Should Cops Be Compassionate? Part II


“Compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another along with the wish to do something about it. It is a genuine concern for the other person.”

(Note: If you didn’t see my initial blog on this subject on October 11th you can do so now. Just CLICK HERE.)

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has posted some interesting notes on line (“Leading in Trying Times“) about the role of compassion in leadership. While this work appears to recommend the use of compassion INSIDE the organization, I would ask you to think in a much larger context — the use of compassion OUTSIDE the organization and in the community — our constituents, shareholders and “customers.”

For compassion to be genuine (and a healing influence), the community must know and experience it. Compassion is more than just feelings of empathy, it involves taking ACTION — action to relieve suffering.  And the relief of human suffering can lead to both individual and collective  HEALING.

While chief of police in Madison, Wisc. I had the opportunity to ask for forgiveness when we had made a terrible mistake. But this is even bigger — an organization’s show of compassion — that those in power care — especially when a death has occurred. It think my department was seen as compassionate to the community. But how could I measure it? And how do leaders respond when their organization is perceived by the community as NOT being compassionate? Not concerned about human suffering?

So the question before us is this: How does a police organization show real and genuine compassion to the community when a person dies in their custody or as a result of their action? What specific action(s) should the department take?

Read below what a business school found out about leadership and compassion.



 Starting Assumptions

 Leadership at all levels within an organization is critical for creating a context for meaning and a context for action that, taken together, foster organizational compassion…

1.     The capacity to be compassionate and to express compassion is universal.

            2.      Institutions (work, family, religious, etc.) enable or disable this innate capacity to express compassion…

            3.      The expression of compassion is a healing act for both those who participate and those who receive it.

            4.      Compassion is more than feelings of empathy. It involves taking action (however small) to relieve suffering…

  Providing a Context for Meaning

 1.       A leader’s visibility and a member’s access to leaders during this time create a relational foundation for people’s sense of security and safety. The more access and visibility, the better.

3.      Power of presence and listening. Just being there matters a lot.

4.      The language (used) needs to allow for the expression of pain and human suffering as part of the path toward healing… ‘business speak,’ etc. may not have the same power for healing and encouraging expressions of common humanity that are essential to the activation and coordination of compassion.

5.      Leadership affirmations of an organization’s values, such as “We are a community,” “We value people as whole human beings, not just as employees,” are particularly comforting.

6.      Leaders using their status, visibility and power to:

            (1) communicate what the organization is doing,

            (2) keep communication lines open,

            (3) expedite and make accessible the allocation of resources,

            (4) surpass what people expected or thought was possible.

Creating a Context for Compassionate Action

 1.      Leaders can encourage/enable the use of existing networks (formal and informal links between people inside and outside the organizations) and routines (established and well-used ways of accomplishing tasks) to craft compassionate responses that build on an organization’s current competence…

2.      Early actions matter, symbolically and instrumentally…

3.      There are important amplifier mechanisms… [such as] compassion stories that inspire others to act and which carry wisdom and hope about what is possible in the organization.

[To see the full article CLICK HERE]

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the job of leaders — first to identify compassion as necessary in police work (in order to fulfill the police mission which requires trust and support from the community) and secondly to model compassion in their daily work INSIDE, then OUTSIDE the organization. What do you think? How important do you think compassion is in police work?

I look forward to hearing from you.


1.     Mindfulness, compassion and the police in America.

2.    Policing with compassion in Sierra Leone.

3.    Changing police subculture (FBI magazine).  


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