Book excerpt: So You Want To Be A Cop
From recruitment, life at the academy, patrol and eventually promotion, here’s what new police officers can really expect
Chapter 2: YOU’RE HIRED! NOW WHAT?
Every law enforcement agency is different, but where I started the first week of my life as a police officer began with the initial rite of passage: Limbo Week.
Actually, my first four months at the police department could have been called “Invisible Week,” because I didn’t exist as far as the officer corps was concerned. Frankly, becoming invisible, or flying under the radar, as many police officers refer to it, is an important skill to develop in your law enforcement career, so use this time wisely. Learn from it. In fact, learn from everything. Be a big blue sponge.
My greeting this week by our training sergeant went something like this: “Eeeeevvvoooahheehhhlaaa? How do you say that? Oh, Evola (Eeevo-lah). Okay, Evola, this is Limbo Week, and we’ll be getting your paper work in order, issuing you gear, getting you qualified on your handgun, and getting you sworn in. In the meantime, keep your mouth shut, your eyes and ears open, and report to Ms. Smith in records. She’ll tell you what to do. Oh, one more thing. Keep your mouth shut!”
During Limbo Week, when I wasn’t filing records or filling out paperwork in the administrative offices of the police department, I observed police officers as they came and went from the station. Apparently I was invisible, because during this time, I was not talked to, but rather, I was talked around.
You have to be with the department for a while before you become part of the family, and even when you earn a place at the table, you’ll come to realize that membership isn’t as great as you hoped it would be in the brotherhood of law enforcement officers. You know, “The Thin Blue Line.”
While it’s true to the general perception that a police department is a family, more accurately it’s a dysfunctional family. The company line is all about professionalism and unity, but inside the hallowed halls of the station, officers are tearing each other up overtly and covertly. Big egos, bigger ambitions and politics create a figuratively cut-throat environment.
Occasionally, we’ll patch up the verbal injury we’ve visited on each other, but generally speaking, it’s not a build-you-up kind of place. If you want someone who loves you unconditionally and attends lovingly to your slightest boo-boos, go home to your mother. And remember what the famous blues musician from Mississippi, B.B. King, said, “Only your mamma loves you, and she could be jivin’ too!”
Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t thrilled to be on the inside of the mysterious and exciting blue curtain. Outwardly, I appeared to be invisible and quiet, but inside, I was jumping around, yelling and high-fiving myself. I was a police officer, the city employee badge with my officer title hanging from the lanyard around my neck proved that, right? Boy, was I naïve! I hadn’t even been sworn in yet.
As Limbo Week progressed, I was ferried to the police supply and uniform store where I was fitted for my standard issue of three uniforms, the training sergeant selected my duty gear, and I was even allowed to choose which type of clipboard I would like to hold the citations and fine sheets I would issue someday. I was in police heaven.
Wait. Three uniforms? We worked a four-day, 10-hour-per-day schedule. No, the math doesn’t work, and thus, the first rule of becoming a law enforcement officer: expect the unexpected. You have to adapt. Constantly. Forever. Not bitch or whine – adapt.
Change is one of the few constants in law enforcement, so be prepared for it. Expect it. Embrace it. Roll with it. My first sergeant summed it up well: “Alley, if there’s something you don’t like here, wait two weeks and it will change.” He was right.
Near the end of the week, I, along with another rookie, was issued my duty weapon, which at my agency was the Sig Sauer Sig Pro 2340. Our training sergeant, who was a firearms instructor, took us to the county sheriff department’s range to qualify on our weapons for the first time. I shot a respectable score in the eightieth percentile on the qualification course with my handgun, and I scored in the ninetieth percentile with the department-issued shotgun. Not bad for a rookie who had never fired a handgun in her life. At the time, an officer needed a minimum score of 72 percent to qualify with a hand gun. Since that time, the score required has increased to78 percent.
Now, fully armed with an arsenal and tedious paperwork-processing expertise, Limbo Week Friday came, and it was time to be sworn in. There were only two of us selected to be sworn in from more than three hundred applicants who applied for the position of police officer with the department. We were both women. You have to think in terms of that federal guideline here that requires 10 percent of the department’s sworn personnel to be female. I waited nervously in the police department training room for the chief of police, his secretary, and a few people they rounded up from the administrative pool to make the ceremony look important. I was excited to take the next step in finally becoming a representative of the law, or in my television-affected mind, “The Law.”
Taking the Oath of Office was a defining moment. In my mind, that made it official. Of course, I had a lot to learn, as I was still within my probationary year.
The chief asked us to raise our right hand and to repeat after him, “I, (state your name), do solemnly swear that as a member of the police department, I will support the Constitution of the State of (fill in the blank) and the Constitution of the United States of America, and that I will perform with fidelity and faithfully execute the duties of this office to the best of my ability, so help me God.” And with that solemn promise before God, the chief of police, a secretary, and a handful of other administrative strangers, on June 21, 2002, I officially became a police officer.
About the author
Alley Evola is a retired, nine-year veteran of a mid-size police department in Tennessee. She worked her way up the ranks as a patrol officer, crime scene technician, field training officer, flex unit (street level gang/narcotics unit) officer and detective assigned to the major crimes unit. She graduated from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy and maintains her P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer’s Standards and Training Commission) Certification in the State of Tennessee. Aside from her law enforcement career, she is also the author of “A Simple Warrant Service,” which appears with a collection of short stories in “American Blue.”
From “So You Want to Be a Cop: What Everyone Should Know Before Entering a Law Enforcement Career” by Alley Evola. Copyright © 2017 Rowman & Littlefield. Used by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.