The 4 Traits All Great Cops Possess

Crime fighter

I know that most of us hear the majority of our close friends and family say that they could never do our job for one reason or another.

I have had more than a few tell me, with absolute sincerity, that they would make a great cop.

I usually just nod my head and say something like, “oh really?”

Never mind the fact that everyone knows that (your non-cop friend) suffers from anxiety and that they have what many call a slight “anger management” problem.

Oh and that little drug arrest they think no one knows about, or the two DUI’s after the divorce. Or, based on their Facebook statuses, they are not exactly Bill Shakespeare when it comes to writing.

A lot of people think they can do our job.

Some even think they can do it better.

Thanks to 85% of TV shows being in some way or fashion about police work, most think they have a grasp on what the job is like or what it really takes to do the job.

I don’t watch a lot of TV. I certainly don’t watch Cop TV.

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My experience on the streets, both as a uniform guy and a detective, have taught me what traits make the best cops.

There are obviously more that could be added to this list but I know that each of you have a life.

Again, they are in no particular order of importance.

1. Common sense

Unfortunately, common sense cannot be learned or taught.

You either have it or you don’t.

The cops who have it, know it. And they can recognize it in other cops too. Cops who possess this trait tend to gravitate towards other cops who have it.

The ones who possess common sense will usually evolve into cops who have “street sense.”

This is no guarantee.

Cops with street sense usually developed this trait while growing up in less than ideal conditions versus those who grew up in suburbia that included a community pool with annual beach vacations.

Now I’m not saying that those cops who went to college right after high school on their parents dime can’t develop or have the same grit. I’m merely saying that it’s extremely rare.

The ultimate cops possess both book smarts and street smarts.

Just like Bigfoot, a lot of people have claimed to have worked with or seen this officer but no one can convince me that he or she actually exists.

2. Critical thinkers

Just to become a cop requires a person to have above average intelligence compared to the general population. In reality, you better be a whole lot smarter than your average Joe.

This is where great cops separate themselves from the herd. Your average cop can quickly analyze a situation and come up with a solution.

The great ones can come up with multiple solutions to a problem while the event is unfolding and pivot quickly as the situation evolves.

This is similar to the great chess player who can see 3 to 4 moves ahead, even factoring in possible moves from his opponent. Having only one solution to a problem usually works well in most professions.

Not in police work.

Especially with the highly charged political cluster fuck our profession has evolved into.

It used to be easy.

Dumb-ass breaks the law, same dumb-ass goes to jail. Oh how the times have changed.

Now it’s dumb-ass breaks the law, give dumb-ass other options other than jail.

Now we are encouraged to enforce in him a victim mentality where he never really gets that he is a fuck up and needs to fix it..

3. Thick skin

This may be the most important. Anyone who is trying to excel above the group is usually met with jealousy and opposition.

Many cops are perfectly fine with doing the bare minimum. Living a life of mediocrity.

The ones who try to take it to the next level are usually met with the worst that men can put on them.

To be proactive in law enforcement means you will anger and even enrage a lot of people. They will play mental mind games with you in order to break your will.

They will try every low down dirty trick to keep you off your game and even question why you chose this vocation.

They will question your manhood (or womanhood).

They will question your race.

 Your motives will be questioned.

Really mean things about your mother will be said to your face.

4. Cultured

This is where some disagree.


Let me explain.

Their have been many experts who have held advanced degrees that have written extensively on the topic of policing.

I have read many of them.

Other than watching golf on TV on a Saturday afternoon, nothing puts me to sleep faster.

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A great cop is one who can immediately identify with a wide group of people. This can only happen if he has lived a life that has exposed him or her to different cultures.

This includes that they have actually seen and have experienced different parts of the country. It also helps if they have been outside of their small town bubble where not everyone looks or has the same beliefs as him or her.

I know that many who are reading this may work in small towns or communities and feel that they have the advantage because they know everyone. To a certain degree they may be right.

In the city where I work, I’m considered a “come here,” meaning, I’m not from the city where I police.

And that has its advantages also.

I know no one.

I favor no one.

All start on the same footing with me.

I’m not related to Ed, the town dirt bag, who thinks he can call on me every time he gets stopped.

I have never worked at the paper mill in town where the VP  has just been stopped for DUI and has dropped my name.

I have no allegiance to the “from here’s” who carry on their secret cliques against outsiders.

In short, the best cops have “been around the block” and are not easily swayed by “good ole boy” politics or intimidated by the local power players.

As Always, I love to hear from my readers and their take on what has been presented in my articles. Please feel free to comment on this site or on The Salty Sarge Facebook Page

Also, I am in no way implying that I am a great cop or I possess all of the qualities mentioned above. That is for my peers to decide.


