Police departments have begun using more extensive personality tests and interviews when recruiting new officers. Real police work is very different from the way television and movies often portray it. It takes a rare combination of traits to make a good officer, and bad officers can reflect poorly on the entire department and the profession.
Friendly and Approachable
A police officer doesn't have to be – and frequently can't be – everyone’s best friend. However, a good officer should generally like people and enjoy helping them. He should be someone that members of the public feel comfortable approaching and talking with. An officer who is cold or threatening will be less successful in getting cooperation from the public and will have a harder time peacefully diffusing tense situations. Sometimes, being stern or commanding may be necessary, but most of the time other approaches will get better results. An officer must also handle pressure well and remain calm in tense situations.
Honesty and Teamwork
A good officer should be honest in dealings with the public and with fellow officers. He should also obey the law himself and avoid corruption or even the appearance of corruption. He must be ready to take orders and work cooperatively with other officers. The "lone wolf” cop who doesn't play by the rules may be popular film and fiction, but wouldn't last long in a real police department.
Intelligence and Reason
A good police officer should be intelligent enough to keep up with and understand the constantly changing laws and regulations that she must enforce, and handle daily situations as they arise. While police officers need to understand the law, they must also exercise reason and judgment when enforcing it. If a good person made an honest mistake and no damage resulted, a warning may suffice rather than an arrest. It would also be foolish to allow a serious crime to continue because an officer was busy with a minor infraction. An officer has a limited amount of time and needs to be able to prioritize duties as situations present themselves.
A police officer must work within his team and department. He needs to follow orders from superiors and not be overly aggressive with the public. At the same time, an officer should be ready to be proactive, assertive and prepared to take charge of any situation at any time if circumstances require it. The public should see the officer as a leader, not a dictator. A good officer knows there is a limit to following orders. Orders from superiors that are illegal or unethical could result in discipline and potentially even criminal charges. The claim that an officer was "just following orders" carries only a limited amount of weight.
- J Rank: Police: Police Officer Behavior -- Individual Characteristics of Officers
- Police Link: Sixteen Traits Recruiters are Looking For
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition -- Police and Detectives
- Law Enforcement Preparation Center: Top 8 Traits You Must Have To Be A Police Officer