Just because you’ve read something in a book, taken some courses, or gone through basic training, any seasoned veteran police officer knows there is still a long, long way to go before a rookie becomes a streetwise cop. That’s where experience comes into play…and that’s when ‘Learning from a Pro’ can save a Rookie a lot of wasted, missed-guided efforts and embarrassment and will set him/her well on the way to a successful law enforcement career.
Police Chiefs and police officers with years of experience, still active and retired, provide loads of advice for the newcomer. They, like so many others, have advanced through the ranks, often also earning higher and higher degrees in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. They have published best-selling books on every aspect of the job, created training manuals, offer advanced courses and trainings nationally and internationally, and some have even found their place onto university faculties. These dedicated individuals who have advanced to the highest levels of law enforcement have one thing in common: they all started as Rookies. Those who heed their advice will create strong, stable, foundations which will most certainly lead to successful careers. Listen to those who have “Walked the Beat” because they KNOW a post-academy training experience can be very stressful.
There are a lot of ‘DO’s’ and ‘DON’Ts’ as would be expected, and right up at the top of the Don’t List is: DO NOT LIE no matter how badly you’ve messed up. When your Field Training Officer asks if you’ve remembered to pat frisk a suspect, fill out a report, or whatever, if you haven’t, just say “NO”…better even “NO, SIR.” ;Even if you’ve crashed a patrol car, ‘stretched’ some sick time, forgotten an assignment, or messed up a report, departments will give you another chance. ;You might be suspended or sent home for a spell without pay, but eventually you’ll be able to return to the job, as long as you haven’t committed that ‘specific intent crime.’ ;Just learn…improve…and be able to move beyond your mistakes. Senior Lieutenant Amaury Murgado has a favorite Japanese proverb that sums it up: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” In other words, don’t stop trying and don’t give up.
Don’t be tempted to tell a ‘simple lie’; those can get you into trouble, too. Your peers depend on your trustworthiness to fill out reports, give court testimony, and do the job. ;REMEMBER…you are establishing your reputation for a lifetime. Honesty is the key attribute of anyone’s character, but it is essential in order to forge a trustworthy bond with your agency. ;As Michael Walker, Executive Director of Central Coast Gang Investigator Association says: I would rather work with a dumb ass or someone who has less than a stellar reputation, than someone that will lie about things.”
KNOW YOUR JOB
These professionals cannot stress enough…KNOW YOUR JOB. Watch…Listen…Learn and Ask Questions; that’s what they ALL say. Never be afraid to ask and to try again. Perseverance and striving for excellence are recognized by superiors, even if you aren’t aware of it. Take the time to become ‘crazy good’ with your rifle, shotgun, and handgun. Your life and the life of others will depend on it. ;At first you’ll feel uncomfortable and unprepared to conduct motor vehicle stops, investigate suspicious activity, and take the lead on multi-officer calls, but that will pass with good training and practice. There will always be training and courses that are designed to perfect your skills at all levels. ALWAYS increase your knowledge and improve yourself physically and academically. Read trade journals and legal updates. You’ll gain all the confidence you’ll need.
Knowing your job isn’t just about handling firearms well, it also involves knowing how to use your electronic equipment and knowing the changes in laws and policies because ‘things’ are always changing. Staying on top of all this is time consuming, and often a rookie might think that there just isn’t enough time for the less-physical training, but they are mistaken. ;Mastering the technological aspects of law enforcement directly influences your success when you are called into action. Quickly getting to the scene of an accident or disturbance is crucial and often life saving; once there, knowing current procedures and policies will keep you from making a mistake. Efficiently using databases will aid your investigation.
