Can Cops Be Honest?

The Power of Police Subculture

An Excerpt From “Arrested Development

 images (3)“Years ago as a young police officer, I remember finding myself being profoundly enmeshed in the life of being a cop. I soon realized that my identity, social life, and even family life revolved around me being a cop. I worked every day with police and socialized with them when I was off-duty. My preferred company was other police. I also realized I was closer to the man I was paired with at work—my partner—than I was to the woman to whom I was married. I shared more of my thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams with him than I did with her. Each day at work, I trusted my partner with my life. And then I realized that if he did something wrong, I would no more give him up than I would my own mother.

“This is the power of a subculture… a distinct group of people who have patterns of behavior and beliefs that set them apart from society as a whole…

“Throughout my career I learned that without effective oversight, adequate salaries, and high public expectations, police will slide backwards—because left alone, isolated, underpaid, and with low public expectations, these police won’t be the kind of people we want to protect us and our way of life…

“If the police are to be kept free from corruption, honesty and integrity must be among their fiercest internal values…”


INTEGRITY: The quality of being honest and holding strong moral principles.

Maintaining integrity is not just a police problem. It can be a problem for anyone who has power in relation to someone else – physical, social or economic. We see the problem in education, medicine, corporations and government as well as in the criminal justice system. We all like to say we are persons of integrity — but truly practicing it can be difficult.

Worse yet, when a police department has inculturated corruption into its rank, as a way of doing business, it takes a long, long time with sustained, competent leadership to ever change the situation. [As an example of this kind of endemic police corruption, see the January, 23, 2013 report of the University of Illinois Department of Political Science regarding the Chicago Police Department and especially the description of a “code of silence.” Click HERE.]

On the other hand, these are the qualities (moral principles) that police in our society should practice:

Qualities of Police in a Free and Democratic Society

1. Accountable

2. Collaborative

3. Educated and trained

4. Effective and preventive

5. Honest

6. Model citizen

7. Peacekeeper and protector

8. Representative

9. Respectful

10. Restrained

11. Servant leader

12. Unbiased

[For an introduction and further discussion of these qualities, click HERE.]

Whether or not police falter from time to time in these qualities, the important thing is that they know this is the standard of policing to which we hold them. Honesty must be more than a statement painted on the side of a police car, it must be a demonstrated value.

Police officers need to know what our society expects of them. And for them to be men and women of integrity is first and foremost. We have a better chance of making that happen when we require those who would police us to be college-educated, (not from technical, craft-like schools, but from schools of higher learning with 4-year degrees from traditional disciplines like psychology, sociology, history, or philosophy). Then we must make sure they are adequately compensated, effectively trained, have a collaborative work environments, and be led by leaders who are themselves models of integrity and the 12 qualities.

When a society has police like this, men and women of integrity and ability, we can all sleep better at night knowing liberty and justice are being well served in our behalf.

Can cops be honest? Of course they can — and should be.


[1] Egon Bittner. The Functions of Police in Modern Society. New York: Routledge. 1970.