What is Good Policing?


What is good policing? How do you know if your police department is providing it?

There are over 16 thousand police departments in our nation and there are over 600,000 police with no national standards. This means policing is local in our nation and, therefore, the improvement of police must be taken on at the local level.

  • Quality policing begins at home.
  • Citizens determine the quality of their police departments.
  • Quality policing is dependent upon public approval.

A few years ago, Michael Scott and I wrote a short piece on these qualities. If you are unsure about what you should expect from your police, read on:

Qualities of Police in a Free and Democratic Society

David C. Couper and Michael S. Scott

  • Accountable

Police recognize the nature and extent of their discretionary authority and must always be accountable to the people, their elected representatives, and the law for their actions, and be as transparent as possible in their decision-making.

  • Collaborative

Police must be able to collaborate, as appropriate, with community members and other organizations in settling disagreements, choosing policing strategies, and solving policing problems. This collaborative style must also apply to the way police departments are led and managed. This means police leaders must actively listen to their officers and work with them in identifying and resolving department and community problems.

  • Educated and trained

All police officers with arrest powers should begin their career with a broad and advanced education in the sciences and humanities. Training should consist of rigorous and extensive training courses in an adult-learning climate that teaches both the ethics and skills of democratic policing.

  • Effective and preventive

The mark of a good police department and the officers who work within it is that they continuously seek to handle their business more effectively and fairly, emphasizing preventing crime and disorder and not merely responding to it, and applying research and practical knowledge, using problem-solving methods, toward that end.

  • Honest

Honesty and good ethical practice are essential. The search for and cultivation of these traits begin with the selection process and continue throughout an officer’s career. Only those police candidates who have demonstrated good decision-making so far in their lives should be selected.

  • Model citizen

Police officers must not only be good police officers, but good citizens as well, modeling the values and virtues of good citizenship in their professional and personal lives.

  • Peacekeeper and protector

The police role is, above all else, that of community peacekeepers, and not merely law enforcers or crime fighters. Their training, work, and values all point towards the keeping of peace in the community. As gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, police must see themselves as defenders and protectors of Constitutional and human rights, especially for those who cannot defend or care for themselves in our society.

  • Representative

The members of police organizations must be demographically representative of the communities they serve, both because it reflects fair employment opportunities and because it enables the police to be more effective in achieving their objectives.

  • Respectful

Police officers should treat all persons with unconditional courtesy and respect, and be willing to listen to others, especially to those without social power or status. Likewise, police leaders should treat their workers with courtesy and respect their employment rights.

  • Restrained

The preservation of life should be the foundation for all police use of force. Police officers should continually prepare themselves to use physical force in a restrained and proper manner, with special training in its application to those who are mentally ill. Deadly force should be used only as a last resort and only when death or serious injury of the officer or another person is imminent. Less-than-lethal force should be preferred where possible.

  • Servant leader

Every police officer, regardless of rank, must simultaneously be a good leader and a good servant, to the public and to the police organization. Servant leaders use their authority and influence to improve others’ welfare.

  • Unbiased

Although some bias is inherent in human nature, police officers recognize that they can and should train themselves to reduce their biases and deal with all people fairly and without regard to their race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic condition, national origin, citizenship status, or sexual orientation.

To see the full document click HERE.

Police leaders: You are invited to stand up and affirm these qualities HERE.

If you don’t see your chief’s signature on this petition you might ask why.


  1. It is your 4th polnt – effective and preventive – which compromises the other points. The police leadership should also emphasize the limitations of lawful policing for prevention of crime and for detection of crime – while the former depends on a large number of socio-economic, political and psychological factors, the latter depends on availability of clues, both beyond police control.


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