DON’T BE A SMART ASS…BE A TEAM PLAYER
REMEMBER…members of your agency may not know you personally, but they will know your reputation, and once you are labelled, that label will stick. You might think that you’re a professional when you graduate from the academy, but the ‘real’ professionals know you have only just begun the learning process. Getting through the basics only qualifies you to ‘try’ to do the real stuff! Professionals cannot stress this enough: Be a Team Player, don’t isolate yourself, be standoffish, or ‘flip’ nor put yourself above your peers. Also, don’t show off, be over-important, pretend you’re doing your job, or ‘bend’ procedures. Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. with over 30 year experience relates several stories about rookies, most fall under the category of smart ass.
Respecting the hierarchy, the chain of command, is a major part of being a team player. Rookies should always address supervisors using their title even if others use his/her first name. They have earned that right; you haven’t…not yet. You’ll run across FTO’s with different training styles, different personalities; respect them and don’t try to ‘show them up’ even if their methods are a little outdated. They ALL have something to teach you, even if it’s NOT to be like them. ;Develop ‘thick skin’ from the beginning and learn ‘to take it.’ It’s good practice that will prepare you for the obscenities, loogies, and verbal abuse that you’ll be in for out on the street. And remember, too, it’s a two-way street; FTOs don’t like training rookies who think they know it all. Now…think about that.
VOLUNTEER…get involved with your agency and the community. There is ALWAYS something ‘extra’ to do that promotes the workings of your department, like special events and athletic leagues. Become part of youth mentoring programs, visit schools, and show your superiors that you are ready and willing to participate in a positive way. Volunteering is an excellent way to show that you are a team player and more than willing to do all you can for the benefit of the agency and the community. ;Community relations are important, too, especially today when there has been so much bad publicity in the news. Taking off your sunglasses and meeting people face to face then smiling will create a positive encounter. Professionals agree that you’ll be viewed as a valuable asset to the organization.
And as Lieutenant Murgado points out: “If you don’t (volunteer), then don’t complain when you are turned down for promotions or that assignment you’ve always wanted. If all you’ve done is show up for work and do the bare bones minimum, then you have already received your reward; a paycheck.”
BALANCE YOUR LIFE with FAMILY, FAITH, and FRIENDS; that’s what successful career law enforcement professionals advocate. It is ‘a must!’ All agree that you cannot keep your mind on the job if you have problems at home. ;Work hard…but play hard and ENJOY your time with family and friends, too, when you get home. Don’t let the job interfere with your at-home time. That’s easier said than done, but if you plan to make police work your life’s work and still want a loving spouse, well-adjusted kids, and good friends then it’s up to you to figure out a way to balance it all.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to leave home at home and work at work, but you have to try. It’s the only way to keep the crazies at work from interfering with the harmony at home.” (Michael T. Rayburn, 30 years of experience) Rayburn also believes that faith in a greater power grounds you and keeps you humble in difficult situations. He goes on to say: “it’s not the sheepdogs against everyone else; it’s the sheepdogs protecting each other, and the flock, from the wolves in our society.” ;
Request time off for what’s really important to your family members, even if it means having to go back to work once the event is over. Reminding superiors that appearing in public in uniform is great for community relations, too, and just might get you an hour or two off for a school event.
Phillip Patterson, Captain at Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office recommends to “eat right, get enough sleep, and be available and present with your family. Keeping a healthy balance at home will translate into your effectiveness as a law enforcement leader.”
All those who have achieved successful law enforcement careers and moved on to related areas of expertise know the importance of good formative training which serves as the foundation for all that follows throughout their long careers. They have come forward to generously share their knowledge, their experiences, and their know-how with those who are just getting started…Rookies.
REMEMBER: “It is a wise man who learns from the experience of others.” Voltaire
Ten Rookie Errors to Avoid (Jody Kasper, Police Sergeant)
10 Rookie Mistakes and Why You Should Avoid Them (Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.)
The Rookie’s Guide to becoming a Top Cop (Four Police Chiefs )
Twelve Keys to a Successful Career (Amaury Murgado, Senior Lieutenant)
5 Traits of Great Street Cops (Michael T. Rayburn, 30 years experience in law enforcement)