7 Soft Skills Every Law Enforcement Officer Needs

The very nature of law enforcement, corrections, and other careers in the criminal justice system demands that you are able to appropriately interact with a variety of people, in a variety of situations, at any given time.

Unsurprisingly, working in law enforcement means that not many people are going to be happy to see you. This is especially when they know that any bad actions may be displayed on their national police check.


The skills you’ll use in day to day policing may not necessarily be the hard skills that you acquired in professional training. They are soft skills you’ll need to develop in order to be truly effective at the job.

So, what are the soft skills that all law enforcement officers need to have?


Empathy is the ability to understand somebody else’s feelings; putting yourself in their shoes, so to speak. Having empathy allows you to form a deeper appreciation of what others are experiencing. In turn, it leads to more positive interactions between law enforcement officers and the people that they encounter.

Recent research examined the role of empathy in community relations, revealing that when officers listen and express understanding during interactions with citizens, they were more likely to be:

  1. Trusted
  2. Understood
  3. Legitimized
  4. Deemed effective in protecting the community.

The research also found that citizens empathized with by police were also more likely to believe that the outcome of their interaction was deserved and fair, even if it eventually resulted in a ticket or even an arrest. This was particularly true for individuals who experienced high emotions during their encounters with law enforcement.

Nonverbal Communication Skills:

When making complaints about their interactions with police and other law enforcement officers, people often say that it’s not what was said, but how it was said.

Non-verbal communication is the cues that we send to others through anything other than words; facial expressions, tone, enunciation, and gestures often carry more weight than the actual words we use when it comes to how our messages are received.

As a police or law enforcement officer, it’s crucial to be aware of the signals that your nonverbal communication sends to individuals that you encounter.  It can play a critical part in mitigating conflict and easing tension.


You can learn more about what to expect from the day-to-day job of an enforcement officer when you take this program here, but what you might not be fully prepared for at any point in your training is the unpredictability of the job.

Each individual call to service is often dynamic and fluid, meaning that police officers need to be flexible and adaptable – not just to the changing social climate and rapidly evolving technologies needed to do their job, but also to each individual situation as it unfolds.

To provide real service to their communities, law enforcement officers must do the following when it comes to challenges:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Adapt
  3. Overcome

Observation and Critical Thinking:

Following on from above, it’s clear to see that there’s no such thing as a routine call when your career is in law enforcement. In order to be effective, a good officer must possess the ability to quickly and efficiently evaluate and analyze observations, interactions, facts, and any further information in order to make safe, practical decisions on their feet.

If they are going to be able to help members of the community resolve conflicts and solve issues, officers must have sharp critical thinking skills.

Keep observational skills are absolutely essential. You must be able to visually, mentally, and emotionally assess a situation; this could be the difference between life and death, whether your own or that of others.

That’s why detail-oriented individuals tend to make the best law enforcement officers as they are able to identify small, yet hugely important details at a moment’s notice.

Active Listening:

Working in law enforcement is not all about high-speed chases and catching criminals. As a police officer, you will be often spending your time with people who just want to be heard and listened to. Whether they’re community members looking to you for help or victims of a crime, active listening skills will ensure that your audience feels both appreciated and understood.

Correctly interpreting and understanding the needs of others is key to active listening. In addition to being important when dealing with victims, it’s a skill that’s massively important if you need to resolve a conflict.

How do you improve your active listening skills? During your conversations, practice by:

  1. Approaching each dialogue with the goal of learning something
  2. Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker
  3. Ask broad questions to open and guide the conversation
  4. Ask specific questions to focus the conversation
  5. Summarize what you’re told and ask questions to ensure that you understand correctly
  6. Offer positive feedback and encouragement
  7. Listen for the real message; it may be non-verbal or emotional
  8. Pay attention to the responses that you give


Building trust is a critical aspect of a successful career as a law enforcement officer. In this career you will need to be constant communication with citizens; listening to their needs and wants and building a strong rapport with those who you work with on a day-to-day basis.

The perception of law enforcement is created by the relationships that law enforcement officers have with community members, community officials and the media. Building trust means:

  1. Keeping promises
  2. Promoting community safety and security
  3. Avoiding actions that could undermine trust

Conflict Resolution:

Unfortunately, conflict is a large part of any career in law enforcement. Using the soft skills mentioned above, you will be in a better position to resolve any conflicts in situations that you are responsible for attending.

It’s crucial for officers to be able to de-escalate conflicts peacefully. During a conflict or a situation that threatens to turn into a conflict, ask yourself:

  • Can I find a way to resolve this situation?
  • Are emotions running too high to reach a compromise?
  • What can I say to bring this situation to a peaceful end for all parties involved?

Which of these soft skills do you already possess, and which will you be working on throughout your law enforcement career?