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How to survive your first 100 days as a new police officer

Become an asset to your shift and watch just how quickly and easily you adapt to your new profession


Your decision to serve your community is both honorable and respected. But that fact alone won’t see you succeed in your new role as the face of public service.

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Starting a new job is akin to your first day at a new school – you know no one and you are unsure what the ground rules are. Showing up for your first patrol shift as a rookie police officer is a lot like that but with way more pressure.

Not only are you showing up to a new place to meet new people who expect you to have some basic knowledge of penal code, police tactics and agency policy, but then you have to contend with the current climate surrounding the law enforcement profession. Being a police officer isn’t on the top of anyone’s list right now and we are firmly in the crosshairs as public enemy number one.

Police work is dangerous, some would argue more now than before, and the work is stressful and can be thankless. Yet, it is a vital cog in the machine that is society, and your decision to serve your community is both honorable and respected. But that fact alone won’t see you succeed in your new role as the face of public service.

In policing there is a saying that is preached across the nation: “Your reputation begins day one.” In policing, your reputation sets the tone for your whole career. Once you get a reputation it sticks. I’m still referred to as the Temp Tag cop for starting up a crusade to bust fake temp tags as a rookie officer. I’m also known for being proactive, being where I need to be when I need to be there and eating whatever food is brought to a shift party. Your reputation is your most vital tool in this job and can open and shut a bunch of doors throughout your career.

So, with that firmly cemented in your mind, let’s go over a few steps to success that will help you during your first 100 days of police work as a rookie cop.

Officer presence

On your first day, expect to see officers in various states of uniform readiness and know that this cannot and will not be you. Yes, the senior police officer has on a wrinkled uniform and unpolished boots. No, that does not mean it is okay for you to show up to your FTO shift like that. Your reputation starts on day one!

The senior officer or officers you’re looking at have already cemented theirs. It is expected that you show up each and every day “boot ready,” meaning to academy standards. Yes, people are going to make sarcastic comments on how pressed your uniform is and how shiny your boots are – it’s part of the process. Also, if it is prominent enough to be commented on that means people are taking notice, and that’s a good thing.

Know your stuff

As a rookie, you are not expected to know the intricacies of patrol work in your first 100 days, but you are expected to know the academic side of the job – the policies, and penal and transportation codes. If anyone should be able to rattle off offense levels, it’s the rookie. So, study, study, study. Make a routine out of reading one to two penal/transportation offenses and policies before you go to work each day. You’ll be amazed at how much confidence you’ll be able to build from this alone, and when you find yourself in a high-pressure, fast-moving situation, the information you’ve poured into your brain will be there. You won’t have to second guess the decisions you’re making in the moment, and you’ll show your shift that you can be relied on.

Add value

Let’s face it, as a rookie you have the overall effectiveness of a toddler in a bar fight in the eyes of your shift-mates. Proving otherwise is a crucial part of the first 100-day process, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to add value. This doesn’t mean you have to bring food or clean up after people. No, this value is what you show on patrol.

Take the lead on big scenes, always offer to take the DWIs and be willing to stay late. Every officer with a solid reputation has had to do the exact same things, and you need the experience anyway.

Become an asset to your shift, and watch just how quickly and easily you adapt to your new profession.

Understand the shift culture

This is big, and likely the one you already have some idea about due to its prominence in movies and television shows.

Yes, in some ways what’s depicted in the movies is accurate. You have to understand that you are coming into a team dynamic, your new shiftmates have established themselves in their respective areas of expertise and every shift has a certain flow.

The basic rules apply: Don’t sit in random seats on your first day, wait to be told where to sit. Be ready to introduce yourself, and be personable, your shift wants to get to know the new rookie and get a sense of what you stand for.

Also, as you get deeper into your first 100 days as a police officer pay special attention to how your shift works. Are they primarily focused on calls for service, or are they more proactive? These types of things determine how you will operate within your shift; you don’t want to be running around making traffic stops when your shift is getting swamped with calls for service and vice versa.

Have a short-term memory

No matter how much you study and read about penal codes and policies you are going to make a mistake. It’s expected and beating yourself up about it is only going to add more stress during an already stressful time in your career. You have to be able to understand what you did wrong without letting it simultaneously affect your performance on the next call.

You might back your patrol car into a tree, it happens. You might accidentally discharge your TASER during a 41 check, it happens. Will you be made fun of? Of course! It’s hilarious, but it happens, and you aren’t being judged for it.

Don’t let it start to affect everything you do, don’t question yourself on scenes and trust your judgment. Remember, no matter how many years you have on, everyone still makes mistakes in this job.

Relax and be personable

Finding a way to be themselves is an often overlooked part of a rookie’s transition during their first 100 days.

I know this is way harder than it sounds considering the out-of-the-oven-into-the-frying-pan nature of moving from the police academy to the street, but it is crucial you take this to heart.

Police shifts run off of trust and camaraderie. Your new shift has to know who you are – if you have family and friends, your hobbies, and that they can trust you. Too many times rookies are uptight, quiet, and reserved during their first 100 days on the job. Letting a little personality out will go a long way in smoothing out your transition and endearing yourself to your new shift. Speak up, ask questions and provide input when appropriate. You can even crack a joke or two. Of course, make sure jokes are in good taste.

Invest in your future

When you’re initially hired by your police department, you’ll likely have to complete an academy as a cadet. This is the lowest you’ll likely be paid in your entire career in policing.

Many of us, myself included, eye graduation not only for the accomplishment but also for the big pay raise we all get once we’re commissioned. In some instances, it can be as much as a $10,000-$20,000 annual pay increase from the pay you were making as a cadet. You are probably rubbing those hands together right now thinking of all the nice trinkets you can buy. Don’t. Do this instead:

  1. Get used to living off the cadet salary you were making. By the time you graduate from a police academy, you would have been living off of whatever they are paying you for 6-8 months. Somehow you managed to feed yourself and your family, pay rent, afford gas and whatever else during that timeframe with that limited budget. DON’T GO CRAZY WHEN YOU GRADUATE. Keep your lifestyle the same as this will allow you to take advantage of step 2.
  2. Start contributing to your 457b (or deferred comp) in the academy if it is an option. It will likely be a part of the paperwork you fill out during your first few days. If you don’t take advantage of it then, you will definitely want to ensure it is set up during your first 100 days as a commissioned officer. The longer your money has to grow and compound the better it will be for when you retire.
  3. Max out your departmental 457b, or get close to maxing it out the moment you graduate. That’s right, instead of buying that new truck, or new whatever, use the raise you get from graduating to fully maximize your 457b. Just trust me and do it. You’ll be getting a lot better return on your money than dumping it into some new toy, vehicle or gadget. Waiting can shave years of compound interest off of your returns down the line. I wish I would have done it during my first 100 days and taken advantage of all of that compound interest.

Your first 100 days as a police officer will set the tone for the rest of your career. Following the aforementioned tips can see you thrive in your new profession.

Next: Tips for rookie cops for common patrol calls

Xavier Wells is the founder of Cadet, Rookie, Cop, LLC, created to fill training gaps for new officers. He is an active Texas peace officer, disabled veteran and author of four books: “The Rookie Handbook,” “Applicant to Police Cadet,” “Graduating with Honors” and “Expert Witness.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration from Liberty University. Currently, Xavier works patrol and serves as an adjunct defensive tactics instructor for his department.