Are You Listening?

imagesAs I read, watch, and think about policing (just about every day!), I see some things occurring that may suggest police are not listening community members regarding critical events that not only affect trustworthiness, but also their effectiveness.

Sometimes, I think that police become frozen in the face of criticism and do not know what to do in the face of it. One thing does not work: hiding and/or “bunkering in” in the face of adversity!

As illustrations, let me identify three examples of critical remarks I tend to hear from community members.

  1. “Couldn’t police have do something other than kill this mentally ill person holding a knife?”

While we have had discussions about de-escalation and the danger of implicit bias, police have been slow to develop, test, and implement less-than-deadly ways of containing disturbed persons who have a threatening weapon other than a firearm.

It would appear to me that we are a highly-technological and innovative society and have the creativity and capacity to develop such instrumentality. In doing so, up to 1/3 of persons killed by police could be avoided. Very few police chiefs are engaging in this necessary conversation or calling for help in this area.

2. “Must police shoot suspects so many times?”

Police weaponry has been on a steep climb since the days of the “six-shooter.” In those days, police were trained to shoot once, then “double-taps” (shooting twice). Officers in those days had to be careful in their use of their limited firepower. Re-loading in a crisis situation was most difficult (sometimes impossible). Now with today’s automatic pistols, which are carried by almost every police officer in our nation, deadly force incidents commonly involve multiple body shots (10-15) which almost certainly results in death. (The Glock 22, is carried by 60-70% of American police officers and holds 15 rounds in a standard magazine.)

This is not only a problem of high-volume magazines, but also of police trainers who advise “shoot until the threat ceases.” which can result in up to 15 shots being fired by a single police officer.

Citizens continue to comment on this magnitude of force used by police.

In response, hear little commentary from our nation’s police leaders about controlling the volume of force used in these situations. Nor have a heard a discussion about going back to “double-tap” shooting.

An additional problem is that use of deadly force has often resulted in police standing by and not immediately responding to the victim’s medical needs. In 2014, the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a report recommending police use the practice of “scoop and run” for shooting victims. (In my own career, as early as the mid-1960s, fellow tactical officers and I agreed that if one of us were shot, we would not wait for an ambulance but, literally, “scoop and run” to the nearest medical ER. This is not a new idea.)

3. “Why do police look so much like soldiers, aren’t they supposed to be civilians like us?”

What began as proper uniforms for SWAT teams, now has infiltrated into regular police dress such as wearing visible body armor, “BDUs” — Battle Dress Uniforms, semi-automatic rifles on patrol, and MRAP armored vehicles. Additionally, the number of SWAT calls has exponentially increased over the years from its original intent to respond to barricaded, dangerous persons to serving warrants and showing up at public protests.

Even SWAT teams have begun to look more like our military by wearing camouflage uniforms (often with no visible personal identification and even in some cities wearing facial masking which makes their identification even more difficult).

If police are going to move away from looking like soldiers, they are going to have to present themselves in ways other than looking like soldiers. How police present themselves to the community matters greatly.

4. “Why do police rush to defend their actions even before a formal investigation is begun?

Most police leaders want to protect their officers and their first reaction is to do so even while understanding that in doing so alienates them from the community they serve. Over the years, I have written about the importance of a police chief to be the “top cop” for BOTH police officers and community members. Needless to say, that job is incredibly difficult and requires strong community support for this to happen.

It is important for police leaders to be open and accountable for the actions of their officers AND still able to inspire confidence in the community — police chiefs exist to be the community’s voice within the police department; to uphold our values as a nation.

What are the critical aspects of effectively responding to these questions? If we look at the elements which make up a person’s Emotional Intelligence we can get a good idea. Let’s be clear about this — the job of a police officer and especially police leader, demands them having a high degree of Emotional Intelligence. We need to concentrate on training and developing this in our police officers.

So, when we put together the practice of Procedural Justice (see below) with Emotional Intelligence, we get the kind of police officers and leaders we need!

The below points illustrate what I am trying to explain.


  1. SELF-AWARENESS: You understand your own strengths and limitations; you operate from competence and understand your feelings. (For instance, being aware of what makes you angry can help you manage that anger.)
  2. SELF-MANAGEMENT: You stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets. You don’t brood or panic. Instead of blowing up at people, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is. 
  3. EMPATHY: You welcome questions. Empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication. You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying.
  4. RELATIONSHIP SKILLS: People feel relaxed working with you. One sign: They laugh easily around you.
  5. INTERNAL MOTIVATION: You have a passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status. You have an inner vision of what is important in life, a joy in doing something, curiosity in learning, a flow that comes with being immersed in an activity. You have a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence. 

More on Emotional Intelligence:

  • Here’s a link to a free and short EI Test based on Daniel Goleman’s work: 
  • And here’s a longer (and perhaps better) EI test for $9.95.
  • Take heart, if you didn’t score as well as you hoped there’s good news — unlike your I.Q., your Emotional Intelligence can be increased. Find out how HERE.


  1. ABLE TO LISTEN (the perception by a citizen that their side of the story has been heard);
  2. BEING RESPECTFUL (their perception that system players treat them with dignity and respect);
  3. BEING NEUTRAL (their perception that the decision-making process is unbiased and trustworthy);
  4. HAVING UNDERSTANDING (their comprehension of the process and how decisions are made); and
  5. BEING HELPFUL (their perception that police are interested in their personal situation and are helpful to the extent that the law allows).

More on Procedural Justice:


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