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3 challenges that blindside rookie cops (and how to survive them)

Here’s how to keep that sudden impact from changing your outlook on the job

Most every cop can clearly remember their rookie years. Most of us can even remember the very day we graduated from the academy, pinned on the badge, strapped on the duty belt, and hit the streets with our FTO.

We were unblemished. We were full of ambition. We knew we were going to make a difference and be the best cop in our department.

It’s my belief that every cop on a beat makes a difference — I have no doubt about that — but as the days, weeks, months, and years unfold over the course of our career, we start seeing things differently than we did when we first hit the street.

Law enforcement can be the most rewarding career choice a young person can make. But more often than not, rookies are totally broadsided when these challenges occur in their career. Sometimes that sudden impact can change their outlook or perspective on the job.

If you’ve been around awhile, you’ll probably agree that doing your job on the street is much easier than dealing with the politics and red tape that you must muddle through in the office.

We don’t often think of how personal decisions may affect our career and how career decisions may affect our personal lives. Here are three challenges rookies may need to mentally prepare to encounter at some point in their police careers, and how to survive them.

1. Change

Change can occur in a number of ways, and often when you least expect it. Maybe you’ve been on the night shift for a couple of years and now finally have enough seniority to stay right where you want to be: a graveyard keeper, working zombie squad.

But one night you show up at briefing and find out that you’ve been bumped off your shift. You’ve been transferred to day shift or some other assignment you despise. Maybe you have to work with a new sergeant who you may dislike.

Sometimes bad things like this happen.

I’ve seen cops handled these things the right way and I’ve seen cops handle them the wrong way. My advice to you, rookie, is to take it in stride. Ride out that change you didn’t want.

You will make it through.

Things are always changing in a department, always evolving, and just like that bad change you didn’t expect, a good one will occur down the line if you just stay the course.

2. Rejection and/or Coming Under Investigation

You knew when you started out that you would be a good cop, always do things by the book, and have integrity and honesty. Internal affairs investigations were for those “bad apple” cops, not you.

But then that day comes when you are our mowing your yard on your day off and you get a call from the Captain ordering you to come downtown and meet with internal affairs investigators. A million questions are going through your mind.

Ride out the storm, you may only be a witness, or it may be a routine follow up from a dishonest citizen, or from an honest citizen that simply doesn’t know the law or can’t relate to our often cold, shallow demeanor derived from dealing with, well, citizens.

If you have done nothing wrong and know it, then be patient and this too shall pass.

3. Promotion

You are probably asking yourself why promotion makes this list. Promotion is a good thing, right?

Being promoted is what 99 percent of us want to achieve in our career, and it should be. But with each rung of the ladder you step upon, you may endure some culture shock.

You may come across problems, obstacles, and personnel — and personal! — issues you never even knew could exist before you put the chevrons or butter bars on your uniform.

Those softball buddies distance themselves from you because they don’t trust you anymore.

Guess what? It’s all part of the job.

Don’t lose faith in your fellow officers or your friends — just concentrate on being an example as a supervisor and everything else will fall into place.

Obstacles will occur in every cop’s career, but with a positive attitude, perseverance, and integrity, you will live through them and you will become a mature, seasoned veteran.

Who knows, you may have the opportunity to coach an FNG of your own one day.

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.