What Makes a Good Police Officer?

The most honest and direct reply to this question is “a good person who happens to be a police officer.” The original question suggests that a police officer is something other than human. We all get caught up in labeling and assigning titles to identify people who we may not understand instead of identifying them by their individual accomplishments. By labeling an entire group, especially when we do not understand the group, it is very easy to associate bad behavior from one person in the group as a trait of every person in that group. The truth is that not everyone in any group shares the same traits. The hope is that police departments hire people with good traits that are common to good people.

A good police officer is a good person who happens to be a person who seriously accepts the awesome

responsibility. The few basic traits a good person possesses are compassion, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, grace, mercy, a belief in justice, –and most important of all, humility. Humility is at the top of the list because in order for one to truly be humble, they must possess all the previous mentioned traits. These are traits that cannot be taught; they are ones that come from the heart and are forged into the spirit of a person through their upbringing and life experience.

Considering the Role and Responsibility of Power

It is logical that one would believe the above-mentioned traits that define a good person would also define a good police officer. This may not be the case as there is one component to this equation that is unique to a police officer that the average person does not have. That component is power. All people, no matter who they are, experience a change in their perspective. A person who does not possess all the good traits may have a perspective that is not in line with what is considered good.

A simple comparison is, in business and industry, the most a person with power can do is take another

person’s job away. Depending on the moral fiber of that industry boss, the abuse of their power may become easy for them and they may use that as a shortcut to get out of retraining someone or dealing with a complicated situation. The quick solution phenomenon of removing a person from a company as a matter of convenience rather than cause may result in the industry boss losing their moral compass, thus losing their compassion for others.

This phenomenon can also be present in persons who have enormous power, such as police officers. Police officers have the ability to take away a person’s freedom. The officer must keep their morality, humility, and compassion for others, and practice grace and mercy every day. Keeping these virtues at the forefront of their thinking demands that the officer employ a different manner of thinking and a lifestyle that upholds these virtues. They must know their job and the people they serve so well that they have the ability to know when their actions will affect someone’s future before they act, especially when there may be an alternate solution that will not have any long-term unforeseen effects on a person’s future. An example of this is a case where an officer who did not have the best interest of the people he served in mind as he responded to a family violence call involving two young brothers. The officer, after hearing both sides of the story, was unable to determine who the aggressor was and decided to write both parties—yes, both persons and that included the innocent person—a citation for family violence. Both citations were later dismissed and this was forgotten at the time. Both brothers went to college, earned degrees, and were productive citizens. The only blemish on their records was the citation.

that was dismissed. One of the brother’s degree was in science and he applied for a very good job with the government. He was not able to obtain a security clearance due to the citation that should have never been written. Had the officer had the wisdom to think carefully about how their action, even though they could legally take the action they did, could affect the life of these brothers, they would not have taken the easy way out as their power permitted them to do. The officer took a shortcut instead of finding a better solution. That shortcut cost a man a great career.

The Right Tools at the Right Time

Unfortunately, maintaining the high standards mentioned is difficult and may cause an officer to take shortcuts or lose their compassion in order to expedite a solution, which will allow them to proceed to the next crisis. Another factor not yet mentioned in the equation is time. Father Time will raise his head and change an officer’s attitude toward their mission and before they realize it, they allow time limits to play a huge role in their decisions. Most officers are aware when this phenomenon influences their decisions. They are confused about this because the older, more experienced officers have accepted this fact, causing the confused officer to believe that allowing time to control their decisions is acceptable and expected. When this happens, they are no longer confused or conflicted. Instead of bucking the system and risking falling out of favor with supervisors, they bow down to Father Time and allow him to take over their ability to think long term before executing their decisions.


This is a book of thoughts and observations designed to promote thinking at all levels of police work within the greater law enforcement community. The observations are simple ones and probably not new to many who will read them. However, the state of police services today and the growing need to become more and more effective in the ways we interact with our communities make it necessary to rethink some of our ideas and to emphasize some and perhaps to de-emphasize others. Most of what is presented here has been around for a long time in the thoughts and minds of both administrators and basic-level officers. Certainly, mid-level management and supervisors have wrestled with some of the suggestions made. Also, there may have been times when disconnects seem to exist between all of these personnel areas. It is time to rethink and then to rethink again. Skills are taught to all officers. Some are emphasized and others are less emphasized. The latter are often seen as “soft” subjects. Once these are taught, reinforcement is rarely seen and accountability is a nonissue. This must change. This attempts to suggest tools, techniques, ideas, thoughts, accountabilities, and a recognition that if we are to accomplish more on the street, or wherever we operate, we must harden the “soft” subjects and take them very seriously at all levels of police work and within police administration. The good news is that we really do not have to reinvent the wheel. What we need is, for the most part, already there and available. These have been there all along in the modern police world and just need to be strengthened and utilized in a most serious and determined way. This is not a call for lessening officer safety. This is a call to “put more arrows in the quiver” of the officer so that they can deliver what is needed and at the time it is needed and with the same reliance on these skills as they would have on those “hard” skills that have also been learned.