law enforcement

MI and Law Enforcement

Each day, Howard Gardner receives several general inquiries or pointed questions related to applications of the theory of multiple intelligences.

In the exchange below, Gardner received a note from a police training officer seeking advice on how to incorporate MI into training for law enforcement personnel.

Read the original note and Gardner's response below.

Good morning Dr. Gardner,

I am part of a training group in my local police force (Police Training Officers, or PTOs) that has been tasked with the creation of a manual of problem based learning exercises to assist new officers in becoming considerate and understanding. I would like to use the theory of multiple intelligences as well as the concept of emotional intelligence in the manual.

Our questions, as basic as they may be, are:

1. What are your thoughts on the applicability of your theory to law enforcement?

2. How can each component of MI be used to assist the development of police officers in America today?

Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your insight.


Police Trainer


Dear Police Trainer,

Many thanks for your thoughtful note. I am pleased and flattered that you and your colleagues think that the MI ideas we have developed might be useful in the education of police officers and future training officers (PTOs). At the start, I have to admit that I know very little about the training of police—in the past or today—and much of what I know is based either on old television shows or movies or on my scanning of newspaper headlines over the past years.

Therefore, I ask that you consider these notes to be "general advice" for educating professionals in general, rather than advice that is particularly targeted to your specific colleagues and future colleagues. (For that reason, I am posting the response here on MI Oasis.)

To begin with, the most important implication of MI theory for any profession, including law enforcement officers, is an appreciation that both their colleagues, and equally the individuals to whom they respond, may think quite differently from the ways in which they themselves do. For example, reflecting on an event that he/she witnesses, one person may convert the event into a story to be retold, another may see it much like a movie, a third will think about how the participants felt and reacted, and so on. My set of eight intelligences lay out the principal ways in which experiencers "code" and "recode" events at the time, for their memory, and for how they share these recollections with others. The more that one is cognizant of this fact of life, the less likely one will blunder—and of course, in law enforcement, such blunders can be fatal, as we’ve seen all too often in the last few years.

Another important implication of MI theory is how one assembles teams of peers, as well as teams of supervisors and rookies. Of course, there should be some expectations of all members of the team—for example, senses of responsibility, loyalty, and helpfulness. But in general, teams perform in superior fashion if they contain individuals who have complementary skills and approaches. Rather than having a dozen carbon copies of the chief, or the former chief, teams perform more effectively if a few members are more logical/analytic, a few have a very good "person sense," a few are very sensitive to the environment—both physical and interpersonal—and so on. These disparate individuals will likely have different "takes" on what happens/happened, and what should be done, and these diverse stances should result in a fuller understanding of situations and how those situations should be followed up.

Understanding others (interpersonal intelligence) is crucial, but equally important is a good understanding of yourself (intrapersonal intelligence)—how you think, how (and under what circumstances) you react, what are your strong and weak points, and how to use this profile in a constructive way. I am grateful to my colleagues Tom Hoerr and Mindy Kornhaber for these pointers.

Now that police units (and observers) are likely to record events, the skills of recording and interpreting need to be added to the repertoire of police teams.

In the last years, I have provisionally added a new intelligence to my original eight. I call it “pedagogical" or "teaching" intelligence. We all know that there can be two people who are equally skilled at some activity; one can easily teach/explain it to others, while the second is quite stymied, ends up repeating himself, and is very insensitive to what the learner is picking up and how. You should be alert to the power of teaching intelligence and place good teachers in appropriate positions.

I could go on, but I hope that these notes convey how I am thinking about the training of officers and, more generally, how MI theory can be helpful to those who are charged with the formation of the next generation of professionals. If you have any thoughts or criticisms, I’d be pleased to hear them.

With best wishes,