Your new uniform pants haven’t taken on that shine from sliding in and out of squad cars. Your uniform shirts haven’t faded from a hundred washings and you don’t have a BBQ sauce stain you can’t hide without something in your pocket.
Your holster and belt look fresh out of the package and your gun doesn’t show any wear from sliding in and out of the holster. In your pocket are the two matching pens you eventually will replace with that one pen you grabbed in the E/R.
You recently stood up in front of all who are important to you and pledged to protect your community. You took an oath that you will honor for the rest of your life. You know what this means.
Kid, you’re new on the job.
As a recent graduate of the police academy, you have been trained to deal with all that can be thrown at you. You feel ready to race into a roaring gun battle and take down the bad guy, and yet, you’re not sure what violation to write the offender of the current traffic accident. The kid breaking into the car: is it attempted theft or burglary of an auto?
You learned all the take-down techniques. You can pull your gun, empty your magazine into center mass on the target and reload in record time. You can put cuffs on an arrestee as fast as a Formula 1 car pit crew can change tires.
However, a domestic disturbance with a middle-aged couple has you stymied.
Truth is that you are only qualified to learn how to be a police officer. There is so much more to study. Your new instructors are the FTOs you work with, i.e. the officers you respond to calls with. Then, there are the desk sergeants who want nothing to do with you.
Way back in 1983 as my class was preparing to go on the street, our home room instructor took a moment to give some of the best advice I heard in the academy. He pointed out some of us would get lucky and have great FTOs and some would get the bottom of the barrel training officers. He added it was up to us what we learned from them and there was something important to learn from all of them.
You might be working with a dog that did as little as possible to get by. Learn from it. There might come a day when you need that extra fifteen minutes on your lunch break and you’ll have learned how to get it from the biggest dog you have ever worked with.
You might work with the old guy who walks into a domestic where everyone is shouting at each other and within seconds he has the couple talking about the vintage wallpaper on the staircase. It might seem silly to you now but learn from it. He stopped the yelling, calmed them down, and opened it up for you to separate them and sort out the problem.
I worked with one FTO that I didn’t care much for. He wasn’t a bad person. He was abrasive and I never really felt very comfortable with him. After an arrest, he confronted me. He asked why I hesitated to place the man in custody. I told him I wasn’t sure what to charge him with.
In his not so gentle way, he told me, “You were raised by good people who taught you right from wrong. You know the guy was wrong. Lock him up and sort out the charging in the station.” He was right. I knew the guy had broken the law I just wasn’t sure which one.
Since that time, I became more familiar with the minutia of the laws. I even took courses on auto theft to help me.
So, you are fresh out of the academy and you know everything, but you know that you don’t. It’s normal. Everyone felt that way. You put up a brave front but, down deep inside, you worry that you will screw up. With everyone video recording your every move it is reasonable to worry.
You are under much greater scrutiny today than I was in 1983. You must use your head more now than ever. Watch and learn from your fellow officers and supervisors. If they are doing something stupid remember it – so you won’t repeat it. If it is something good, store it away to use when you need it.
If you have the luxury of a regular partner, do what my partner and I would do: After many incidents, we went over our actions. We critiqued each other and made suggestions. When one of us went to court we came back and discussed how it went so we could be better prepared for the next case. It might be something as simple as a better way to word something in a case report that results in a conviction.
The best police officers never stop learning. They listen to other cops and keep their eyes open. That ease the senior officers show isn’t because they know so much, it’s because they know they have more to learn. They know right from wrong and know they have time to work out the details in the station as they process the arrest.
Keep your eyes and ears open with your mouth shut and you will be surprised how much you learn. Remember everyone you work with has been in your shoes. The better ones will gladly answer a question and show you the way.
I loved my time on the police force, but I am even happier to be retired now. Society is screwed up. We have politicians running on pro-crime platforms. The job ahead of you is filled with many dangers, the least of which is getting shot at. Hell, you are ready for that.
Say the wrong thing to the wrong person and you’re on nationwide news, and your family suffers for it.
Know this: there are a lot of us retired cops, who have your back.
- We know what it means to work your ass off for twelve hours and come home to a family upset because you’re never home.
- We know what it means to miss your kid’s ball game because of some BS detail.
- We know what it is to tiptoe in at night after everyone is asleep. You peek into the kids’ room to make sure they are sleeping. Maybe cover one up who has tossed off his blankets.
- We too have laid there at night, unable to sleep because the adrenaline is still pumping.
You will get through it.
Twenty-five or thirty years from now you will sit with a few of your buddies over a cup of coffee or a beer and reminisce. Someone will comment on how glad they are retired now and couldn’t or wouldn’t put up with the BS the new coppers have to deal with today.
So, before you leave for your first tour of duty, stop. Look in the mirror. Adjust your uniform. Put a smile on your mug and know that you are beginning the greatest job a man can ever have.
Stay safe my brothers and sisters in blue. Run low and zig zag.
Robert Weisskopf, (Lt. CPD ret.)
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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To our BROTHERS and SISTERS in BLUE: We have now arrived at the time in the ELECTION SEASON when each of us MUST pay close attention to what candidates are saying. Every person we elect in November can affect our lives as cops. Will we THRIVE, just get by or will we DIE?
- Consider the disaster created in New York by Mayor Bill DiBlasio. His is not a solo act, sadly.
- Look at the number of cops who have been critically injured by the Portland District Attorney, Mike Schmidt.
- We cannot ignore how cops have been blamed for the problems in places like Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Baltimore and other cities where civilization has damned near crumbled.
- Don’t think that school boards are immune. Last Saturday, Steven Lysenko of Spencerport High School, went on a tirade against police officers for targeting protesters in Rochester by yelling, “Fuck the Police!”
- Last, but most important, is the top job: the Presidency. Electing Joe Biden would have a horribly deep, permanent and (in some cases) fatal effect on every cop in the nation.
EVERY ONE OF US MUST PAY ATTENTION AND GET INVOLVED.
OUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT.
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