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Put a rookie on the right track using these 13 traits

It falls on all of us in the profession to recognize and help develop officers who are not tracking as they should

Think about the last time you watched a news story about an officer that made you cringe? We’ve all seen videos and read stories of incidents in which officers have done something that left them struggling to salvage their reputation (or even worse, fighting to keep their jobs).

Recruits are trained extensively on the code of conduct. Newly hired rookie officers spend a great deal of time with their FTO — an FTO who is usually a great professional who has a talent for developing young cops into being top notch police officers.

With all the training, what is lacking in the system? How do we end up failing to prevent some cops from making decisions they quickly regret? How do we still end up looking at those news stories and shaking our heads, thinking to ourselves, “What was he thinking?”

Providing Peer Mentorship

We try to teach our officers what some call common sense but a lack of common sense isn’t entirely to blame when an officer does something we’d judge to be obviously stupid. After the selection process vets potential candidates for a police position, it falls on all of us in the profession to recognize and help develop officers who are not tracking as they should.

We should do this to help keep the individual safe as he or she works the streets, but just as importantly, we should do this to keep ourselves safe as we work beside (and count on) these officers.

Providing peer mentorship is a very effective tool to get an officer who you feel may be making bad decisions to start making the right ones. Many officers think about doing this, but only a few have the spine to take real action. One reason is that sometimes officers feel that if they’re not the field training officer then it’s “not their problem” and the issue is ignored. Probably the most common reason for not taking corrective action is most officers don’t want to be responsible for causing a fellow cop to be subjected to disciplinary action (or termination).

But what if you could take action without severe consequences? The good news is, you can.

Correcting a peer’s mistakes doesn’t necessarily require a training course, or a memo, or anything particularly official. Sometimes all it takes is leadership and mentorship from fellow officers and front-line supervisors. The challenge is having the insight to recognize an officer’s shortcomings, having the knowledge of the proper corrective actions, and the having the talent to deliver the message without turning the individual away.

13 Positive Personality Traits

My experience in training tactical officers has provided me some insight into effectively evaluating officers during stressful situations. Over the years, I’ve identified 13 positive traits that help me to evaluate a problem officer’s deficiencies. This list of positive traits may help you to recognize an issue before it becomes a real problem, and formulate a corrective course of action (without taking official actions with the chain of command).

The 13 positive traits that demonstrate an officer’s character to are the abilities to:

  1. Ask for help to gain correct information and tactics
  2. Quickly “forgive and forget”
  3. Have a peacemaker mindset and avoid confrontation
  4. Negotiate a resolution without demanding your own way
  5. Be difficult to offend
  6. Accept help when needed
  7. Know how to listen
  8. Know when to speak
  9. Accept weaknesses and change with correction
  10. Eagerly serve other people as the team or unit comes first
  11. Treat people with respect
  12. Be patient with those you serve and deals with
  13. Be humble-minded and don’t think of yourself as better than others

These traits are common in most officers, but just lacking in one area can result in some serious problems. Once you recognize an area that needs to be addressed, determining how to get your point across is next.

I always favor providing direct feedback immediately after an incident occurs. As soon as you recognize that an officer has placed you in danger — or subjected you or your agency to a liable situation — your raw emotions (tempered with humility) can usually get the point across.

The trick is being able to convey your advice without coming across as arrogant or degrading. Officers who have inherent leadership skills can usually accomplish this by forging a relationship based on respect. When a leader has a subordinate’s attention, it usually results in a bond of friendship and paves the path for mentorship.

We can all think of a couple officers or supervisors that you never wanted to disappoint throughout your career and these types of men make for the best peer mentors. In many cases, peer mentorship is more effective than using the chain of command. However, in cases of an egregious offense, the officer should be dealt with swiftly by supervision and peer mentorship isn’t practical. Peer mentorship is conducted on the streets and in training environments every day and it’s a great way to bring your counterparts up to speed when they are a danger to themselves and you.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.