Empathic Policing

Some people are good at putting themselves in another person’s shoes. Others may struggle to relate. But many psychologists argue that empathy isn’t a fixed trait.

The following discussion by Shankar Vedantam and Jamil Zaki talks about how to exercise our empathetic muscles.

The question for us is this: How important is empathy to policing?

Listen to this podcast on “Hidden Brain.”

“EMPATHY is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own. Empathy facilitates prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that people behave in a more compassionate manner.

“Although there may be individual differences in empathy based on genetic differences, research suggests it is possible to boost the capacity for empathic understanding…” (My emphases.) (From Psychology Today.)

With this in mind, I am convinced that empathy is an important capability in policing. Consider officer discretion. How might we expect a police officer to properly us his/her discretion without being able to “put themselves in another person’s shoes?” Being an empathic person also helps us to behave in a more compassionate manner. I would also add that being empathic helps a person act more respectfully, thereby building trust (as that person would wish to be treated).

There are ways to assess a person’s capacity to be empathic and through proper training and leadership, a person’s capacity to be empathic can be increased. It can be tested. And that’s some good news!

I invite you to listen to the above podcast and think about how this might be important for the improvement of policing.

(Note: the key to learning from the above podcast may be the ability to properly manage empathy.)


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