Study in Stress: Londonderry Police Officer on the Value of 'Emotional Intelligence' on Duty

May 9, 2018

A Police Cruiser's blue lights.
Credit NHPR File Photo

How does the stress police officers endure relate to their emotional intelligence? This is a question Londonderry Police Sgt. Michael McCutcheon pursued while earning a doctorate in education at Rivier University in Nashua. 

McCutcheon joined Morning Edition host Rick Ganley on May 7 to discuss his research and advanced degree. 

What are we talking about when we use the term emotional intelligence?

We're looking at how people perceive emotions and other people and in themselves and then how they would use those emotions in police work, hopefully come to an amicable solution to a problem that's presented.

So it's not just empathy,  is it.

No it's more than empathy because emotions are information. And so for police work, when we're getting called to a situation, those situations are usually highly charged and highly emotional and police need to be able to recognize the emotional part of why people are behaving the way they are so that they can use those emotions to solve the problem.

What made you want to research emotional intelligence and how it relates to police work?

I've been a police officer for 18 years and I see that police are constantly exposed to traumatic and stressful circumstances. And I wanted to find something that could help police officers deal with the day-to-day stress. And then also deal with traumatic events, significant traumatic events, so that they can protect themselves from the negative psychological effects of dealing with those situations.

You say the police work has become even more stressful over time.  There's there's increased scrutiny on police officers day to day are asked to you know to do an awful lot in our community. How does awareness around emotional intelligence help with that?

Historically police were expected to experience traumatic and stressful events and be OK with them. Now we're seeing that that has severe negative effects on their well-being. And now we can have a discussion and utilize things like emotional intelligence and increasing our emotional intelligence to protect them from having these negative effects. So it's always been there, it's just something now that we're able to talk about more openly and accept new ideas of how we can deal with them.

Let's talk about your academic journey your doctoral graduation coming up this month. Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D?

I've always enjoyed teaching and I've always enjoyed learning and it was kind of something that I could combine them both. My doctorate is in education and I've been teaching at the collegiate level since 2007. And I wanted to continue this as I grew up. I was a police officer and then when I am able to retire I would like to continue to teach. Being enrolled in the program, I'm much better prepared to create programs that are exceptional for police officers. And so it really was a driving force to just be the best teacher that I could be.

It's unusual isn't it to have an officer on the beat who also has a doctorate. Are you encouraging your fellow officers to continue their education? Do you think it's really beneficial to a lot of cops?

I do. There are several programs that police departments offer. Tuition reimbursement. I know where I work in Londonderry, they have been very generous in their tuition reimbursement program. I think that even if it's not a criminal justice-related field, any higher education is going to benefit the officers because it provides you that opportunity to hear other opinions and be surrounded by people that may not have the same opinions as you and you need to work through that. So there are constant exercises of communicating with other people and writing properly and clearly, and being able to communicate clearly in written words. So I think that those type of things are important no matter what field of study you're going to look at.

Do your fellow officers, or does your chief call you doctor?

You know, they do. Sometimes the nickname is just doc, and sometimes that sticks. But most of them have known me for such a long time, they still call me Mike.

Well, you earned it, so we'll call you Doctor. We'll call you Doctor Sgt. Mike McCutcheon