12 things every training officer wishes a rookie cop knew

Here are some pointers to help every new cop on their way to a successful law enforcement career

So maybe you're considering becoming a law enforcement officer. Perhaps you're in a training academy somewhere, chomping at the bit to graduate and hit the streets. Or you are in field training as a rookie officer. Perhaps you’re the field training officer, or you’re working with a brand new officer.

Those of us who are cops have been there. In the spirit of making things better for everyone involved, here are some pointers to help you along the way.

1. Wear the uniform correctly, every time.

It’s easy to be over-invested in a career in law enforcement, especially early on in your career. (Photo/Star Max via AP)
It’s easy to be over-invested in a career in law enforcement, especially early on in your career. (Photo/Star Max via AP)

Nothing says “rookie” like the officer who reports for duty the first time with his or her ballistic vest on backwards. There’s a reason it’s curved on one side and straight across on the other – the curved part goes toward the front. It’s happened, or I wouldn’t need to mention it.

If you come from an agency that doesn’t have its own academy, chances are good that you didn’t receive any specific instruction on how to wear your uniform. Don’t show up with wrinkles anywhere. If it’s supposed to be creased, make sure they are sharp and there’s only one crease, not “summer creases” (some are here, some are there).

Polish your boots and brass, and have the brass items in the correct spots. If the policy doesn’t specify where they go, ask someone before you report for duty.

2. Your FTO is there to train you, not to be your best buddy.

An FTO’s job is to make you an effective patrol officer. There are times when he or she will have to point out what you did incorrectly. Don’t argue about it, learn from your mistakes and for God’s sake, don’t repeat them.

You’ll spend a lot of time with your FTO, and odds are good that a friendship will start to grow if there isn’t a personality conflict. Don’t expect that to cloud your FTO’s judgment. The FTO still has to make sure you can do the job.

3. Don’t complain.

Want to get under the skin of your coworkers really quickly? Start whining about things. Take your complaints outside your chain of command and the chances are good that no one will want to spend any time around you.

We all get tired of taking routine calls. We’ve done it a lot and have proven that we can do it. Now it’s your turn. Don’t complain about the shift partner who isn’t doing as much as you are, it’s by design.

4. Silence can be a good thing.

I enjoy long periods of quiet time when possible. It can make a new officer nervous. Don’t fill the air with nervous conversation when we’re having a good moment. If you have a question, by all means ask it. If I’m not talking, it’s probably because I don’t have anything to say, and that’s not a bad thing. I’ll let you know if you screw up. Ron Swanson put it best, “I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.”

5. Listen to the radio and learn how to talk on it. 

Rookie officers have a difficult time learning to multitask, and listening to the radio tends to be one of the first things that go away when there’s a lot going on around you. If you haven’t developed the ability to carry on a conversation with someone and still effectively hear what is being said on the radio, stop when someone starts talking on it. Preplan what you are going to say before you key up the microphone so you don’t sound like an idiot when it comes time to talk.

6. If you are driving the patrol car, don’t drive like an idiot.

No one likes to be carsick. We’re all used to being the one in the driver’s seat. It’s tough to be a passenger. Don’t make it harder by jamming on the gas pedal and brake pedal like they’ve insulted you. I’m glad you learned how to find the apex in a turn and you now know how to corner quickly. If there isn’t a reason to do it, don’t. Slow down and make it an easy turn. If you don’t, your FTO will let you know when he or she starts turning green and having the cold sweats because you can’t drive.

Slow down and patrol instead of destination driving. Roll your window down and listen and smell the area you are in. You have multiple senses, use them. And wear your seatbelt, every time, all of the time.

7. Learn the area you patrol.

You need to know what street you are on and the nearest intersection at any given moment. Don’t rely on technology to do it for you, because when you need it, the system will be down. Learn which side of the street has even numbered addresses and which side the odd numbered ones fall. It will be helpful when it’s dark.

8. Work time is for work.

Not Facebook, Twitter, etc., and not for texting your significant other all of the time. Don’t spend your day with your face in a phone. If you need to handle personal business, do it quickly and put the phone away. Don’t do it while you are driving (see #5). Don’t post crime scene or accident scene photos online. Don’t be an internet “tough guy” by bragging about all of the arrests you made today.

9. You haven’t earned the right to tease your coworkers.

The trainee with a week on the department has no place as “one of the guys.” Don’t get overly comfortable with your shift partners. Wait a year after you’ve proven yourself, then ease into it. 

10. Don’t think you’ll be a detective in a year.

It’s good to have goals. If you’re new, your job is to learn how to do everything expected of a uniformed patrol officer. Don’t expect to receive consideration for a specialty position at an early point in your career. Try to take on a variety of calls for service. Blend in some traffic stops and field stops. Learn how to talk to people, how to conduct an interview and how to do those safely. If you do them well enough, maybe you will have a future in a specialty.

11. We have invested a lot of time and energy in you, so do the work and do it well.

It costs a lot of money to outfit an officer. It costs a lot of money to train an officer. You’re being paid to learn the job. Put the effort into it and don’t expect any special favors. You made it through a rigorous hiring process, now you have to officially make the team. We want you to succeed. If you don’t, it’s in everyone’s best interests for you to find work in another field. It’s not personal. It’s business.

12. Find a balance between work and life.

It’s easy to be over-invested in a career in law enforcement, especially early on in your career. When you are off duty, enjoy your family and friends. Make an effort to do the things that make you happy outside of work. Learning to do this early on will make you more likely to have a long and happy career until you decide to hang up the duty belt for the last time.

There are a lot of other rules that I have left out. Namely, don’t pass gas inside the patrol car and don’t change our radio station if I already did. Do you have any that I’ve missed? Feel free to add them in the comments section.

This article, which was originally published 05/10/2014, has been updated.

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