I have been asked by many people over the years what they thought was an essential skill for being a police officer. Was it physical strength, the ability to converse, or is it intelligence?

Those are all great qualities and all will be helpful to the person who wants a career in law enforcement, but I believe the most essential thing a person needs to become a successful police officer is a good curiosity.

A police officer responds to a person’s call for help or assistance. That help might consist of giving advice, or taking a report about a crime that was committed, or even arresting someone for something they have done. These tasks can all be accomplished by anyone with some training and experience gathered over time.

What makes a report taker into a world-class investigator is curiosity.

Of all the great law enforcement people I have met over the years, this one element of their personality, this seemingly simple concern is the thing that led them to really achieving great success.

Why?A simple word but a very powerful concept.

Why did something happen the way it did? What caused it to happen? Why would someone feel that way? Why would someone do such a thing? What makes a person think that way? These are all questions borne of curiosity.

A good example is the residential burglary. An officer arrives and reviews the scene, then takes the report from the resident. They record how the burglar got into the house, what they took and what damage was caused. If that’s the end of the interaction and if it is written up correctly the officer will have done an efficient job.

But is it a great job?

Our police officers should not simply be report takers, they should be investigators, crime fighters and defenders of the community. We should provide them with the best training; training that challenges them to do more than just write down what happened. We want them to find out why and how the incident happened so the next time they go on patrol or respond to a call they can use what they learned in previous incidents to prevent a crime or catch the criminal.

The key to this is curiosity. The officer has to have a desire to understand what makes people tick, how they think and behave so they can be one step ahead of the people that would commit crime and do other bad things. It helps to plan your patrols and choose what areas to spend time in.

Asking why is the most basic step in solving crime and preventing new crimes. Asking why should lead to a second and third and fourth question; each answer adding to the officers knowledge base and revealing other areas to explore.

Knowing the houses most likely to be burglarized can help an officer look for and find suspicious activities. Interviewing the burglar and finding out that they like to choose houses on corners or with large pieces shrubbery that block the view to the yard is important information.

Knowing where people buy their drugs or how they choose to pick a robbery victim helps the planning for future crime prevention. We get these answers from the people who commit these crimes; but if we are not curious about any of this, we can miss a lot of good information. Information that makes for a successful police career and provides a great service to our communities.

I saw this in action many times. My partners, Chuck and Jeff, were two of the best cops I ever met. They seemed to be able to predict where a thief would strike next, or where they would go to sell their stolen property. If we had a crime spree going on these guys had a plan to find the bad guys and catch them. It seemed like they had a sixth sense, but in reality it was because they were never satisfied with simply taking a report to document an incident. Instead they wanted to know why it happened, how it happened, how was it planned, what tools were used and on and on.

Watching them solve these crimes and catch the perpetrators was not only professionally satisfying, but made for a great day at work and a safer community. I remember asking Jeff one time after we set up a surveillance of a particular neighborhood that was being victimized by a burglar; why are we going to set up on this corner?

Jeff’s answer was: “Good question — we choose this block because every burglar I ever talked to told me what they were looking for in a house. When you compare that information to the string of burglaries we are investigating we simply match up the houses in the area that fit the pattern and we wait. They will come to us.”

This tactic was a tremendous tool for us to keep our community safe. In fact it proved to be so successful that after a series of several burglaries in our town and the surrounding towns Chuck created a plan and a prediction of where and when the crook would strike next.

He ran out ahead of us to get set up and before the rest of the team was even out of headquarters he radioed in that he spotted the suspect. In short order the guy was under arrest and admitted to 15 burglaries in 4 towns.

All of this was possible because these two cops were curious about how and why people do what they do.

I took this concept to heart and never stopped asking questions.

Curiosity is what makes a good cop into a great cop. It’s the POWER OF WHY In Policing.

I have been CHASING JUSTICE throughout my career friends. My goal is to be THE VOICE for the voiceless. Reach out with your own stories and thoughts on justice…  JPanagro@Americaoutloud.com 

Listen to Lt. Joe Pangaro Weekdays 3 PM EST on his show ‘Chasing Justice’