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Why would anyone want to be a cop?

A friend’s son graduated from the police academy this year, and he has now been an active police officer for the last few months. He shared that his son keeps getting the same question: “Why would anyone want to be a police officer?” The new officer’s standard answer is, “Somebody’s got to!”

That is very true. Someone has to, right? Heaven help us if we ever get to the point where absolutely no one wants to be a cop. I suppose this is his canned answer to many people just to get them off his back.

As I’m involved in law enforcement training, I often get asked this same question. While I have my standard answers as well, there are other reasons I discuss with people who are close to me, those I know I can trust. Taking all things into consideration – the political climate, the perennial lack of support, the public apathy – why would somebody still consider becoming a police officer?

Honestly, I believe what draws a person to police work comes from deep within. This may sound corny or self-serving, but wanting to work with the public, help those in your community and do a job that is often thankless, calls for a special kind of individual. Contrary to how the media and activists would like to portray us, policing is a noble profession.

Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, created the Metropolitan Police Service in London in 1829, solidifying police work as an ethical and honorable profession. According to the University of Washington, in Peel’s model, “police officers are regarded as citizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens.” Elaborating on this, Peel established his three core principles of policing, which are just as relevant today as they were nearly two centuries ago

  • The goal of policing is to prevent crime, not catch criminals. An effective police department has low arrest rates because their communities have low crime rates.
  • To prevent crime, the police must earn public support. All citizens share the responsibility of preventing crime as if they were volunteer members of the police force. But the community will only do this if they trust and support the police.
  • The police must respect community principles to earn public support. Police earn a good reputation by enforcing the laws impartially, hiring officers who reflect and represent the community, and using force only as a last resort.

In addition to the three core principles, Peel and his policing commissioners established nine policing principles:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also securing the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognize always that the extent to which the cooperation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing…

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