Ed Note: We’re pleased to introduce James “Jim” Guffey as the newest member in our growing roster of writers. Jim began his Law Enforcement career in 1977 with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police and in 1980 was hired by the Ross Township Police Department where rose through the ranks, achieving the position of Lieutenant in 1996. He remained the Administrative Lieutenant for Ross Township until his retirement in January 2002. Not satisfied with retirement, Jim became the Chief of Police for Blairsville Borough (Pa.) from August 2003 until July 2004. Jim presently serves as a Law Enforcement Liaison Officer for the State of Pennsylvania.
Part one of a three-part series
In the back of every officer’s mind there is the idea that they’ll one day run the department. This is a good thing.
The question is, “How do you prepare for the promotion that you’ll need in order to get to that exalted position?”
Personally, I always thought that the three parts of the promotional process were the officer, the test, and the politics. In this three part column, I’ll discuss the three parts of the promotion process and, hopefully, help to guide you on your way. This article isn't so much about "How to become a police officer." If you're here (on this Web site) you're already there (in the most rewarding job around). It's not even about becoming a Chief. It's about doing the right things to make promotion through the ranks a strong possibility for you. So with that as a guideline, let’s start with the first, and most important part of the triangle — you.
You, the officer, begin preparing for any promotion on the first day you walk into the station to start your career. A lot of officers make the mistake of being to mouthy from day one. Remember, you’re the new kid on the block. Your job is to keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Believe me when I say that I have seen officers walk into the station on the first day and try to impress everyone in it. Ten years later, the only thing anybody remembers about this officer is how obnoxious they were on the first day.
This profession puts high value on the first impression. Don’t blow it!
The impression you want to convey is that of a respectful and sincere officer that wants to become they best they can be in their field. In the future, when your character is weighed during the promotion process, this impression will pay dividends.
Put your in time on the street. Don’t disappear when you’re on patrol. Drive around, make stops and stick your nose into anything that looks suspicious. That’s what you get paid to do. Most departments track the stats of individual officers, and these stats are made available to the selection board. You want to be one of the officers that can say that they have a good record when it comes to making arrests and issuing citations when they were needed or called for.
During your time waiting for your chance at promotion, always work to make yourself better. Don’t become one-dimensional. Try to get as much schooling as you can and spread the schooling out into as many areas as you can. Look around for schools that make you stand out. I always told my students that you need a “hook,” something that makes the selection board look at you twice while they look at everybody else once. In the near future I’ll do an article on schools I found that can pay dividends.
If you consider yourself a bad test-taker, the time to work on it is while you’re waiting for your chance at the promotional tests. In “Part 2” I’ll discuss the testing procedure, but for now just do a critical self-analysis. If you think you’re bad at math, get a math made easy book and work on it a little at a time. You won’t need to be a physicist for the tests, but some math might be required. By the same token, if you’re bad at analytical thinking, then pick up a workbook on the subject and work on that area. In short, be honest about your shortcomings and work on them now. When testing time comes around you won’t have time to improve, you’ll be to busy preparing for the test.
Lastly, you should check your personnel jacket at least once a year. I’ll bet that most officers never think of doing this. However, if you don’t, then anything that is derogatory can catch you unawares. Even reprimands and suspensions usually have a specified time they can remain against you in your jacket. After that they have to be expunged. That doesn’t always happen and there they’ll sit when the selection board reviews your file.
So make arrangements with whoever has control of your file and ask for a time to review your folder. Personnel, or whoever has it, can specify a specific time you can look at it but they can’t refuse you the right to look at it. Look for anything that isn’t true or anything questionable and, if necessary, challenge it according to civil service procedure. Make sure all of the schools that you attended are in there. If not add a copy of the certificate.
Remember, anything in your folder is fair game during the promotional process.
Don’t let something in it come out of nowhere to cost you a promotion.