Book excerpt: Good Cop Good Cop
This get healthy, stay healthy guide for law enforcement helps both agencies and officers build a framework for emotional wellness
The following is excerpted from "Good Cop, Good Cop" by police sergeant and podcaster Brian Casey, which gives every officer the pep talk and essential strategies to not only survive a career in public safety but to live well. Order the book here.
You Are Okay
I think cops want most to know that they are okay and that they will be okay. While doing police work we can get lost doing what we thought was good. I tell cops that they are going to be okay a lot. One, because I believe it, and two, they need to hear it, and three, it helps to hear it to move them in that direction. There are times when I add qualifiers or warnings because some cops need to know they can make things worse. And if they are not paying attention, they can lose the things they value most. Hope, encouragement and success stories are important because no matter what someone is dealing with, they need to believe that they can get better.
If you wanted easy work, completely safe work, this is not it. The idea of police work as a calling is an interesting thought, one we may need to revisit in ourselves. I am most disappointed in the cops that have given up on their “naive” desire to help people. This is still our job and it can still be done, but maybe helping people is difficult or not as we had originally imagined, requiring readjusting our aim, not abandoning it. If you have any doubt, consider a few examples. A child placement, where you take your time and do your best to reassure them en route to foster care. Or burglaries, where you help the family understand that the burglar was an opportunist, not specifically targeting them. Or you notice someone vulnerable and linger nearby to keep predators away. None of these are dramatic, all of them ordinary parts of the shift, yet powerfully important. We do more good nonchalantly than many get a chance to do well.
“Disadvantages” Become Advantages
Trust and Control
This struggle with the nature of control helps us see more clearly what is within our control and what is not. As Epictetus stated and authors of The Daily Stoic, elaborated, those that figure out what is within their control, outside of their control, and the in-between “will not only be happier, [but] will have distinct advantages over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle.”
On Guard for Sudden Violence
With this vigilance, we can display fierceness on demand. Where there is trouble, we lean in, hold our ground, and do not retreat. We voice commands, give and receive hard looks. We seek the tactical advantage and take the higher ground. What distinguishes us from thugs is our discipline and our ability to manage our aggression.
These things give us an advantage in life, if we believe as the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius did, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.” We know a lot about what is possible, all the bad things that can happen to people. We can calm our mind by turning back towards center by thinking more in terms of probability, not possibility.
Cynicism, Skepticism, Suspicion
When not taken to the extreme, cynicism, skepticism, and suspicion are ways of thought made useful by seeking evidence and not being overly influenced by superficial things. This is essential for police work, but also helpful as a discerning person.
However, you can be misled by your confidence on occasion, so expand your landscape by both trusting your gut some, but also doubting your thinking some as well. We should view cynicism for what it is, a sometimes-necessary tool, an adaptation with some unpleasant side effects. A useful tool on your duty belt, but one best left at work in your locker before you go home.
Estrangement from Society
There is a sting or ache that comes with being estranged from society. Maybe it is the loneliness of being misunderstood or the frustration of being maligned by those whose lives are better because of our presence in society. I conclude that this estrangement may be our chance for our greatest good.
We can choose to think and talk about the suffering we endure as a willing price we pay for the noble work of protecting and serving others. External rewards are fleeting, some unrealized, others unearned, we are better off finding our own rewards. Any suffering and sacrifice that comes with being a blessing to society is more bearable if we do it to meet a responsibility or duty, a higher calling.
Advantages of Being A Cop
On a July night in 2016, I checked on a group of cops, one’s badge had been dented, another had a bruised and bloodied face, both had been struck by rocks. One officer showed me her singed pant leg after being struck by an explosive. These were the walking wounded, all still in the fight, who had been on the front line during the largest civil unrest in our city’s recent history. Some of the cops were angry, some looked scared, and some had thought they might die.
One cop pulled down his bloody lower lip and showed me his loose teeth. He had hours earlier left his family at a lake cabin to defend the city. Afterward, I believe, most cops in the department were either glad they were there or wished they had been. There is something about the hardship cops experience, especially as a group, that feels really important as if it is good for you and good for the group. This led me to think about the advantages of being a cop, to which I have made a partial list.
Police work is a face-to-face job. Where people call about trouble, and you have to go see for yourself. People flag you down, and you hear them out. You know the actual story that other people only learn about (sometimes wrongly) in the news. It is hard for me to imagine another job where you are involved with such a variety of people, in such a variety of situations.
With this up close and personal experience, we test our beliefs about race and poverty, crime and punishment, good and evil. When accused of being the problem, we know better and have tons more direct experience with the issues than those doing the criticism.
