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7 police tenets to live by in 21 words

Serving with honor is the lifeblood of policing and should be our strongest motivator

Officer and traffic stop.JPG

We should never tire in trying to ferret out those who cause suffering and pain to others from criminal activity.


I have the privilege to teach a semester on community policing at a local college, as well as provide instruction to police officers through the Northcoast Polytechnic Institute on a variety of topics that include leadership and media relations. This allows me the opportunity to reach young students interested in a career in law enforcement, as well as cops looking to better themselves through on-going training. My goal is to provide them with insight into how best to serve others, as well as survive the challenges they will face from this special calling.

It is difficult to sum up all that they will encounter and how best to deal with things. Books could easily be written on how to survive a police career, but as a society, we tend to want things bundled and easy to digest. With that in mind, here are seven police tenets to live by that are wrapped up into exactly 21 words:

  • Serve with honor
  • Stay safe and healthy
  • Keep community safe
  • Catch bad guys
  • Build trust and relationships
  • Make friends
  • Have fun

1. Serve with honor

This one is the most critical and can be accomplished in any range of service time. It is applicable whether an officer makes it to retirement or is stopped short due to a debilitating injury. Honor is what makes our “service” to others so much more than just “service.” It is the lifeblood of policing and should be our strongest motivator.

2. Stay safe and healthy

We do ourselves no good if we don’t make our health and safety a priority. This means taking our training seriously, staying in shape through good diets and exercise, and keeping our heads clear. Rotating shifts, risks due to dangerous situations, exposure to infectious diseases and witnessing the suffering of others, combined with the overall psychological strain associated with police work, will take their toll and are factors in why cops die about a dozen years sooner than the average American. Staying mentally and physically fit is crucial.

3. Keep community safe

This is why the public pays us even if we can only do so much with limited resources. For any long-term success though, we need to find ways to get our customers more involved and make them true “partners” in the goal of making their neighborhoods safe places to live and thrive. We also need to find new strategies in crime prevention and develop bold blueprints for how best to serve our communities and keep them safe.

4. Catch bad guys

This tenet blends closely with #3 as catching troublemakers is vital to making a community safer. We should never tire in trying to ferret out those who cause suffering and pain to others from criminal activity. Plus, few things are more satisfying than catching a bad guy (or gal).

5. Build trust and relationships

Without having a solid level of trust with those we serve, we will be extremely limited and “handcuffed” in our policing efforts. With trust comes relationships that allow the “server” and the “served” to have a symbiotic collaboration in the well-being of a community.

6. Make friends

This one piggybacks off #5 as relationships can become friendships. There will be plenty of times in your career when you’re going to need friends to help you cope and make sense of things. Besides just having friends, work hard to become a good friend for others to include your brothers and sisters in blue.

7. Have fun

We see and experience too much crazy stuff in this line of work. Having a sense of humor and trying to have some fun when able will go a long way in keeping us grounded and controlling stress. Besides seeing some bad stuff, we do witness some pretty funny things and should enjoy the experience.

Having some solid principles to live by can make the difference between a rewarding life experience as a police officer or one that drains the life out of you. These seven tenets summed up in just a few words are an excellent guide to having an enriching career while protecting and serving.

Chief Tom Wetzel is a 32-year veteran police officer and currently leading a northeast Ohio suburban police department. A former SWAT commander, he is an adjunct professor in community policing, a certified law enforcement executive and a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership College. An instructor for Northcoast Polytechnic Institute, Chief Wetzel is an internationally published author for numerous police trade publications and a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He co-developed a school/community policing children’s Internet and stranger danger safety program called e-Copp, an educational children’s online protection program.