20 undeniable truths of law enforcement

The best cops develop their cop instincts and then learn to trust them. If something feels wrong, it usually is wrong.

In my career, I’ve discovered a few undeniable truths about law enforcement. Here are 20 of them. Add your own in the box below. 

1. Chiefs and sheriffs must resist the temptation to promote their favorite followers ahead of their department’s finest leaders.

2. The “War on Drugs” is a misnomer. It is self-defeating to suggest we are engaged in a war, which can be won or lost. There will neither be surrender aboard a battleship, nor a peace treaty signed by combatants. The truth is there will always be Americans hungry for illicit drugs, giving rise to predators willing to make a buck on these wretched souls. Consequently, police officers must risk their lives in the never-ending task of enforcing drug laws

No statistic accurately measures the good a great cop does in their career.
No statistic accurately measures the good a great cop does in their career. (Photo/PoliceOne)

3. Police work is a contact sport! All cops need to stay serious about maintaining all of their tactical skills, as well as their personal fitness levels. Even though police officers don’t start most fights, they must possess the skills and conditioning to ensure they are able to finish them. 

4. It is imperative to be constantly alert. It doesn’t matter whether you work in New York, New Ulm, are on patrol, or on a lunch break. If you are wearing a badge, trouble will find you and it will not make an appointment. 

5. A police officer is where the constitutional rubber meets the road. We ensure that America remains a free country by the way we police. 

6. You can catch almost as many criminals by being the last cop to leave the area as you can by being the first cop to arrive.

7. On every contact, it’s imperative to account for the hands, control the hands and, as Buck Savage would say, “Watch the hands!”

8. The ability to remember names and faces of suspects is an important survival skill. We deal with many of the same people over and over. Knowing who someone is and what they’re about – on sight – gives you a strong tactical edge.

9. Once conditions arise that cause you to press the squad car’s accelerator all the way to the floor – such as a pursuit or an emergency request for assistance – you must breathe and consciously engage your brain in the process to reconsider what you are doing. The laws of physics show no mercy and too many officers have paid the ultimate price for violating them.

10. Laughter is an emotional aspirin. This is good because cops are hilarious. Cops possess a sense of humor unmatched by any other profession. It is good to laugh often and laugh well, but just do it off camera, off the radio and off-line.

11. There is little justification for trusting anyone on the street. You’ll get burned when you trust suspects. However, treating people with respect pays dividends.

12. The four things that get most officers in trouble in their careers are anger, lust, greed and peer pressure. Career survival depends on keeping all of these under control. 

13. There are too many people calling the shots who never worry about being shot at. It would behoove every leader to get into a patrol car on a regular basis. Patrol gives the gift of perspective.

14. The best cops develop their cop instincts and then learn to trust them. If something feels wrong, it usually is wrong. 

15. Anyone or anything worth searching once is worth a second search. It pays to be thorough in your searches and then to check your work.

16. There is no better way to end a tough shift than to go home and loudly play with your children or quietly enter their room and watch them sleep. Family can be a cop’s best backup.

17. The recipe for success and survival in law enforcement is to train well, train hard and train often. Then pay attention out there!

18. To enjoy the good things in life you have to survive the bad things in life. Wear your vest and seat belt every shift – regardless of rank or assignment – because you never know when you will need them.

19. Police work is NOT a thankless job. We receive thanks when we hear the quiet sigh of relief of a battered woman or dry a tear on the cheek of a frightened child whose fear dissipates because you’re there.

20. No statistic accurately measures the good a great cop does in their career. The impact of a cop’s good deeds is often not realized by even the officers themselves. Have faith that your good works are being measured by the “Big Guy upstairs” – and I’m not talking about the Chief. Police work is a calling that affords you many opportunities to do good for many.

Here is one more truth I would like to end with. You are making a difference out there every day of your life. So be careful out there, and keep fighting the good fight.

Share your "law enforcement truths" below. 

Police1 readers respond

  • Take care of your fellow officers' mental health. If they are struggling emotionally, talk to them and get help. It’s as important as watching their six physically.
  • Follow the laws you have sworn to enforce, on and off duty. Respect is earned when people see you hold yourself to the same standards as those who do not wear a badge.

  • There are two worlds in patrol: life inside the squad car and life outside the squad car.

  • If something catches your eye, that is, makes you look twice, go back and check it out. This was told to me by an old veteran cop when I was a rookie in 1980. It gave me many good returns over 38 years!

This article, originally published 07/02/2014, has been updated. 

Share your "law enforcement truths" below.

By submitting your information, you agree to be contacted by the selected vendor(s) and that the data you submit is exempt from Do Not Sell My Personal Information requests. View our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2023 Police1. All rights reserved.