How to get the most out of your LE career: Self-assessment
It is critical to constantly take an inventory of your skills and remain humble enough to address deficiencies
As I prepare to step away from my career as a law enforcement officer after 21 years, I felt an overwhelming need to share my experience with as many others as possible.
For me, there have been four steps I have taken during my police career that has allowed me to leave physically and mentally fit so that I can enjoy the next phase of my life.
Step Three: Self-Assessment
Being honest with yourself is essential not only in law enforcement, but in life in general. It is critical to constantly take an inventory of your skills and remain humble enough to address deficiencies. Every police officer should ask themselves:
- Am I shooting enough?
- Are my defensive tactics skills current?
- Is my fitness level where it needs to be?
- Am I still growing as a person and professional?
- What is my attitude toward the job? Am I counting down the days to step out the door instead of staying sharp to quickly recognize danger?
Over my career I made a conscious effort to frequently self-assess and make changes where needed to ensure I could walk away from law enforcement happy, healthy and prepared for the rest of my life. Here are three areas of self-assessment officers can focus on:
1. Take pride in your physical skills and preparation.
As someone who spent most of the last half of my career training officers and new recruits, it pained me greatly to see veteran officers approach training with dread and disgust. It was disappointing to see them arrive to class with little intention of improving their skills, focusing only on getting through the training with as little effort as possible.
Officers would ask why they should worry about being taken to the ground and defending their firearm against an assaultive subject when it had never happened to them. Similar questions were posed to me many times throughout training sessions.
My response was always the same: I would ask them what their family thought they were doing that day. I liked to let that question sit for a few seconds before giving them my answer: “They think you are training to get better at your profession today, to return home safely to them after every shift. So that’s why you’re going to work hard, sweat and get uncomfortable so that we can live up to their idea of what’s happening here today!”
Every day you put the badge on, you owe it to your family, co-workers and community to maintain the highest level of skills because you will never get a second chance to have properly trained and prepared when faced with an assaultive subject.
And if you are fortunate to have the privilege of leading training, you cannot accept complacency and allow your critical skills training to become a “going through the motions” event.
2. Be aware of the attitude you bring to work every day.
It’s incredibly easy to become cynical of just about everything in this career field. One day you may come to work and find everyone drives you crazy. You start to think that citizens, city council members, department heads, mid-level supervisors, immediate supervisors and maybe even your shift mates are all idiots, and no one has any idea how to do anything, except you! You have all the answers and all the great ideas. You are the only one who knows how to handle a particular call or create a new program, except you will not step forward with ideas because you don’t want any more work to do. Does that sound familiar? Maybe it sounds like some of your co-workers or people you associate with, or it could be the person looking back at you in the mirror.
The truth of the law enforcement profession is that it is exactly as it is advertised – there are many ways to be right, it will always be changing, it will always be a challenge, it will require you to deal with people and it will force you to grow. Yet for many officers, the very things they were seeking when embarking in policing are now the things they are most frustrated with. The hard truth here is that it is our personal attitude that has changed, not the job.
3. Ensure you continue to grow professionally and personally.
At my first class I was manhandled by men and women much smaller and far more skilled than me. I knew I had a lot to learn and continued my training by going once or twice a week while my family was younger. Over the last 16 years, it’s developed into much more.
By continuing to learn, being humble enough to admit I did not know everything and putting myself into situations where I was the student, I was able to obtain critical skills that enhanced my agency’s training program. I was able to share this knowledge with fellow officers and provide more peace of mind to them and their families.
While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may not be your cup of tea, find something you are passionate about and immerse yourself in it. Make sure it is something outside of police work like coaching youth sports, joining a group focused on your favorite activity, or participating in anything that gets you into a different circle of people who will help you rebalance your attitude, grow and have some fun!
In my final article I discuss step four: Life after the badge.