The worst advice I received in my law enforcement career
I hope that by shining a light on some of the misguided advice I received, I can help other officers avoid making similar mistakes
By Wayde Farrell
Over three decades of service, I encountered numerous situations where well-intentioned guidance proved more detrimental than beneficial, sometimes costing me dearly, financially or otherwise. From dubious retirement tips to perplexing tactics for hostage situations, to strategically risky advice on report writing, I’ve had my fair share of poorly conceived suggestions.
By sharing these experiences, I hope to encourage critical thinking and the questioning of conventional wisdom within the ranks of law enforcement. Not all advice is created equal, and it is crucial for professionals at every level to discern the good from the bad to make informed, sensible decisions.
“You have to have been an M.P.”
As a new deputy in 1985, I was assigned to the Inmate Reception Center. Two veteran deputies were talking to me during a lull in the shift.
One asked, “I heard you were in the army. Are you going to buy your time?” Our department allowed us to pay a certain amount to add our military time to our county service time. The sooner you did it in your career, the more inexpensive it was. So, if you had served four years in the military and “bought it,” when you retired after 30 years, your retirement pay would be based on 34 years, instead of 30.
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “I’m going to buy my time.”
At this point, the other deputy asked, “Were you an M.P. (military police)?”
“No, sir. I was in military intelligence,” I replied.
“You have to have been an M.P. in order to buy your military time,” he said.
The first deputy nodded in agreement.
These deputies had been on the department for about 20 years. I’d been out of the academy for about 20 days, so I believed them. I’m sure they believed what they said.
About 15 years went by before I found out they were wrong. By that time, I was married, had two kids and a mortgage and the cost of buying my military time was far higher than it was when I first started, so I could no longer afford it. That mistake cost me thousands of dollars in retirement pay.
Some advice you don’t recognize as bad advice when you first hear it, like my first example. Other advice you just know is bad advice as soon as you hear it. Thirty months after being assigned to custody, I was assigned to a patrol station. On my first day, my training officer ran certain scenarios by me and told me what our game plan would be. One of these scenarios was, “What do you do if your partner is taken hostage?”
This was a specific hostage situation that was described. It involved one of us being held at gunpoint and the other standing a few feet away.
My FTO said, “If I get taken hostage, I want you to shoot me.”
“Excuse me, sir?” I asked, figuring I heard wrong.
“If I get taken hostage, I want you to shoot me,” he said again.
I hadn’t heard wrong and you aren’t misreading. He explained that I was to shoot him in the chest plate of his vest, or his leg. According to his theory, that would surprise the suspect and give me a better chance to shoot the suspect in the head.
You know your leg has a femoral artery and the vests we have (at the time) don’t protect much. And if you don’t trust me to shoot him in the head, you shouldn’t trust me to shoot you in the vest, I said to myself.
What I said aloud was, “Yes, sir.”
And again to myself, No friggin’ way am I shooting my partner and then explain to homicide why I shot my partner, instead of the suspect.
And while you may think my partner was a nut, he wasn’t the only deputy I worked with that had that same plan. I went a month without a training officer and worked with 16 different deputies during that time. Every single one of them had that same game plan.
Sometimes advice is just stupid.
“Shoot him in the head”
This was also advice given to me during training, maybe even in the academy, I’m not sure. Most of us have probably heard and even given this advice.
“What do you do if a suspect has a grip on your partner’s gun?”
“Shoot the suspect in the head.”
Well because a suspect fighting with your partner for control of his gun is an obvious immediate danger. You need that guy to die and die quickly. You don’t want to give him a lethal gunshot to the heart and he still continues to fight for 40 seconds, gets your partner’s gun and shoots him, before he actually dies.
That was the game plan with every deputy I ever worked with and it was the game plan with me and my trainees. It was the game plan until January 4, 2001, anyway. On that day, some tweaker grabbed my partner’s gun and was trying to get it from him.
As the tweaker backed my partner up and the gun waved back and forth between their faces, I walked quickly up behind the suspect, put my .45 to the back of his coconut and began squeezing the trigger. As I did this, the following thought crossed my mind: The skull is probably a quarter inch thick on average. The brain is the consistency of jello. So I have about 3/4 inch of bone, six inches of jello and about eight inches of air between the tip of my gun barrel and my partner’s brain. I could shoot him in the side of the head, but I’ve seen bullets do some pretty weird things. I think I’ll just shoot him across the back and hope to hit his heart, spine, lungs and liver.
And so, Plan B was born.
