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20 golden principles for prevailing on the street

These principles will help you physically, legally and emotionally survive law enforcement

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Remember how much you loved being a cop when you first entered the police profession. Hold onto that thought for about 30 years and you will do fine.


As a longtime police officer and trainer, I’ve had the opportunity to apply a number of principles on the street with success, and then train those highly effective principles to others.

I would now like to share with you 20 of these street-tested, golden principles that will help you physically, legally and emotionally survive law enforcement.

1. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. In today’s world, doing so is like having a rarely possessed superpower, and it will pay great dividends.

2. Get acquainted with and deal with the people on your beat as if they are your slightly dysfunctional extended family. Your real family will eventually grow to discover that you treat people fairly and assimilate this trait from you. Your street family also will also notice and remember.

3. You need to become tough. Don’t act tough, be tough.

4. Be physically fit; your fitness level will be tested regularly by the people you police. Make sure you are always in peak physical condition.

5. It’s OK to care. Caring does not make you a weak cop, it makes you a better cop.

6. You don’t have one or two people in a car, but two or four hands. Account for the hands and control the hands. As Dave ‘Buck Savage’ Smith tells his students, the hands kill.

7. Don’t take street insults personally. These individuals are insulting the uniform, not you. There is nothing anyone can say that police uniforms haven’t already heard. Remember the words of George Thompson, “They can say what they want as long as they do what I say.” Consider insults part of the totality of circumstances, which are to be remembered and put into the report. Which leads us to lesson eight …

8. “The man who angers you, conquers you,” as stated by Eldon Mueller.

9. If you’re pursuing someone because they are dangerous, consider continuing the pursuit (if your policy allows it). If the subject is dangerous only because you are pursuing him or her, consider discontinuing the pursuit (if policy allows it).

10. If a subject gets away, don’t fret. You’ll likely encounter him or her again. Officers don’t catch everyone during every incident; however, we catch them all eventually. Remember a chase is short-lived, but a pursuit – for the truly determined officer – can last until the statute of limitations runs out.

11. The odds are slim that a terrorist will kill someone on your beat, but statistics show that impaired drivers and abusive spouses will very likely kill someone on your beat. Therefore, pursue impaired drivers with a passion and investigate domestic violence calls with extreme caution – view them as personal homicide prevention programs. If you do you these things, you will save lives – one of which might be your own. Just in case, watch out for terrorists too.

12. If you are looking for nothing while on patrol, in most cases, you will find nothing. Even if you are looking for something, you will often find nothing. But if you go out looking for everything, you will almost always find something. The bottom line, look for everything. Also, if you become a ROD (retired on duty) and you truly strive to look for absolutely nothing while on patrol, I have some bad news for you. Trouble will still find you, and you probably won’t see it coming.

13. Train like your life depends on it because it does.

14. Police work is a contact sport, except it’s not a sport. They don’t give a trophy for second place on the street. You must always prevail and never give up.

15. After winning a street confrontation, ask if the subject is alright. If he or she is OK, help them up and dust them off – you’re returning their dignity. All good officers practice courtesy up to impact and beyond.

16. Communication is the tactic most often used by police. It behooves an officer to become a black belt in dialogue. Remember it’s easier for you to talk someone into handcuffs than it is to fight them into handcuffs. Still, never forget that an officer needs to know how to do both expertly.

17. It is tactically better to expect and prepare for resistance on each contact and be pleasantly surprised when you receive compliance rather than to expect compliance and be alarmingly surprised by resistance. Never presume you will receive compliance.

18. Staying positive in law enforcement is not natural, it is a discipline. Becoming cynical is natural. Even while practicing the discipline of staying positive you will never be completely positive, but you can become completely cynical in this profession with no effort. Daily, choose to stay positive and you will come to enjoy your family, your career and your life to the fullest.

19. Remember how interesting you found law enforcement and how much you loved being a cop when you first entered the police profession. Hold onto that thought for about 30 years and you will do fine.

20. You can sell your honor for a penny, but once sold, you can’t buy it back for a million bucks. Honor can be won and lost in law enforcement. Frank Serpico said, “Police work is an honorable profession; if you do it with honor.”

With all that said, let’s hit the streets with the words of Hill Street Station’s Sgt. Phil Esterhaus in mind, “Hey! Let’s be careful out there.”

This article, originally published 03/20/2017, has been updated.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.