During these trying days of law enforcement, the need for good cops has never been greater, which begs the question, “What is it that makes for a good cop?” Some people respond by talking about training, knowledge, and experience, all of which are very important. The one always making the good cases and good arrests is very often seen as a good cop. And of course, the officer’s number of arrests is often referred to—it’s the one who has made more DUI cases or felony drug cases that is often the one who gets the recognition and reputation of being a good cop.
Most officers known for such accomplishments are the way they are, not only because of specialized training and an unusual ability to pick up on the sign of the criminal in action, but they also have a good work ethic.
However, in my humble opinion, there are some other qualities that might be even more important than what we most often associate with being a good cop.
Integrity. To me, this is a no-brainer. A lack of integrity will eventually be the ruin of those who have the knowledge, training and experience.
Integrity is defined in a number of ways But one definition has to do with a rigid adherence to a code or standard of values. In my mind this rigid adherence to something calls for determination, effort, and being deliberate. Integrity doesn’t just happen, especially since it goes against the very nature of man. It has to be intentional.
Integrity is also defined as the state of being unimpaired. When we think of being unimpaired we usually think of being sober and in a condition to operate a motor vehicle. By the same token, being men and women of integrity, we are also unimpaired in the performance of our duties. Dishonesty, corruption, and giving no thought to our actions will have a debilitating effect on our profession.
Finally, it is defined as the quality or condition of being whole or undivided. You just can’t be dishonest and honest at the same time. You are either one or the other. It’s a matter of having a one-track mind in what we are doing. It’s a matter of making up our mind that we are going to do the right thing and that we will not deviate from that course of conduct.
In simple terms, integrity is doing the right thing at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reasons.
This has always been one of my passions as it relates to everyone, and in particular, to law enforcement. Those of us who wear the badge and uniform are being scrutinized more than ever. Though none of us are perfect and we all will make mistakes, we must endeavor to be, what the Bible calls, blameless.
There will be times that we will be accused of something. People will file complaints. There will be times that we will be the object of an internal affairs investigation. Be that as it may, we need to do our job in such a way that we will be able to rise above any accusation and be found blameless. And when found to be in error, it will be the person of integrity who will admit the mistake and make an effort to make it right.
If nothing else is ever said of me, I want it to be said that I was a man of integrity.
Dependability. There are a lot of people who depend on us as police officers. Of course, there is the community, who depends on us to keep them safe. Even those who do not have warm feelings for the police depend on us—whether they want to admit it or not. Sometimes the ones we are taking to jail will actually admit that they know we are just doing our job. Suffice it to say the people of our communities need to know that we are out there, doing what we have been called to do.
Speaking as a supervisor, and also as one who has had to work a beat as well, I have a perspective on being dependable that I never had when I was a patrol officer. To me, it’s a matter of not having to wonder if my officers are going to show up for work, that they will show up on time and that they are fit for duty. It’s a matter of not having to wonder if my officers are going to do the job they are expected to do while they are on patrol. It’s a matter of not having to deal with an issue with one of my officers for the third or fourth time.
I know that I can depend on one of my colleagues to have my back in an “officer needs assistance” incident. The problem is when that same officer cannot be depended upon to show up on time and ready to carry out his or her duty.
This is not rocket science. It’s simply exercising a good work ethic. Incidentally, Urban Dictionary defines work ethic as “the apparently foreign concept (at least in the U.S.) that people should work hard to get the job done no matter how much they’re being paid.”
People Skills. It has been said, and in a joking manner, that if it wasn’t for people this job would be easy. It could also be said that if it wasn’t for people, no one would have a job. People can be the most difficult part of any career. Even as a zoo keeper or veterinarian, you have to deal with people. Having good people skills is a must if you want to be a good cop, or good at whatever it is you do.
As a pastor for 20 years and now as a cop, I can tell you that if you do not have the ability to deal with people in a healthy manner, you can count on being miserable.
Many of these skills are natural to some people, depending upon their personality, up-bringing and other such factors. Many of these skills have to be learned, and usually the hard way. And the fact that there are so many books and seminars on the subject of dealing with difficult people proves that we need all the help we can get.
This is probably one of the most crucial aspects of law enforcement. And developing skills to do this job is going to take more than reading a book, especially since some people are literally impossible to deal with. No matter what you do or say they are not going to like you and they are not going to change.
One thing that I have learned and have to remind myself of on a regular basis is realizing that I have no control over other people—but I do have control over how I deal with other people. The words I use, the way I use them, the look on my face when I say them, all come from the skills we have to deal with those who make life so much “fun.” Reminds me of the way someone has defined the skill of using tact; which they say is the “ability to tell someone to go to hell and make them look forward to the trip.” When you can pull off something like that you have probably acquired some pretty good people skills.
Humility. This is that one quality that if you have to tell someone you have it, you probably don’t. This is also that one quality that might keep you alive.
One thing you need to have in law enforcement is confidence. If you are going to confront someone in an attempt to enforce the law, you might end up facing a Goliath. This would be one of those moments that you need to have the confidence that you are able to do what is necessary to accomplish the task.
As a law enforcement instructor, for example, you need confidence in yourself and the subject matter on which you are about to teach. If it’s not there, your students will probably know it. Everyone needs to have confidence in themselves and their ability to perform whatever task it is they have to perform. The problem comes when you think you are better than you actually are. If that is the case, and people can pick up on that too, you will not be a person of humility.
In my humble opinion, humility is that one quality that keeps you honest about yourself and about others. It reminds you that you are human and capable of failure and making the same kinds of mistakes as the guy you just arrested for that minor city code violation. It keeps you on the ground when you give that guy a traffic citation for the same violation you might have committed on your way to work. Humility is that quality that helps you remember what it was like being a rookie when your trainee makes the same kind of mistakes you did. Yet sometimes I wonder if we are hard on one another, not as a way of helping one another learn, but as a way of somehow compensating for our own failures and our own inability to admit how flawed we really are.
Being a good cop has a lot to do with character. And from the looks of things in the world of today’s law enforcement, we need men and women of good character. Training is tremendously important, but being a good cop involves so much more. As for myself, when it’s all said and done, I want to be known as a good cop, not so much by how much I know but by the kind of person I am.