I got an email the other day from a newly hired female officer about to go to the academy. She asked if I had any advice for her. Do I have any advice?! Are you kidding me? Where do I begin?! There are whole books written on this topic (some of which I recommended to her) but I started thinking…what do I wish someone had told me, or some of my female co-workers, when we were new? We needed real world advice, the non-politically-correct, non-traditional kind, so I made a list of a few things that might be helpful to new female recruits, or for their FTOs, supervisors, co-workers -- and even their friends and family -- to give them before they head off to the academy or being field training.
Be ready to be the subject of curiosity and speculation. A new female in any police organization is always looked at with some fascination and curiosity. Why? We look different, we act different, and we're still the minority in most departments. It's just the nature of the beast, accept it (and if you have a hard time with that, go back and read my article Nobody ever said life was going to be fair). Before you know it, you’ll be just one of the other cops.
Make sure you're in top physical condition and be ready to jump into everything. There may be some who doubt your abilities, and that’s fine; every rookie goes through this. Instead of saying to yourself, “Why should I have to prove myself to anyone?” view any chance to showcase your abilities and your talent as an opportunity to build your own confidence (making sure you’re tactically sound, of course). Besides, working out is a great stress reducer, and field training and your probationary period can be stressful.
Make friends with other women, and not just the other female cops. There are a lot of women who work in police departments; it's just that most of them are not cops. Women can be very hard on "the new girl" in an organization, so go out of your way to be friendly with the dispatchers, the secretaries, the records clerks, the animal control officers and any other female in the agency. Get to know their names, inquire about their families or hobbies. Ask for their advice and suggestions. Be gracious when they give it to you.
Limit your department socializing, especially for the first 6 months to a year. Police departments are the perfect breeding ground for rumors, and you don’t want to be the subject of them. If you do attend a social event, such as a shift party, have a couple of diet sodas and be the first one to leave. If you get invited to a larger event, such as a wedding or the department awards dinner, be on your best behavior and spend time getting to know the wives and girlfriends of the guys you work with, it will make future socializing easier and help keep the rumors at bay. Some of my best friends are police wives and spouses, they tend to be really nice people and can be a great support system for a young cop.
Keep your private life private. It’s ok to share some biographical information, but your FTO, your sergeant, and most of your co-workers do not need to know about the big fight you and your boyfriend or partner had last night. Keep the drama to a minimum, this is a police department, not 7th grade!
Find a mentor, preferably several, but chose wisely. Look for not only supervisors and FTOs, but informal leaders in the organization as well as other personnel from other agencies. Make sure they have good reputations and good attitudes, and that you adhere to the chain of command. Surround yourself with positive people in general; it makes life easier.
Be willing to learn and study on your own. Take the time to read books about the profession (The Calibre Press trilogy of “Street Survival” books is a great place to start), go online and do some research, sign up for web sites like Police One.com, buy some training DVD’s and audio tapes like Lt Col Dave Grossman’s “The Bullet-Proof Mind.” (http://www.killology.com/), attend survival training (like the “Street Survival” seminar) on your own time, take additional college courses, enroll in a martial arts program; whatever builds your skills and confidence and make you a better cop and a better person.
Share this with a rookie you know, and if you have something you’d like to add, please do so! The youngsters in this brave profession need to hear from the veterans, the ones who have “been there, done that.” Tell them what you wish someone had told you, male or female, when you were a recruit, and tell them to enjoy the adventure that is law enforcement…there is nothing else like it!