So, you’ve just started at your agency. What should you expect? Well, most agencies have traditions or rites-of-passage ahead for you, and a training program and probationary period to be sure.
Allow me, as I complete my rookie year, to offer some advice.
Earning that Spot, with Grace
You earned a chance to try when the chief gave you a badge and had you repeat after him. You are a member of the team, but, as I said in my previous article, you don’t yet have a seat at the table. When I came to my agency, I was friends with many officers due to my previous employment. I tried everyday not to let that define who I was, but to earn my place by working hard, being humble and showing respect for the job, my partners, and the community we serve.
My agency assigns each officer a mentor. The mentor is usually a younger officer who is not involved with your training. The mentor is there to answer your questions and help guide you through your new job.
My mentor actually earned the title. We had lunch a few times off-duty and he would check in on me every work day that we shared. My mentor is a gang detective—an all around solid, well-respected officer—and he gave me some hard-earned advice that I will now entrust to you. He used three words to make the sentence and I will never forget where we were standing or the quiet tone he used when imparting his wisdom on my swearing in day. He said, “Humble, humble, humble.”
What does that mean?
If you have a great day and your trainer, supervisor or other officers offer you praise for a job well done, “Thank you, sir/ma’am,” is all that is needed from you.
Don’t rest on that big case you caught and figured out yesterday or last week.
Earn that badge by your actions, integrity, and attitude every day. You were picked above other candidates for your position for a reason. Prove it. Prove it by quietly and humbly going about the business of learning police work for the duration of your shift every day.
Humility isn’t just about when we’re succeeding. In the same vein of not letting yesterday’s successes define us, we should not let yesterday’s missteps define today, either. If you didn’t understand a law or ordinance last night, be able to quote it at briefing tomorrow. Seek out advice. Find a good example of a successful junior officer and ask him or her how you could handle an issue in your beat or with a frequent flier in one of your neighborhoods.
Embrace your profession. That doesn’t mean cloaking yourself in a t-shirt from one of the great emerging “LEO lifestyle” companies every day for the next 30 years. I mean: Understand the history and traditions of our profession in general and your agency in particular. Learn some of the sentinel cases or incidents in your agencies history. If you have the opportunity, meet retirees from your agency and listen to their stories.
If you don’t have the ODMP app on your smart phone, get it. Read the story of each officer killed in the line of duty as they happen. Take the time to review the historic deaths and reflect on them. Take the free Below 100 training if it is offered in your area.
This is an interesting time to be a cop. I recently read a great article written to today’s cops by a 70s-era cop detailing the similarities between the two periods. You may have stepped onto the beat in a community suffering from a harsh divide between the police and the citizens. Stand up for your partners and profession, but get to know the residents and business owners in the area you patrol. Let them know you’re there for them.
Have the humility to have “the talk” with your loved ones. Does your spouse or parent know what will happen if you are involved in a shooting? Does your department have a packet for you to fill out detailing your instructions should you be seriously injured or killed in the line of duty? Fill it out before your first day on the street. If your department doesn’t supply the documents, write your wishes down and put them in an envelope in your locker. Tell your trainer where it is.
Who should be notified officially if you are injured and cannot call home yourself? What numbers can those people be reached at and at what addresses. My PACT(peer assistance crisis team) packet has a map to my in-laws lake cabin for the department to find my wife on summer weekends. If you are killed, should the notification team bring along a pastor, priest, rabbi or imam?
Most of all, enjoy this job. Sometimes humility is required to have fun. You’ve worked hard to get here and are in for a rewarding career. Keep officer safety as your top priority and train every chance you get. Find some good cop friends.