  1. I have found out that in all the departments in the world, from being in the IPA (International Police Association) and the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) in the US that there are three types of Officers,

    #1 is the WORKER and he or she usually is hard worker likes to work the streets. likes to kick ass and sometimes take names and generally retires as Sgt., Cpl. or Sgt.

    #2 is the CLIMBER and they look at the Chiefs job and that is their goal and they stab you in the back, kiss anybody’s ass where it helps them and a lot of time don’t have to much common sense. Also they think they are better than you and they are not the favorite supervisors. Most of them don’t remember where they came from and how to work the field

    #3 is the ODBALL (and only a few of them) those are the few people that are smart enough or lucky enough to obtain rank but still want to play with the people on the street and kick some ass once in a while and they know what it was like as a street cop and most street cop would follow them to hell and back. They are very popular and liked.

    That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

    • Completely agree. I’ve noticed the old lead/follow/get out of the way mentality, and the latter is usually there first. I was Sgt Scumbag, Lt Pain in the ass and Captain Douchebag. That was by people who liked me…

  2. Just a couple of comments: I agree with some of what you say, especially the first 3. Not so sure about #4. I do agree with the premise an officer has to be able to relate to a lot of different types of people. I disagree that being a “come here” vs a “from here” makes you more impartial or a better officer. First and foremost, the premise that an officer knows everyone in their community is a fallacy. Even Andy Griffith had to deal with strangers. Unless you police a 300 person community in Alaska that is inaccessible except by air for 6 months out of the year, you probably aren’t going to know many of the people you deal with, UNTIL you have been dealing with them on a regular basis for years. Even officers who police bigger cities usually end up on a “beat” and, if they are worth their salt, they get to know the people they are policing. The culture of a community has as much to do with how it is policed as does the law. I have friends from all over the country. Even officers within my same state do not enforce certain laws with the same zeal. Quite frankly, it has been my experience that most of the “come heres” that have been hired at my medium-sized department (78 sworn) have been much less effective and get complained on more. People don’t know them, so they have to spend years getting people to trust them and give them information. Me, every time something happens I get 25 FaceBook private messages telling me who the suspects are. But, 3 out of 4 ain’t bad.

  3. I strongly disagree with #4. If you do not at least interact regularly with the citizens of the community you police, while NOT on duty, you will have no idea what their concerns, priorities, or problems really are. Instead, you are just a referee, thrown into the middle of situations to keep things going and enforce the rules. Police work is MUCH MORE than that. If you can’t keep your “allegiances” in proper perspective when you are working, then you need to reconsider your position as a police officer.

  4. After 40+ years, the majority of which was spent in narcotics and homicide, I’ve concluded that a sense of humor is required if you want to maintain your sanity in an insane world. LOLOL

  5. And I agree with #4. Maybe not the come here part though after 35 yrs I’m still a come here, but the depth of your experiences. I would also suggest that those outside experiences give you some measure of internal strength during difficult times. Not referring to adrenaline pumping times but your 3rd dead body in as many days, or getting screamed at by kids who know their rights but are wrong.

  6. Joe… I laughed at your comment. I was a supervisor in Homicide and every morning I had a couple of jokes ready for the boys. Some were incredibly corney. Didn’t matter. After I retired one of my guys told me it loosened them up, and made them forget about the more serious issues of the day, even if for but a few minutes.

  7. I have a son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, all in law enforcement.. DIL put up with ‘STREET KIDS” and others, for many years, and can hold her own in ANY POLITACLE DEBATE!! Son did the streets, including nights in scruffy clothes chasing druggies He fired one shot in anger, missed, and guy threw out gun and surrendered. How dare that cop shoot back at him??!!! Retired, as a Captain, went to work as a Major in another town. 7 years as a spokesperson and computer expert and political “target”
    target”. Finally got fired along with anybody else in police and fire departments above a Lt, by a female mayor who decided to save money!! Now an investigator for local sheriff, with grandson a patrolman in same dept. Now son does background checks on new personnel, and continues, like for about 25 years, as a team member for evaluating departments all over the place! If you note a bit of pride in this “tirade” You are absolutely right!!! An old great-great-grandad in Florida. Lee

  8. A good civil service worker must also possess excellent organization and negotiation skills, as public sector often need workers to juggle multiple tasks and different projects and they are expected to be capable of prioritizing their responsibilities effectively, while working in collaboration with other departments.

  9. Keeping under consideration the current circumstances I would say that Empathy and Compassion are two of the most essential traits of a good police officer

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