I know that takes a while to read, but in reality, all of that flashed through my head in less than a second. I lowered my gun and started squeezing again, but just then, just as I was finishing my last step, they both bent over to my right, so their heads were about level with my sternum. “And we’re back to Plan A.”
I kept walking, moving my gun toward the top of the suspect’s bean with the intent to shoot into the top of his skull so the bullet traveled down into his torso.
Well. my partner’s gun barrel started aiming at me, so I kept walking and ended up behind my partner. I put my left hand on the right side of his neck, so his head wouldn’t move in front of my gun barrel and waited for the suspect to show his face.
I was now on Plan C. Whoever gets to Plan C?
The suspect’s face came into view, I shoved my gun past my partner’s head and fired. My partner fired at the same time. Unbelievably, the suspect let go of my partner’s gun with one hand and slapped my gun, sending my round, who knows where. My partner hit him in the shoulder. I did end up shooting the suspect in the jaw when he grabbed my gun barrel.
So, sometimes advice is good, but it may, or may not be appropriate. You should try visualizing things. That can help you make adjustments. It’s better to have pre-made plans to fall back on and that may need just a slight adjustment to the situation than it is to make plans on the fly.
“Write the bare minimum”
“Write the bare minimum” was advice I frequently received during training and sometimes once I was off training. The reasoning was we worked a busy station. We had multiple drive-by shootings a week, often in a night, and a boatload of reports every shift. You needed to be able to knock those reports out quickly because just because you are doing reports, doesn’t stop calls from being assigned to you. At least not on the LASD. So I was told, “Just write what you need to get the case filed. You can explain everything else in court.”
There’s a big problem with that advice. Who knows how much information can be left out before the filing D.A. pulls out his handy dandy ”D.A. Reject” stamp?
At the beginning of my career, I had a lot of arrests end up with the “D.A. Reject” stamp. In the cases that were filed, I noticed the attorneys, on both sides, asked the same questions, every time. In addition, I was working the graveyard shift. I don’t need to explain how court interferes with your sleep on that shift, or on the PM shift. One day, I decided to include the answers to the questions that were always asked on my initial reports. I noticed two things happened:
- My arrest filings went up dramatically.
- I was put on call more for subpoenas I received.
When I did go to court, I started making mental notes of the questions that were asked and started adding the answers to those questions in my reports. Eventually, pretty much every arrest I made was filed and I almost never went to court. The suspects took the deals that were offered. I think I can count the number of cases that went to trial on one hand.
I hope that by shining a light on some of the misguided advice I received throughout my law enforcement career, I can help other officers avoid making similar mistakes!
Police1 readers respond
- I was asked by many officers, “Why do you want to be a cop? This job sucks.” Fortunately, I didn’t listen. But how many people do listen? We owe it to ourselves and our future LEOs to be honest about the hard parts, but to talk about how rewarding the career can be – professionally, spiritually and personally. I was also told I had picked a horrible department, and no matter what I did I would never succeed. I found different people to talk to who taught me how to succeed. My supervisor told me if I wanted to promote, I should become more aloof, removed and distant. Fortunately, I wasn’t good at listening to him – now he is gone and I’m in his position. Finally, I told myself things would never change and I should bail out while I could. I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself because I became the agent for change. We got a new chief, a new city council, and now I’m helping form the future of the department. Nothing is permanent, things always change, and no one is too important that the department will cease to run once they are gone.
- Here’s a selection of the worst advice I have received: Do a good job, stay out of trouble, write your tickets, make arrests and you will get promoted. The chief has your back. You really do not have to check your squad prior to patrol, it is a waste of time. Don’t worry, I already searched him for weapons. Look the other way when stopping an off-duty law enforcement officer for a traffic violation, a traffic crash, or a DUI. You really do not need to study for the promotional exam.
- I actually got a lot of good advice when I started. I just wish I had taken that advice to heart.
- Good advice I had was to take responsibility for your actions, even if it means discipline and learn from it. Bad advice I had was don’t say anything unless asked about it, most times the sergeant will never know what you did.
What is the worst advice you received during your police career? Email email@example.com.
About the author
Wayde Farrell was a deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department from January 1985 to November 2016 when he was medically retired as a field training officer after almost 32 years. He worked a patrol car for a couple of years on day shift (hated it), several years on the PM shift (liked it a lot) and several years on the graveyard shift (LOVED it). About half of his career was spent on various special teams like COPs where he wrote around 100 search warrants for various crimes. He was voted his station’s Deputy of the Year several times and received a certificate of commendation from the U.S. Congress.