In the first part of Surviving to Twenty-Five, I yapped a bit about safety and diet and exercise. Another part of long-term officer survival is in the work arena. Over the years, I have collected a few tips for getting your career off to a good beginning.
If you just had those patches sewn on your uniform shirts, the best tactic for you on the job is to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed, except to ask questions. And, contrary to cliché, there is such a thing as a dumb question. It’s the one you have already asked more than once.
Ours is a profession devoted to interpersonal communication, verbal and non-verbal. Command presence is a requirement. Choosing the right words to convey orders to, or request information from, your customers can be difficult in the rookie years. I have this suggestion for younger officers: Don’t say things you wouldn’t say with the Chief of Police standing right next to you. Simple, yes?
Now, when the fight is on, I’m certainly not going to gig a guy for using colorful language. But if you are regularly dropping f-bombs on citizens during the normal course of a duty day, you are courting trouble and poorly representing our badge of office. Do yourself a favor and keep your contacts professional. You will stay off your supervisor’s radar.
And speaking of your sergeant, ask for feedback from him or her periodically. Do those things he wants and take constructive criticism from her as an opportunity to change for the better. Your annual performance evaluation should contain no surprises if you maintain a good working relationship with your boss. This goes for any workplace, not just the law enforcement one. They drilled this into us at the Police Academy, where the instructors’ mantra was “Cooperate and Graduate!”
Another bit of counsel: You don’t get in trouble for taking a police report, but you will have some ‘splaining to do when you should have, but didn’t. Not documenting criminal complaints will land you in front of a command officer. I have seen guys spend more time trying to get out of pulling a report number than they would have spent had they just written the frickin’ report. I once overheard a veteran, pen in hand, joke, “Yes, ma’am, exactly what color were the space aliens who stole your potted plant?…” Take the reports that need to be taken and avoid a chair in IA.
Quite a few of today’s new officers walk in the door with the attitude that they have nothing to prove. Wrong! You have everything to prove. We don’t know you from Adam and don’t care who you were in the civilian world, your last agency, or the Military until you’ve demonstrated to us that you can be trusted with our lives and our jobs. Period.
Good or bad, your reputation is earned. A good reputation can open doors for you in your career. Conversely, a rep for laziness, incompetence, and/or irascibility will limit your mobility as an officer. If you are some raging jerk as a road cop, good luck in that detective assessment. Those who hide out from the hot calls, but then aspire to wear a SWAT pin to look cool–well, don’t even scrawl out that application.
If you are seen by your supervisors and peers as a hard working, technically proficient officer with a great attitude, my friend, you have written your own ticket. It requires some effort, but it will be worth it in the long haul.
So, you are going to implement all the foregoing approaches and everything will turn out fantastically! Slow down, pard. These are the things you can control. There are no guarantees in Life and there are plenty of a-holes around who are itching to give your corporeal existence a rash. Do your best and remember that no one is holding you hostage. Find another agency if yours is soooo bad.
The caution here is that the grass isn’t always greener, just different. I was lucky to spend more than a year of my career training police dogs at three departments other than my own. Being TDY to strange copshops convinced me that each agency has positives and negatives. Anywhere you work will have drawbacks. I guess we tend to stay where the bad is overshadowed by the good.
In that same vein, my advice to the recently sworn-in is to find out what kind of officer you are and go to the agency that fits you best within the first three to five years of your career. If you constantly move from one department to the next, you will be like a friend of mine who lamented, “Thirty years on the job and still chasing a pension. Stupid me. Stupid me.”
In Part Three, I’ll continue running my mouth on this topic. Please stay alert and watch out for your partners.