Do an Internet search on the term “Human nature” and you’ll get a vast array of different definitions. After studying several of the available options, it seems clear to me that we as a species cannot agree on the exact meaning. One definition of Human nature — this one from Wikipedia — states:
“Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that humans have naturally, independent of the influence of culture.”
This means that human nature is comprised of traits that we all possess, whether cop or criminal, male or female, and regardless of ethnicity or upbringing. After years of working patrol, I think we can all agree we see five traits are possessed by most people, the good and the bad — the cop and the criminal.
Let’s briefly look at each.
1. Adrenaline: Whether you are a criminal who wants to escape or fight, adrenaline plays into the decision to do so. Likewise, the adrenaline of a police officer pushes him/her to win the foot chase, subdue the suspect, or catch the burglar.
2. Revenge: How many times have we heard, “I’m going to pay you back for what you did.” Revenge drives bad people to do bad things like assaulting a spouse or an enemy, stalking someone who has done them harm, or any number of wrongs committed against them. Revenge may not be a character trait we as cops really want to discuss, but to say it isn’t a motivating factor to get a conviction in a case of a known criminal that you have dealt with time and time again would be to ignore human nature.
3. Acceptance: We all have the desire to be accepted by our peers. If you wear a badge, you want your peers to accept you as a good cop — as someone they can depend on to watch their backs. On the other side of the coin, a meth cook wants the whole meth world to acknowledge that their product is the best on the market. They want acceptance.
4. Recognition: The human desire to be recognized for what we feel is a significant accomplishment. Recognition can give an officer confidence, especially when he/she is recognized by citizens for a job well done, or given a service bar from agency administration for rising above expectations. Similarly, criminals often want to be recognized — they want “street cred” among their peers. Bragging about a crime comes from the desire to be recognized.
5. Victory: In the end, we all — whether cop or criminal — have the desire to win. We want to succeed at whatever we undertake. The good guys want to catch the bad guys, and the bad guys want to get away. Winning is a big part of what we do, and it’s naive to think the criminals don’t feel the same way.
Next time you find yourself chasing down that perp, and you are being driven to succeed by one or more of these traits, remember that the perp may be driven by the same qualities of human nature. It is up to you to use those qualities to outsmart him and bring him to justice.
Possessing the traits of human nature is one thing, using them for right and just ends is an individual choice.