WHERE IS YOUR FUTURE?

OK, I’m a bit strange.  I admit that.  I’m one of the dinosaurs and I go to the gym every day.  Twice some days – because cardio is a must [sigh].  My recent health history includes a two-year battle with colon cancer and a complete shoulder replacement.

I remain a bodybuilder and my record includes six contests.  I qualified for national-level competition.  Preparing for contests taught me what I was capable of doing.  I learned a lot.

Enough about me.  Now, let’s talk about you.

My workouts are at a local family-owned gym.  Among the members, there is a strong presence of law enforcement, firefighters, current and former military and lots of students at the three universities nearby.  I have been witness to weights being used in ways that make me laugh and some that make me cringe.

Frequently, I will witness a guy working really hard on a specific body part.  Due to his poor form, the desired results (getting bigger) elude him.  I realize that advice is often worth what one pays for it: nothing.  To boot, I’m in testosterone heaven.

So, very carefully, I say offer a statement like, “A trainer once showed me a technique that really helped me get bigger arms. Would you like me to show it to you?”  To date, I’ve never been turned down.

Fortune has been with me.  I’ve have been lucky enough to make some great friends at the gym.  We spot one another.  We talk ‘guy’ talk and we hang out.  I’m invariably asked if I’m a Marine.  “No” is the reply; I’m a cop. I currently traIn cops.

Often, that leads to learning they are currently in the academy – or soon will be, which leads to the question: have you been hired anywhere, yet?   If the answer is ‘no’ I ask if they’ve decided where they want to work.

THE FIRST GIRL WHO COMES ALONG

Too often, the response is something like, “I’ll work for the first department that hires me.”

I cannot help but cringe.   Think of witnessing a 90 pound wimp of a guy laying down on the bench trying to lift 275.  Ouch!

The future doesn’t look bright in either situation.

Could you imagine talking to a buddy who says, “I’m so horny, that I’m going to marry the first girl who comes along – just so I can get laid regularly.”

A LITTLE FORESIGHT, PLEASE

A cop job is not the same as being a stock-boy at the local grocery store.  You can’t just simply hop from one to another with ease.  Becoming a cop in an agency has many of the same attributes of getting married.

You apply.  The agency examines you from head-to-toe and in places you thought were private.   They ask a million questions.  Some questions, you don’t want to answer.

Of course, you should be doing the same thing to them, but you don’t.

Then, you’re hired.  You get past probation.  After a couple of years, the novelty is wearing off.  It’s sort of like the first time you see your fox-of-a-woman as she awakens in the morning, without any makeup, looking like … well, you know.  You start to think, “What did I get myself into?”

Peaches & Cream became Vinegar & Sour Milk

You begin to realize that the LT is a jerk and the Chief is an asshole.  Some of the guys on your crew are turning into anchors instead of the wizards you thought them to be in your impressionable early days.  You don’t look forward to going to work, anymore. You’ve got a few years in – but you’re not vested in the pension plan, yet.  If you leave, you’ll lose your pension and just as bad, you’ll have to start all over again at the bottom of the seniority ladder somewhere else.  The thought of being the FNG all over again makes you shiver.  There are no good options.  Every one of them is painful.

You are trapped.

ALL POLICE DEPARTMENTS ARE THE SAME, RIGHT?

NO.  Not so fast, buster.  Because of my work as a trainer, I’ve been on ride alongs with well over 100 agencies across the country.  Every one of them is unique; no two are the same.  There are a few terms that could apply, however.  Agencies have their own culture, their own personality and their own style.

I’ve explained to supervisors many times that I need/want to go on a ride along ahead of conducting a training class so that I get a feel – an understanding – of how the agency works.  Civilians are clueless; they believe all cop shops operate the same way.  I’m here to tell you it ain’t so.

So, what’s the message, you’re wondering.  Simple:  if you are looking for your first job, or thinking of changing jobs, it is absolutely critical that you choose the agency.  Just like you chose a wife. Asking questions and learning about the agency is just as important as them learning about you.

Here is an important fact: you will spend more hours at work each week than you will spend at home.  (It takes time to be the prince you promised your wife you’d be.)   Don’t partner-up with the first agency OR woman who will take you just because you’re horny or you need a job.  It’s a bad move.

Some time ago, I suggested to a pal that he do background on the agency where he would soon apply.  I got the “cocked-head, blank-stare look” in response.   Like “huh?”

Now, I want to share some real-life examples about agency personalities.  These descriptions are true – I lived them, first-hand.  I don’t intend to make any of these agencies look bad.  Rather, I want to share real-life experiences of what it’s like to be on the street with these departments.

Flint, Michigan is one of the agencies where I ‘cut my teeth’ in law enforcement.  I was often on multiple weekly ride alongs over a three year period.  I was introducing the patrol officers to their first in-car computers.  The work pace (especially on the afternoon/night shift) is often frantic, running call-to-call.   Leadership from the Chief’s office on down was been sketchy, at best.  And, as they say, “Shit rolls downhill.”

Their annual budget usually fell far short of what they actually needed to do the job.  Hence, they were most often short-staffed and lacked equipment that is considered basic in other agencies.  The cops were generally given a great deal of freedom to make decisions with little interference from above.  They were a ‘can-do’ bunch of cops who invented / responded with their own methodology in order to meet the need.  The non-stop action made it tough to even get time for lunch.

