COP VIEWS: The Difference Between Good Cops and Nice Cops

COP VIEWS is a forum where police officers from around the nation offer their opinions on the issues most important to them. 

I’ll be honest, in our current political climate it’s getting harder to stay motivated to do police work.

Frustratingly, many people seem to have a distorted perception of law enforcement, which is, “if only cops were softer and gentler, then there wouldn't be so much crime.”  

Law enforcement agencies, in response to negative criticism for more than a year, now make the extra effort to highlight the good deeds that their officers do for their local community.  

Recently, President Obama was describing an incident where a police officer bought a carton of eggs for a person who had just shoplifted three eggs.  The President described this as “good police work."  

I disagree with the President.  This was an example of an officer doing a nice thing, but not good police work.  There is a drastic difference between the two.  

Good police work is laying your life on the line to arrest violent offenders.
Good police work is using interview skills to get a suspect to admit his/her role in a crime.  

Good police work is establishing a relationship with informants in order to solve additional crimes.  

Good police work is coordinating a multi-officer response to a crime in progress as the suspects are fleeing or barricading themselves.  

Good police work is responding to a gruesome, fatal car crash and having the mental composure to conduct the investigation, but yet the compassion to console the family members.       

Cops don’t exist for the purpose of doing nice things.  Cops exist for the purpose of doing necessary things --  the things that most people don’t want to do. 

There are countless numbers of government agencies, non-profits, and church organizations that do nice things for people. We need cops to investigate crimes and arrest law violators because that is what no other group of people in our society have the authority to do.      

It is hard for the typical, law-abiding person to relate to the criminal mindset, but in the criminal world, “nice” is seen as “weak."  So while the law-abiding citizen feels good when they see their local officers engaged in some nice act, the criminal sees weakness and someone who can be exploited.  

Over the last few months we have seen a couple examples of this:

In Kentucky, a State Trooper who was shot and killed while trying to find overnight lodging for the person who shot him. 

A Kansas City-area officer earned national attention for buying a mother diapers, wipes, and shoes for her children, but later learned the same woman was indicted on federal drug trafficking charges.   

While doing nice things is great PR for law enforcement agencies, it does nothing to stop the guy down the street from beating his wife, or the dope dealer who intimidates an entire neighborhood.   As former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir wrote

Feel good policing will indeed build trust and make the law-abiding citizens of our community feel better about their police. But it has not and will not reduce violence…Those who believe that crime will be reduced merely by having the same officer on the beat so that the community knows his or her name, or think that a 21 year old officer can solve their problems, are woefully naïve.

Cops are, first and foremost, law enforcement officers whose main priority is to enforce the law.  That means issuing citations and arresting those who break the law.  

Jack Nicholson, although he played the part of a villain in the legendary movie A Few Good Men, ranted during his famous “You can’t handle the truth!” scene:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns…I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

Today’s cops are feeling similar emotions when confronted with the news analyst who, from the comfort of their desk and with no experience in law enforcement, thinks that he/she knows better how to perform law enforcement duties.  

We can try to capture police work in nice, neat images, but at it’s very core law enforcement is dangerous and ugly, and that will not change.  Nor is it a viable national strategy to suggest that law enforcement agencies need to be softer and gentler.  

Injecting criticism every time a police officer acts with a high level of force demonstrates an unrealistic understanding of the evil and ugliness that exists in society. 

-MATT ERNST is a law enforcement officer in Nebraska.  He is a defensive tactics / use of force instructor for his agency. He is actively involved in drug investigations with specialized training in drug and terrorism interdiction and also driving under the influence of drugs.  Email him at:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Americans in Support of Law Enforcement.