What would you tell a rookie version of yourself?
Look around the squad room for the oldest, most senior cop — the one with hash marks up to his elbow — because when you feel overwhelmed, you’ll remember that he also had a first day
Not long ago, I observed a discussion about what advice the present career guy would give himself as he started out, now having the benefit of hindsight.
This is me, Tim, talking to Tim, the rookie.
1. You’ll meet all sorts of people you want to emulate. Senior cops, training officers, academy instructors, or, God forbid, someone you saw in a movie or TV show. Your best effort will produce an inferior copy. You’ve got to be yourself and find your own ways.
2. Wash your hands both before and after you use the bathroom.
3. Taking a pizza or two to the radio room now and again is an investment that will pay off a hundredfold.
4. Tell the truth. There is considerable satisfaction in looking someone in the eye, with confidence, and saying, “Have you ever known me to lie?”
5. Expect people to lie to you. This, unfortunately, includes other cops. That they do this does not make it all right for you to do the same.
6. In a similar vein, some cops will expect you to lie for them. They will characterize this as “having their back” or “doing the right thing.” Don’t compound their mistakes with some of your own.
7. Keep a journal. You will experience things that will seem unforgettable, but in time you will lose track of the details, names and dates. Include how these experiences made you feel. The journal will serve as a measure of your growth on the job and in life.
8. Tell no one about the journal until all statutes of limitation have expired.
9. Carry a camera. Take lots of pictures. Save pictures of friends, partners, training officers. Seemingly insignificant details, like how the cars you drive are painted and set up, and what the briefing room looked like, become very interesting later on. Remember that some of the people in those pictures won’t get to finish their careers.
10. All the money allocated for custom pistol grips, lasers, and glow-in-the-dark night sights should be spent on practice ammunition instead. If you get good enough with the basic sidearm, you won’t need the other stuff.
11. You will probably graduate the academy in the best shape of your life, or close to it. Commit to improving on that, or at least maintaining it. Police work is hard on your body, and fitness not only helps you stay in the fight, but allows you to recover faster.
12. Treat everyone like they’re a member of a fellow cop’s immediate family. That doesn’t mean you cut them loose when they screw up. It does mean you show compassion and respect to everyone, especially the ones who don’t deserve it.
13. Put a small chunk of your pay — five percent or so — away from the beginning. Your employer may have a plan for this purpose, and sometimes they will even match a portion of it. Compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
14. Never buy cheap gear. Quality lasts.
15. Look around the squad room for the oldest, most senior cop — the one with hash marks up to his elbow — because when you feel overwhelmed, you’ll remember that he also had a first day.
16. Always carry a knife. Make sure you can reach it with either hand.
17. Everyone is an expert at something. Keep track of who knows how to do what, and if you can, get them to teach you. You’ll both profit from it.
18. Never do or say anything you wouldn’t want on the six o’clock news. Assume someone is always watching or listening.
19. Always have something to look forward to.
20. At least once each year, find some training opportunity at least a day’s travel away and attend it, even if you have to spend your own money (you probably will). The training is valuable — the contacts you will make are more so.
21. If you lose a case in court, ask the prosecutor what you could have done better. Ignore the ones who say they don’t have time to tell you.
22. At least once each week, talk to the cops you work with about tactics, instead of about food or your agency. Play “what if?” The day will come when you will be glad you pre-planned.
23. Find some interest outside of work, preferably something that has nothing to do with policing. Learn a foreign language, practice a musical instrument, ride your bike. Do not allow the job to consume your life.
24. Have a good time. When you can no longer remember how much fun it is to be a cop, it’s time to get therapy or leave.
There. That’s 24 things I’d have told my rookie self. What’s number 25? What would you say to a rookie version of yourself? Add your thoughts in the comments area below.
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