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Understanding the Benefits of Emotional Intelligence in Law Enforcement

Criminal justice leaders say self-awareness strengthens job performance.

Training law enforcement officers to understand and develop their emotional intelligence (EI) can improve policing and help strengthen bonds and build trust within communities.


That is the assessment of criminal justice professionals like Dr. Jessie Lee, Walden University’s MS in Criminal Justice program director, and Dr. Kimberley Blackmon, a criminal justice academic coordinator at the accredited university.

“Unlike many other professions, law enforcement faces unique challenges on an all-too-frequent basis,” the criminology leaders say. “To combat this, today’s police officers must be acutely aware of their communication skills and prepared to make emotional connections to engage stakeholders in furtherance of meeting the needs of both the agency and the community.”

Since 1995, when psychologist and then-New York Times reporter Daniel Goleman authored Emotional Intelligence, businesses and organizations of all kinds have recognized the value of a workforce trained to harness the power of EI, which Goleman defines as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”1

Goleman says there are five components to emotional intelligence, which sometimes is referred to as emotional quotient (EQ): self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.2 EI “can help people make better decisions,” Goleman says.3 And, law enforcement and training professionals have endorsed the benefits of developing EI competencies.

In “Understanding the Benefits of Emotional Intelligence for Officer Growth and Agency Budgets,” author Timothy W. Turner uses the Bar-On EQ-i™ model to illustrate the benefits of EI. Here are some excerpts from the examples he shares:4


Each category contains “subscales.” Under intrapersonal, they are self-regard, emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, independence, and self-actualization. Officers with low self-regard may lack confidence, self-respect, self-esteem, and leadership ability. “The goal of establishing high self-regard in a law enforcement environment is to increase self-assurance, self-esteem, and confidence—primary goals of every law enforcement academy,” Turner writes. “Accepting oneself and developing inner strength will be the result of increased self-regard and may generate both self-fulfillment and fulfillment with the law enforcement profession.”


Subscales: empathy, social responsibility, and interpersonal relationships Turner says empathy is the competency that can “have the greatest impact and meaning, both within and outside the profession.” Officers with a keenly developed sense of empathy can “read other people’s emotions and pick up on social cues, which allows them to show concern for others. The importance of this competency is the ability of officers, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, coworkers, and friends to make and build personal and emotional relationships,” he says.

Stress Management

Subscales: stress tolerance and impulse control “Officers who tolerate a high level of stress choose the proper course of action for coping with stressful situations and face difficult problems with optimism,” he says. Officers with low stress tolerance may be fearful, reactive, and anxious.


Subscales: Reality testing, flexibility, and problem-solving “Officers skilled in problem-solving use a systematic approach to making decisions, starting with gathering information and then weighing pros and cons,” Turner says. Without good problem-solving abilities, law enforcement officers may “fly by the proverbial seat of their pants,” he says, rather than “looking at the big picture to get at the source of the concern.”

General Mood

Subscales: Happiness and optimism “Optimism is the ability to look at the brighter side of life while maintaining a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity,” Turner says. “Key to relating with others at the station and in the community is keeping a hopeful approach to life and maintaining a positive approach to daily living. Optimistic officers are able to create and sustain positive change through concentrating on their own circles of influence, as opposed to worrying about the concerns of the world. Pessimism, fear, and uncertainty, the results of low levels of optimism, result in time and energy wasted dealing with self-induced stress.”

“After nearly two decades of scientific inquiry, EI is arguably now as legitimate as other psychological approaches,” Gregory Saville writes in The Police Chief magazine.5 “Now of age, EI offers a great deal to police educators, recruiters, and leaders.”

Becoming a Criminal Justice Professional

Earning a master’s degree in criminal justice can prepare you for leadership roles in law enforcement, the court system, corrections, and probation, to name just a few of the possible career fields.

Walden University’s MS in Criminal Justice online degree program offers a General Program and eight specializations covering such contemporary career fields as Cybercrimes, Homeland Security Policy and Coordination, and Public Management and Leadership.

If you’re ready to launch a criminal justice career, Walden’s online BS in Criminal Justice degree program might be the right choice for you. This criminal justice degree program can prepare you for entry-level jobs in law enforcement, corrections, security, and more.

And if you’re further along in your educational and career path and want to progress even further, you may want to enroll in Walden’s PhD in Criminal Justice online degree program. One of the first online criminal justice doctoral programs, Walden’s PhD program gives you the flexibility to earn a degree while working full time and enjoying your personal activities.

Whether you choose to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to become a respected criminal justice professional.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering criminal justice degree programs, including an online MS in Criminal Justice. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,