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. Share your suggestions in the box below.
1. Wear the uniform correctly, every time
Nothing says “rookie” like the officer who reports for duty the first time with his or her ballistic vest on backward. 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 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 box below.
This article, which was originally published 05/10/2014, has been updated.
Police1 readers respond
Always watch the suspect's hands. Outsmart the crook, don't fight him onto the wagon. Extra hours mean extra money – invest if you can. Go to school if you can and learn something different NOT police-related. Learn to write well, every report can burn you.
Be careful who you pick as a mentor or advisor. Don’t select the burned-out negative veteran who had been retired on duty for the last five years. Don’t select a fellow rookie because he has misplaced and unearned confidence in himself and sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. Be quiet, pay attention and learn who really knows what they’re doing. Don’t start complaining about everything in an effort to seem like a veteran. You’re NOT a veteran and won’t be for a long time. You haven’t been here long enough to really understand what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, or how it used to be. Just be quiet and pay attention.
Department romances rarely last. Make sure the rookie knows where all the equipment is located in the car, i.e., the shotgun rack release button. Do your daily vehicle check and replace what’s been used or get what’s missing put in the car. If you share a car with another officer and you just check all the blocks and they find something missing off the list and you show it was there you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.
- 1. If you believe in your head that everyone you come in contact with intends to do you harm, you will give yourself the best opportunity to retire. 2. A gun is involved in every call, YOU brought it. 3. Request compliance, demand compliance, force compliance.
- Pace yourself in this career. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You may have 25-30 years before you can retire. Take your time at the beginning of your career and learn the job. It took me about 4 years of working patrol in a very busy city with high crime before I felt comfortable with this job and thought I pretty much had handled every type of call, and could now train someone new to do this job. Also, an “old salty vet” once told me early on in my career that it’s a small percentage of officers that make it to the end and earn a service retirement. A lot of officers get medically retired, fired, or quit, so take your time, remember your training and officer safety, and always go home at the end of your shift.
- 15 yrs experience as an FTO. 1. Everyone will lie to you. Suspects lie, witnesses will lie and victims will lie. Only trust information 100% when you prove it yourself. 2. Don't trust criminals. They will try to hurt you or make you look bad any chance they can. For example, a suspect complains his cuff are too tight. Don't just loosen the cuffs without determining they are too tight yourself. He may be just looking for an opportunity to assault you or escape. 3. Don't let the job turn you into an asshole. 4. Take care of your mental health and prepare your significant other for the job you are embarking on. The job is all negative. You see dead and dying people, deal with violent people and it's full of stressful situations. It will change you, see #3.
- Don't take the job personally. The bad guys aren't breaking your laws, they are breaking society's laws. The same goes for someone chipping their teeth at you during an arrest. They are mouthing off to the badge, not you. So don't let your ego get you and your partners into an avoidable fight over someone running their mouth. Be a professional LEO, not a hothead with a chip on your shoulder.
Integrity is everything in law enforcement, on the job, in court, off duty, internal investigations, etc. Once you lose it, it is impossible to get it back. Doing the right thing is important even when no one is around or watching. Don't follow veterans or be like the veterans you see and/or admire but be your own trustworthy role model.
What things would you like rookie cops to know?