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Empathy and Policing with Senior Sergeant Kelly McAuliffe

Updated: Apr 22


Episode 4 - The Professional Empathy Podcast

Empathy and Policing with Snr Sergeant Kelly McAuliffe

Listen on Podomatic or on your favourite podcast platform (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google)

In this episode of The Professional Empathy Podcast (previously Listening at the Orange Door) we speak to Senior Sergeant Kelly McAuliffe about empathy in Policing and the Qld Police Service. We learn about what the QPS are doing to take care of and enhance the mental health of their members and their families as well as create greater engagement with the public. It was a beautiful, inspiring chat and I hope you enjoy it.


[01:01] - Kelly’s backstory and her role in the police service

[03:54] - Red tape is interfering with service delivery and mental health of police

[05:12] - A greater focus is given now on the individual well being of members

[08:12] - Do they use the language of empathy in police

[10:11] - It is easy to forget why you’ve joined the police

[12:57] - How do they educate people that aren’t in the workplace

[15:04] - Barriers that she is finding to have conversations about empathy

[16:05] - How does she change someone’s negative belief about police

[18:49] - What do they do to get the sense of self-empathy and self-care

[24:56] - What are the perceptions of police by the public and how you internalize it

[29:00] - How do you get over the hurdle of people’s negative vibe about police

[33:52] - How do you measure success in a team

[35:22] - What can the public do to make the job of police easier


How did we meet and what is your role in the police department?

Senior Sergeant Kelly: I've been a Queensland Police officer for 23 years. When we met, I was on a career break, where you can take time out, leave without pay, go and explore other horizons that are out there, but you still have a job to come back to.

In that period of time, I went out and did some public speaking, connecting an intergenerational workforce space, working on real human-to-human connections.

When I joined, I was a more operational-focused officer and worked in areas like child protection, helping victims of crime, helping people rehabilitate with federal agencies. My role now is more focused internally on our members to help them be the best possible version of themselves when they serve the people of Queensland.

What changes are needed in the organisation?

Senior Sergeant Kelly: We've got to be mindful as a prominent organization moving forward and trying to keep up to speed with the pace of change. We have to think that systems made 5, 10, 15 years ago, are they still relevant today? Do they need to be refreshed, revised? Is there any need for them at all?

Or are there new areas of concern that we need to focus on? And that's everything from our day-to-day tasks to our day-to-day well-being. To our interactions and partnerships with other areas, everything needs to be reviewed, refreshed, and constantly changed to meet the new demands that we're all getting confronted with.

Current status and need for empathy in the police service

Senior Sergeant Kelly: There's almost always the talk about the communication levels and the understanding required to perform this role, explicitly calling those three layers of empathy. But there's a lot more focus on that now because, as in our work, a lot of people are very good at giving out, but not giving in and focusing on themselves.

That's been a huge catalyst for realizing that police suicides are increasing every year, and that's not okay. So it's really about stepping in, and providing the referral pathways, providing the ease to listen, and realizing that we need to provide human-to-human contact. We can fall very easily into the trap of tasks, tasks, tasks, control, control, etc.

So we need to consider listening in and offering help rather than being reactive once an officer hits rock bottom and he's in desperate need of assistance.

It is easy to forget why you've joined the police

Senior Sergeant Kelly: It's very easy over the years, to forget your true purpose, your true calls, why you're here, why you were doing that. And it's about bringing people back to that reason why they joined, go back to why you're here, why did you choose to sign up to do this work knowing right from the get-go it wasn't going to be easy. And then tap back into that emotion to care and lead with your heart. That's why you're in this job. So if you've changed look back to reflect your purpose.

How do you educate the people that aren't in the workplace about your work?

Senior Sergeant Kelly: We can't just work with the officers themselves, we need to bring the whole family along for the news of what we're doing. So when there are special events or special speakers that come in, it's no longer just open to the staff member, the family members are welcome to come along.

So they get a snippet of what it is actually like for their loved one in that workplace. Because some officers at home don't talk about work, or some officers have a partner who's not also in the police, therefore, the full understanding is not there. So we've opened up that mindset to anything that happens with any of our officers involves their whole life, their whole people inside and outside of this job.

Self-empathy and self-care in policing

Senior Sergeant Kelly: There's constant messaging that comes out for us in our in a range of different forms. So we have something as simple as screensavers that flash up that will remind people about health, the importance of exercise, we'll have a general notification that emails that go out to everybody about particular events we're having.


Hi! I'm Leanne Butterworth, Empathy Speaker and Educator, University Lecturer and Mental Health Advocate.

Empathy First is a Brisbane-based social enterprise offering Empathy workshops, online courses and individual Empathy coaching to help you build connection and strengthen your relationships for personal and professional success.

Contact me today and let's talk about how you can put Empathy First.

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