Lessons Learned - So What’s A Good Cop?

So What’s A Good Cop?
By Joel E. Gordon
“Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.” – Lawrence J. Peter The mastermind behind “The Peter Principle” concept of management.

We can all give clear examples of what defines a “dirty” or even just a “bad” cop, but what does being a good cop mean? In most professions, the goals that need to be met for competence are clear. A good doctor has healthy patients. A good lawyer wins cases. A good plumber keeps the water flowing and leaks from occurring. A good cook or chef… Well you get the idea.

In today’s environment with such divergent political viewpoints, a good cop is mostly defined by the view of the beholder. Self-identified progressives, liberals and conservatives will surely possess different views. Jurisdictional differences in ideology and policy also greatly impact the definition of what makes a good cop. Presumably, public safety and crime reduction should be universal goals.

One fact is certain, although many are quick to critique law enforcement duties and activities not everyone can or should do this job!

From Real Police to Security Monitors
In Illinois vs. Wardlow 528 U.S. 119 (2000) the Supreme Court held in a 5 to 4 decision that the police had reasonable suspicion to justify a stop because nervous, evasive behavior, like fleeing a high crime area upon noticing police officers, is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion to justify a stop.

But apparently this is no longer allowable in cities like Baltimore. Baltimore’s Consent Decree specifically states that police will not be able to stop someone just because the person is in a high-crime area, or just because the person is trying to avoid contact with an officer.

Will Consent Decree doctrines lead to the death of reasonable suspicion as we know it?

Consent Decree mandates include revised basic training for making stops and searches. It also commands officers to use de-escalation techniques and send specially trained units to distress calls involving people with mental illness.

The agreement discourages the arrests of citizens for “quality-of-life offenses” such as loitering, littering or minor traffic violations. It also requires a supervisor to sign off on requests to take someone into custody for a minor infraction. So while dealing with a suspect, will officers need to obtain a sergeant’s approval to arrest a violator for failure to obey a lawful order or even for resisting arrest? This seems like a formula to invite an escalation to assaults on police. When I think of city government combined with Department of Justice Consent Decree intervention, one word comes to mind: DELUSIONAL.

In a repudiation of broken windows policing policy, which historically has led to mass arrests, the pendulum is being swung in an opposite direction. If the goal is to identify lawbreakers and uphold reasonable societal norms of cleanliness and safety, then this new direction will continue to prove counterproductive to those goals.

Perhaps decades of concern over process and political correctness, along with adherence to the Peter Principle, have served to blur the lines to a definition of what is a good cop. Remember “The Peter Principle”? “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. In time every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

To me, a good cop will always be the peace keeper who gets to know the community to be served and who takes an ownership interest in the community’s success. One who insists on autonomy within reasonable guidelines, in the effort to keep criminal activity to a minimum in a primary area of responsibility. All while staying true to their oath of office in upholding the constitution and without fear or favor, standing ground against tyranny and unlawful activity from any directive or source.

As has been said many times over, “An officer is someone who wrote a blank check made payable to the community that they serve for an amount up to and including their life.” While there is truly no way to repay such fearless and competent dedication to a job of such epic proportions, we take every opportunity to say thank you to all of the countless good cops that we see out there on the job each and every day and night.

Joel E. Gordon is a former Baltimore City Police Officer and was Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He has served as vice-chair of a regional narcotics task force and is a candidate for Preston County West Virginia Sheriff. An award winning journalist, he is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story and founded the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. stillseekingjustice.com