8 Things You Want To Do Once You Become A Cop
Most of us want to know what to do once we have embarked upon a career, project, or some undertaking. Why? We are sponges for knowledge and we got here by being inquisitive; full of curiosity and wanting answers to many mysteries. We love to problem solve. Yet, we don’t want those unsolvable equations for ourselves. The element of surprise might catch us off guard along the way during our professional development even though police train for it every day on the street. Surprises might cause hesitation. Everyone fears the unknown. No one wants to hesitate, right?
We make lists for various projects and we formulate reports down to the last detail. We ask a lot of questions. It is the nature of our personalities and frankly, a good trait in a cop.
Before we became a police officer, we still inquired about steps and processes. How can I prepare in college for law enforcement? What do I need to know about the police hiring and interview process? What happens next? These are all well and good. Standard inquiries.
But what do we need to know after we have the job and pass the field training program? Is there something crucial new police officers need to know? Oh there is so much out there to learn! Can we veterans really give you insight without some sort of personal bias? Maybe not, but our two cents is still worth the effort. The best advice I can come up with after years of police experience may not be earth shattering. In fact, you might think these items are rather humdrum. They are not company secrets, but along the way we often lose sight of these 8 things:
1. Make time for you and your family. This includes hobbies and recreation outside of work. More importantly, it should encompass some quality family activities. Balancing time for family is sometimes difficult. In fact, our relationships often suffer from our line of work including missing significant events and holidays from shift work, call outs, sleep deprivation, and lack of attention. However, family is extremely important and their support comes to us at all times of police life. We need to make sure we give adequate time for those near and dear to us.
2. Don’t look like a slob. Blue is the new black. You will feel an unbelievable amount of pride for serving others. Keep your uniform pressed and fitted, boots shined. Make sure that badge is as polished as the day you were given it to wear. Just a few minutes every day can make all the difference inside and out. Pride projects from the inside out. Some of public may only see the outside. Make it count. Sharp uniform. Sharp mind.
3. Safety first! Did you get a “Total Recall” moment there? Make sure you check your equipment every day, including your firearms, duty belt, patrol vehicle, and other necessary equipment. In today’s age of law enforcement, it is very critical all your equipment works properly and free of defects. Make sure you leave home each day with the proper equipment and check it for operational status. Your tools on your belt and in your car should be best accessible to you, the user of that apparatus, and in safe working condition. If something is not in a good place for you to retrieve in a hurry, change it. If it is broken, fix it.
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Police work is physically demanding and your life or others may depend upon your fitness level. Don’t discount that. I once learned the hard way-once- and it never happened again. I can’t tell you in words how deeply rotten it feels to fall short of physical performance and gas out when you are needed by someone else. Skinny might not be fit. Obesity is deadly to you and your peers. Your physical abilities and mental health might make all the difference in a chase or a fight for your life. Eating right and exercise also helps keep your mind active and alert. You don’t have to skip donuts, but you don’t need to eat the whole box. Sound body. Sound mind.
5. Knowledge is power. Always try to better yourself by absorbing information from others, reading books, studying case law, and attending courses. Pay attention to your veteran officers and mentors. Be one who always seeks to improve. There is so much out there to learn and much of it can be done free of charge and in addition to what the department does for its officers. Empowering yourself with updates will make you a better cop.
6. Keep up with your primary police skills. Physical skills include firearms and self-defense which are diminishing skills. If you don’t practice, you lose those fine-tuned muscle memories. The gross motor skills might remain, but your marksmanship and martial arts finesse may suffer some loss in judgement and aim. Many police organizations cannot afford the time or financial resources to offer anything other than basic qualifications and refresher courses. Take it upon yourself to keep practice part of your routine.
7. Never lose empathy for citizens. There are times you will literally not care anymore. You will suffer from compassion fatigue. Your body and mind might shut down from exhaustion from a long period of continual exposure to human misery. It will feel like you are blank inside and out and have nothing left to give. This is a time you need to stop the bus and reassess what is going on. Empathy is not carrying everyone’s burdens and getting personally involved with citizens. It is the ability to understand others and their feelings but keeping a personal distance. You need to separate the emotional toil of despair but bring the compassion for humanity to each call. People rely on your assistance in times when they may be rendered helpless. In fact, most often their police contacts will be during times where they are not in their most shining moment. No one wants to encounter “Officer Unfriendly”. Reserve that for the really bad guys and serial killers.
8. Keep a positive attitude and don’t forget where you come from. When you are bombarded by human suffering every day, it is easy to become jaded and cynical. Some colors of jade mold into our cop humor or negativity and becomes a part of us. That’s the part we love about each other as cops. We get in groups and giggle. No one else understands that. It’s a private bliss we should keep under wraps. Besides, we don’t want to share all the fun. Some of it is just camaraderie and we have to vent to others who understand the profession. This is a tough job. Realistically, our skepticism is a cop thing and the public will not get it. Even if you carry some apathy as a coping mechanism, bring optimism and integrity to each tour of duty. This doesn’t mean you come to work sporting pom poms, but it does include positive self-reflection and pride of service. Remember public service involves a greater thing than yourself.
One police officer’s career is never like another. Over the years, each law enforcement career takes on a unique path according to that person’s interests and talents. However, despite our differences, we all experience many of the same things in police life. This police life is so great, I hope everyone experiences it well. But we have to keep some things in check.
Once you get started in law enforcement, remember the points above. The “little things” get left behind because we get so used to putting community service first. They too often get glanced over once we are off and running to protect and serve! Create your own version of a successful career. Keep making new goals while inserting your talents where they can do the most good to help others.
Although police officers get handed puzzles and surprises, we like to have a plan when it comes to our professional development. Being prepared with training and practice gives us not only information, but also a sense of balance between education and skills. This balance spectrum is paramount, plus it shows a high level of competency. It all contributes to being an effective officer.
We often keep our eye on progress associated with our community standing, Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) hours, and career advancement, but rarely focus internally toward mental and physical well-being, family, and some “housekeeping items.” Remember to not only take care of your community, but also yourself and your family. Be safe!