What does it take to be a cop? Lighting reflexes and the Kung-Fu moves of Bruce Lee? Or maybe an encyclopedia like memory and knowledge of every law and criminal procedure out there? Or is it what Hollywood would have you believe…shooting from moving vehicles and taking on international terrorists all while yelling Yippee Ki Yay? While some of those things help, what makes for a good law enforcement officer is actually much simpler. And more difficult at the same time.
What primarily makes up the core of a good cop (And therefore a good candidate) is character. It is the “soft skills” that make or break you in law enforcement.
While I do go over a lot of the hard skills that you can learn to make yourself a better candidate and therefore a better officer, those can all be taught. When going through the hiring process (and in the rest of daily life) it is best to focus on those soft skills. Do you show up at the right time in the right place and in the right uniform? Can you get along with other’s? Many cops can be brusque and difficult to deal with. Even when they don’t start out that way it eventually creeps up on you. It comes from dealing with so many drunks, mental’s, abusers, manipulator’s and general assholes on a daily and hourly basis.
Here are a few critical aspects to focus on when starting the hiring process. I will first list them and then discuss them in greater detail. Each will also receive further attention later.
- The ability to remain calm under pressure.
- The ability to clearly and calmly communicate with others.
- Honesty. No matter how uncomfortable it is.
While there are many other’s, these are the big three that are really at the core of being able to succeed as a law enforcement or corrections officer.
Remaining calm. It cannot be stressed enough that being able to remain calm is important. A police officer is given a badge and a gun and the legal authority to use deadly force to stop a threat. The ability to remain calm in what can often be overwhelmingly stressful situations is the difference between going home at the end of your shift safely or getting injured or killed or even ending up on YouTube for a questionable use of force. We (all humans) are really nothing more than dumb animals that have recently learned the ability to grunt and make noises to articulate ideas. Biologically we are the same dumb ass cavemen that our ancestors were tens of thousands of years ago.
If you get a chance take an Evolutionary Psychology class. It is dead on. When we get panicked or angry we literally get dumb. It is biology. While the overwhelming majority of uses of force are completely justified, there is the occasional one that is not. It isn’t due to racism as the media would have you believe, or because cops like killing or beating up people for sport. It happens because cops are HUMAN and in spite of training and experience will occasionally react like we are programmed to act. Like a dumb caveman trying to club the threat over the head and drag it away from your cave.
Communication. Cops are people. And like a lot of people, cops have learned to be lazy. The workload at many departments is frankly impossible to maintain. Cops do more with less and less every day. In the immortal words of my old SF Team Leader, “Work smarter not harder.” If you can talk somebody into handcuffs safely, without having to roll around with them in some single wide trailer with ground up cat shit and Captain Crunch cereal getting all over your uniform then do so! Most cops I know are great communicators, but there is always “That guy” who can show up to a call and magically turn a calm situation into a mini riot. Don’t be “That guy.”
Honesty. Probably the most important out of the three overall…though it is debatable. Honesty is the core of what law enforcement’s job is. When you boil it down, cops are basically armed secretaries. It is our job to show up at a scene, talk to the involved parties, look at the physical evidence and make a determination on what needs to happen. You then leave and later write a report. You write down what he said. Then you say what she said. And you advise what the physical or other evidence does or does not show. It absolutely MUST contain all of the details as well as what each person said. Even if you think one of them is lying. There is an actual law that covers what happens when a law enforcement officer lies. It is called The Brady Ruling and basically ends one’s career in law enforcement. No matter how painful or embarrassing it is, you always have to tell the truth in your reports and when dealing with your coworkers and bosses. You don’t always have to tell citizens or suspect’s the truth (often referred to as a ruse), depending on the situation.
During the hiring process (and throughout the rest of your career),, police administrators are much more concerned with whether you can communicate, stay calm under pressure and tell the truth than they are just about anything else. The entire background check process is basically an effort to make sure you are a person who can remain calm, tell the truth and communicate with others.
Also published on Medium.