Warren, Michigan has the city of Detroit along its entire southern border along Eight Mile.  These guys were truly brothers, to me.  This crew could make a great bunch of street fighters – if they weren’t cops.  (It’s good they are on the right side of the law.)  They were known as a “kick-ass and take names later” operation.  Because of a significant presence of General Motors and other auto-related companies, funding was not a problem.  They had the manpower required and the gear needed to make their crew as safe as is humanly possible.

Theirs was a stand-up bunch of law-and-order guys.  They had tremendous community support.  WAR STORY:  October, 2000, Officer Christopher Wouters was killed in action. The day after his death, a frail, little-old lady tottered into the station and approached the sergeant’s tall desk.  With both hands, she reached up and put a check for $15.00 on the counter saying, “This is all I can afford, but I want it to go to Officer Wouters’s family.”  That pretty well characterizes the kind of support Warren PD gets from the citizens.

Ponce Inlet, Florida serves a very small, very wealthy community at the tip of a peninsula south of Daytona Beach.  The homes there typically sit on large lots that are either gated or surrounded by enough vegetation to hide them from public view.  On arrival at the station, it became abundantly clear that funding was NOT an issue for this agency.

What was an issue here is: boredom.  I was out for roughly eight hours with a total of 2-3 cars on the road.  Combined, there was ONE call for service in that eight hours.  The cops pretty-much get whatever optional training they request.  The vehicles and equipment is state-of-the-art.  Residents are accustomed to a vacation check service which has an officer stop at their home, walk around checking doors and windows every day they are away.

Some could characterize this agency as a great place for a cop who is in the later part of his career and looking for a place that is pretty much quiet.

And the beat goes on … One cannot assume that agencies within a general area are the same.  If one looks at Cook County, IL (Chicago) and compare it Oak Brook, they would be dramatically different.  The same story hold true for Harris County, TX and the city of Houston which occupies most of that county.

One of the most important factors to consider is the Chief.  The question: is the chief a manager or is he a leader?  There is a vast difference between the two.  There is an agency south of New Smyrna Beach, FL where the chief’s leadership skills are zero.  He’s only a manager.  His interest in cop work stops at the daily spread sheet showing the number of arrests, citations, etc. with absolutely no recognition for the qualitative work which is critical to the success of any agency.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Before making application anywhere:

Look at what information is in the public domain.  Look for crime statistics, the number of calls for service, look at the budget, and check the manpower, i.e. the number of officers per 1,000 residents.  Compare that data with similar agencies in the area.

Check social media.  Don’t just look at the sites owned / operated by the agency or others in official-dom.   With the technology we have today, check out what other cops are saying, as well.

If the cops are part of a union, talk with the union representative.  Find out what you can about recent grievances.  Learn what you can about the beginning salary, where/when it caps and the policy on overtime.  Does the agency allow officers to work off-duty?   If so, can they work in uniform?

If you’re really willing to spend the time, ask cops from other agencies in the area about the reputation of the place you are considering.  The town where I live has a great crew and an ample budget.  However, cops at nearby agencies know that it’s a bad place to work.  Stay clear were their words.

If possible, get out on a ride-along.  My experience tells me that if I want to know how any agency really works, get out on the road for a shift.  When I’m in that situation, I always announce at the outset:  “Whatever is said in the car, stays in the car.”    I encourage the cops I ride with to have a ‘normal’ shift.  Don’t do anything extra, special or different because I’m here.

Throughout the shift we handle whatever comes up.  The conversation between calls will paint a very clear and vivid picture of what is really going on in the department.

CONCLUSION

Look at this like a marriage.   Prospective employees, have become accustomed to the notion that the agency will examine us in places which we’ve either hidden or ignored for years.  Years back, I began to wonder if some of the applications I filled out would eventually ask me to measure my ‘private’ parts and report the size.

Why are the agencies exempt from a similar examination by me as a potential employee?  They aren’t.

Think of a job like a suit of clothes.  It would be silly for me to buy a jacket sized 40 short.  It wouldn’t fit.  That would not be an indictment of me OR the suit. It only means we aren’t a fit for each other.  A job should FIT the person being hired to fill it.

There is a business term that is widely used.  It’s called the “80-20 rule.”  How does it apply to a cop shop?  Here are a few examples:

  • 80% of the calls for service come from 20% of the residents.
  • 20% of the residents account for 80% of the crimes committed.
  • 80% of the traffic stops are made on 20% of the drivers.

Why do I bring this up?  NO AGENCY will be a perfect fit.  Just like you won’t agree with your wife 100% of the time.  If you find an agency where 80% of what you’ve learned is favorable, it’s probably a good deal.  If you hold out for a 100%, you’ll never find work.

Here is a great quote from author Kevin Gilmartin in his book, “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.”   He wrote: NOBODY, BUT NOBODY, WILL ESCAPE FROM A POLICE CAREER WITH THEIR PROFESSIONAL VIRGINITY INTACT.  EVERYONE GETS SCREWED BY THEIR AGENCY AT LEAST ONE TIME.  Amen.

EPILOGUE

 Every effort should be made at the front end to avoid becoming trapped in a job with any agency.  Of the thousands of cops I’ve come to meet, I wonder how many of them have thought, “If I had only known then what I know now.”

It all comes down to saving just ONE life.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and letting me share my story with you.  You can contact me with questions or input at jim@CopBlueblog.com.

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