The Chaplain's Notebook


What does compassion have to do with law enforcement? A lot, in fact …

Compassion is described as a willingness to intentionally assist others and selflessly put their needs ahead of your own without expecting reciprocity. Seen this way, having compassion — and empathy — is a little-acknowledged, but essential ingredient of law enforcement. It’s been demonstrated that members of law enforcement are more likely to be trusted — and are more successful at their jobs — when they demonstrate empathy with those they encounter. People like to talk to people who care.

What about “bad actors?” Do criminals lack empathy? According to Science Daily, research shows psychopathic criminals do not lack empathy, but fail to use it. A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. In this light, empathy is a choice we make. Seeing the world from another’s point of view requires effort.

So why is compassion so important? Compassion is empathy in action. Being open to others enables us to face not only their tough times, but our own tough times with innovation and strength. It helps us get things done by what Buddhists call “skillful means” to deal with the significant stress and sacrifices inherent in our jobs as deputies.

Compassion goes hand in hand with a peaceful mind. Matthew Loux from the American Military University explains the benefits of meditation in his article, “Why Meditation Should Be Part of Every Cop’s Mental Fitness Plan” ( He offers a variety of techniques for “slowing down.” This allows us to take a step back when feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, it offers such benefits as stress reduction, increased happiness, elevated mood, improved brain power and concentration, physical health improvements, as well as self-acceptance and self-awareness.

Gallup (New York: Gallup Press, December 2008) has been researching great leadership for over 30 years. Over three million people have taken the company’s StrengthsFinder assessment. When asked, followers were able to describe exactly what they need from a leader with remarkable clarity: trust, compassion, stability, calmness, hope.

Compassion gets easier with practice. It can become a “positive feedback loop.” People sense it in you. As a routine, it can become contagious, serving you, your families, friends, colleagues and the communities you serve. I encourage you to pay attention to your deeds of kindness. Don’t dismiss them. There’s nothing selfish in noticing how you made even a small difference in someone’s life. Small differences can lead to big change. We never know what lasting effects we may have on the people we encounter.

For most of you, isn’t that a big reason why you became a deputy in the first place? You made a commitment to make ours a better world. And despite what the media might claim these days, you’re doing it!