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Race + Racism

Empathic Policing

Empathy and Justice
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And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose. But Americans have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things as the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals.

At our best we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions. And it’s not nearly a matter of tolerance. But of learning of the struggles and stories of our fellow citizens and finding our better selves in the process


Inspector Allen said the theme of the TEDx talk was ‘#challenge accepted’, with speakers expected to put a challenge out to their listeners.

“Police have always felt empathy, but now they do more than feel it—they act on it. My challenge was for other organisations to take on empathy and act on it. It might be out of the scope of their core business but it makes them better people,” he said.

Watch Inspector Allen’s talk below or visit TEDxSouthBank website here.

Steven Dyer believes tuning in to other cultures prevents overreaction by police, but not all agree. 
...Dyer is now exposing his students to a wide range of cultures, ideologies and viewpoints, an “empathy-based” approach that he hopes will prepare them for the diverse world they’ll face....

But so far he’s in a minority. Police officers and those involved in criminal justice education in Maine say the answer to current problems in law enforcement are simpler, and that empathy for other points of view won’t help.


Richmond police chief: 'All lives matter. That's really what community policing should be about.'

When Chris Magnus first moved to Richmond, Calif., in 2006, he would hear gunshots at night, sometimes very close to his house. That would be disturbing to anyone, but it was especially so to Magnus, as he had just been hired to be Richmond's new chief of police....

The term “community policing” has become such a buzz phrase that “Pretty much every department, if you ask them, would say they're doing community policing,” says Magnus, “And I think most believe it. But the challenge is: is community policing really policing the community in the way that the community wants to be policed, or is it driven by the police department?”

Magnus' approach has been to build partnerships with the community at every opportunity, learning from the residents what their priorities are, in order to define where resources should go.

by Brad Marshland


The way law enforcement deals with the mentally ill has come under scrutiny following a spate of officer-involved shootings across the nation. But Hulse said news reports miss the success stories between law enforcement and the public they protect.

"We handle literally hundreds and hundreds of cases where everything went right and we de-escalated the individual and nobody got hurt," Hulse said.

Hulse said the training he administers to his officers is what stops crises and protects the public. But beyond that, he said empathy with people struggling is the real key to solving these issues.

Hulse hosts a voluntary crisis intervention training every year in April. He said a number of officers participate in the 40-hour training innovated by the Memphis Police Department.

The training, called the "Memphis Method" focuses on empathy with those having a mental health crisis.


New training programs that help police to listen, stay calm, and communicate during charged encounters may lead to fewer arrests and less use of force.

While the research is largely preliminary, some of the findings suggest that empathy—being able to see interactions from another’s perspective and understand the emotions involved—may play an important role in policing. 

Helping police to slow down their encounters with the public and to practice more respectful and empathic communication could go a long way toward reducing excessive force and unnecessary arrests, leading to more acceptance of their presence and role in the communities they are hired to protect.

By Jill Suttie

Chad Posick, Georgia Southern University

My associates and I have reviewed recent research and done some additional analyses to pin down what is currently known about empathy – and perceptions of empathy – in the realm of crime and justice. When other factors, like age, sex, race, education, and income are taken into account, empathy turns out to matter in several ways:

Empathetic people are less likely to engage in delinquency or crime. But those who have trouble perceiving how others feel, and have difficulty sharing those feelings, are more likely to engage in wrongful acts – everything from minor juvenile delinquency to the most serious of violent crimes. 
Empathy affects how people think about crime and punishment in complex ways. People capable of empathy tend to support tough punishments for crime, but at the same time they are less likely to call for the harshest punishments, such as the death penalty.
Empathy and perceptions of empathy help to shape the interactions of police and members of the communities they are assigned to protect. Research on citizen interactions with the police has consistently indicated that the way officers behave determines how they are evaluated by people with whom they interact. When we probe in detail, it turns out community members have more positive evaluations of the police when officers communicate that they understand the issues that matter to community members. Studies specifically show that the police are more likely to be trusted and considered effective at their jobs when they display empathy with the community’s concerns.

"Victim empathy work helps them to acknowledge that it is real people that they have harmed. Empathy engenders a sense of shared experience, and an identification with and understanding of the other person's situation, feelings and motives. Empathy has the potential to profoundly change our interactions with one another."

Pete Wallis is the senior practitioner in restorative justice for Oxfordshire Youth Offending Service. He has facilitated hundreds of restorative meetings and written or co-authored several books and articles on the subject including, 
Understanding Restorative Justice: How Empathy Can Close the Gap Created by Crime and
What Have I Done?: A Victim Empathy Programme for Young People. 

In 2011 he set up a charity to support young crime victims, and he is a consultant for the new Restorative Services Quality Mark.

Scott G. Erickson

Critics have suggested that much of the tension that shrouds police and community relations could be softened if only the police would better understand the unique experiences and worldview of those with whom they interact, particularly within communities of color.

This is absolutely true. Empathy is a vitally important element of effective policing. But to be truly effective, empathy must be shared and understood as a two-way street.



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