Mental and Physical Fitness
The job tests our mettle, our temperament. If things get really bad, you probably have a pretty good idea as to whether you will dominate and survive or not. Foregoing pleasure and comfort strengthen us. The mental and physical weight of the uniform alone is a burden. In all weather and all times of day, we are out in the elements with sore feet and a full bladder. The emotional restraint required to endure incessant scrutiny and misguided tirades, while we stay calm, collected and professional exemplifies endurance and strength.
Calling for help has never been easier, and we are on the receiving end of 911. When people are afraid, confused or want a wrong to be righted, we arrive and do what we can. Cops will answer that call no matter the trouble or danger. If citizens have a bat or a burglar in their home, they can call us for help.
In one of his essays, the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, said, “Remember that all we have is ‘on loan’ from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission – indeed, without even advance notice.” Even upon the slightest reflection, a cop can come up with a long list of things from the last shift worked to be grateful for in their own lives. You see firsthand how quickly and thoughtlessly what people value can be lost. A cop might pause and reflect on this as they return home.
Not everyone gets to be a cop, and we are often made aware of the admiration of those who know they would not or could not. From another perspective, what if you suddenly could not be a cop, some scoff at this as if it would be a great relief; well maybe they are gone already. But many would feel a great sense of loss. The ancient practice of negative visualization, imagining losing what you value, can help a cop return to what they value most in being a cop, or any other area of your life that you apply it to. The result can be less wishful thinking and more gratitude and contentment with what you already have.
Place in History
At any of our agencies, we could find an old black-and-white photo of a cop from years ago, doing the same police activity we are doing today. We are part of a tradition of guardians that dates back more than 2,000 years. We stand today in that long line in history. Many have come before, and there will be many after.
Participate in Ritual
Yunger, who studies soldiers, describes America as a largely de-ritualized society. Not us, we enjoy rituals that begin before our first call. We take on a different persona, affect, demeanor that our loved ones or canine partners notice as we prepare to leave for work. In the locker room, we place on literal armor, and we sit in specific places in the roll call room based on seniority or stature. We leave the safety of our building to do our work guided by routines and good habits so we all will return, remove our armor and go home.
We depend on our loyalty to each other and a common cause. We survive by interdependence, as we must watch out for each other maintaining a mental map of where our partners are. It is so instinctual that we may not always notice it. When a cop calls for help, we will stop at nothing to get to them.
We not only dress alike, but we gather at impromptu meetings, huddles and debriefings. My absolute favorite thing about being a patrol cop was standing around after a call and talking, laughing, complaining about whatever. Only cops get to do this and if an “outsider” tries to join in, we will change the subject.
Just being a cop does not guarantee courage, but it asks for it from patrol officers to command staff, and everyone in between. Each act of courage builds on the next. We should be very careful to not overstate our courage. The courage represented in the uniform was earned by those who went before us, so we must earn it daily or at least not diminish it, or dishonor those who went before us. Real courage comes at personal cost, and unless we are paying that price or expect to pay it, we should be humble.
There is courage in a willingness to pay the price and lock arms with courage. Ask the average person on the street what he would be willing to die for, and he may or may not have a ready answer. Ask a cop in roll call and he probably have an answer, in a large part because he has had to give it some thought, has tested it.
The advantage is that if we know there are things worth dying for, it means there are things worth living for. Our forefathers demonstrated this, the last sentence in the Declaration of Independence, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Provence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” This is how people talk who are willing to die for a cause.
Discern Good verses Bad (Evil)
We are fortunate to know there is a downside, a bad or evil, because with this we realize there is an upside, a good. For those without this knowledge, where everything is relative, everything is flat, there is no hope. We live in hope precisely because we walk between good and evil. In fact, our daily exposure to bad can make us more aware of good, even within ourselves as, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human.”
Do Good Work and Be a Force for Good
Police work is not for the meek and requires both armor and agility. Cops survive by their wits. We do our work imperfectly, and if we fail, big or small, we should do the next right thing. When we get our minds right, the sacrifices are welcomed because they have meaning. If we play our part well, live honestly, take responsibility for our own actions, then unquestionable good is our reward. Those rewards are gaining wisdom, developing self-control, participating in justice, and demonstrating courage.
At the end of each roll call I earnestly told the cops they should expect me to do my job well, and I expected them to do their job well. My send-off message was not “Be careful out there.” In fact, I preferred more that they be alert than be careful. Instead, I sent them off with “Do good work.” We all have a duty to protect our shared purpose and function. For me, Do good work has a double meaning, do your job well, and do good. Be a force for good.