Good Cop – Bad Cop

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Policing, Research
Tags: , , ,

I’m prepping to teach an ethics in criminal justice course next term, so I’ve been brushing up on some rather arcane terminology, such as deontology, consequentialism, and utilitarianism. It’s been a reminder that the academic world and the real world can be miles apart sometimes, especially when it comes to language, which serves to frame up topics in limited, sometimes confusing ways.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng /

Image courtesy of Praisaeng /

While it seems far too simple to describe a complex set of concepts, like ethics, in concrete terms that do little more than establish overly rigid categories, at the same time, simple can be better when it comes to teaching important ideas.

To that end, I’ve been playing around with the table below as a way to contrast behaviors that fall at the extremes of “good” and “bad” when it comes to policing. Even that type of simplification runs up against definitional and relativistic boundaries, though. What is “good?” Who is it that categorizes an outcome as being either good or bad? What role does an ego’s or alter’s perspective play?

We can talk about duty, consequences, and doing what’s right until we’re blue in the face. All of that will be filtered through the student’s own beliefs, personality, and worldview until it takes on qualities that were never intended to be communicated in the first place.

And then we come full circle. We’ve come back around to the attempt at simplifying complex ideas in order to share them in a way that makes sense to learners. Around we go.

What are your thoughts? Can ethics be taught, or is doing so just a futile way to convince ourselves that we’ve met our academic duty to prepare students for a world that often defies our attempts at understanding?

Good Cop

Bad Cop

Authority Recognizes that authority is granted to the officer’s role or office, not to the individual Believes that authority is granted to the officer as an individual for his or her own use
Privacy Respects the right of all individuals to be free from unnecessary governmental intrusions Gathers information about individuals out of personal or prurient interests
Force Cautiously and judiciously uses force to accomplish legitimate goals, regardless of personal feelings of anger or frustration Consistently applies maximum force or more force than necessary out of a sense of frustration, self-righteousness, or a need to punish
Adversity Recognizes that dealing with human beings is challenging and is just part of the policing process Takes confrontation personally as an affront to the officer as an individual
Conflict Seeks to minimize conflict and to maximize the use of skilled human interaction Seeks out or instigates conflict as a way to act out feelings of aggression
Communication Consistently demonstrates willingness and ability to listen and constructively engage with others in the community, regardless of personal feelings Verbally and nonverbally communicates an unwillingness to listen, help, or constructively engage with others
Stress Proactively manages stress in positive ways that minimize anxiety and work problems Fails to manage stress, which leads to increased anxiety on the job, poor decision-making, and abusive behavior
Individual Liberties Fully respects and supports the rights of individuals in all interactions, and views individual rights as an important cornerstone of their work Dismisses the rights of individuals as an unnecessary and illegitimate obstruction to the officer and her or his role
Pseudospeciation Recognizes that police officers are members of society and are expected to treat all individuals with respect and dignity, regardless of personal feelings Sees all non-police as the “other” to be avoided, controlled, and/or punished

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  1. Brittius says:

    Good Cop: shows up earlier than scheduled for tour; Will check Roll Call; Update on Sector or special needs. Interest in what occurred while he was off duty. Check for any changes in Policy, Directives, Laws, Interim Orders.
    Bad Cop: shows up near tour turn out time; Has a history of absenteeism. Will push to get out of any assignment for any excuse possible. Always maxed-out for time taken off and will then try the Injured/Disabled route. Spurs rumors and falsehoods.


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