining citizens?
  • support/back subordinates in public / in front of others?
  • guide/correct/steer subordinates in public / in front of others?
  • handle discord between our team members?
  • respond to inappropriate locker room humor? 
TRAINING. How do we:
  • create environment for emotional learning?
  • handle debate between students?
  • address students with whom we disagree?
  • respond to evidence disproving our theories?
  • engage disruptive behavior in classroom/courses?
  • appreciate experiences of veteran student officers?
  • solicit life experiences of rookie student officers?
I've written entire blog posts on single bullet points listed above. They each include varying levels of complexity, uncertainty, and conflicted variables. Within the police community, there is a lack of harmony (and often a healthy one at that) on how EQ should or should not factor into each of these roles and situations.

I contend that police culture needs to more fully embrace Emotional Intelligence as a vital and missing piece to human engagement and conflict. EQ has been one of my focal points in police training - both formally in course curriculum and informally among my teams and peers. It's shifting our culture, our values, and our philosophy. Our officers and detectives hit the street with different tools and different mindsets....and I see officers repeatedly and consistently winning the psychological battles. (Secret: And citizens win too!)

If you're one to think that EQ is "soft policing," I'd have agreed with you a dozen years ago. I ignored it for too long in my own journey as a policeman. I failed a lot and relied on emotionally intelligent partners and supervisors to bail me out of conflict and complaint. I learned the hard way. And I'm more than willing to share my experiences (and the map of of landmines I've stepped on along the way) with you. Simply, because if you're discounting EQ in policing, you'll likely to be running into the same frustrations as I did.

And every now and then...I still lose. But a lot less often than I used to.

At least that's what my citizen complaint file says.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


  1. thanks for this honest reflection....researching emotional intelligence and am pleased to have found your work. Wishing you the best for the future and thank you for this genuine piece! Keep safe in your police work!

    1. I agree with your post and respect the transparency of this information.

  2. I am a Trainer in the private security industry. After studying various threads on EQ, yours gave me a better understanding of the subject.
    Thank you Sir


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