So you want to be a police officer? You know you have what it takes to make a “great cop”? There are a few things I have learned over the years that may be of use to you. These are guidelines that were taught to me by fellow police officers and for police officers that I have carried with me since I first put on a badge in 2004.
First, you have to have the right temperament for the job. If you have the attitude that, just because you wear a badge and a gun, you are always right, you will not succeed. We officers refer to this as “badge-and-gun-itis”. You have to apply the Golden Rule, so to speak. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Second, when just starting out, you want to have excellent observation skills. You will want to observe other officers, more experienced officers, and how they conduct business while on duty. You will then want to model your performance based on certain skills you have observed in others. For example, you might observe that one officer always uses good form when writing reports and making good use of time to complete assignments. Another officer you observed may not be the best at report writing, but he will conduct a traffic stop using every precaution for personal safety as well as to preserve the safety of the public. You would then take note of the traits you liked from both of them, and strive to model their actions in those areas.
Third, you never want to look at any situation as “routine”. There is no such thing in law enforcement. EVERY situation is different and should be handled as such. Any situation can go from good to bad at any moment. You need to be prepared for that. Do not become so complacent with people and your surroundings that you lose sight of that fact.
Fourth, you need to ensure that you are consistent, in everything you do. Be fair and impartial in judgement. For example, if you issue a citation to someone for not wearing a seat belt or for running a stop sign, you can not let the next person go with a warning for doing the same thing or committing the same act. As soon as you do, someone will always hear of it and you will be labelled as an officer that shows “favoritism”, and that is not a label you want hanging around your neck.
Fifth, and probably most importantly, you need to be able to accept the fact that law enforcement is a “thankless” job. Meaning, during the course of your career you can do (200) two hundred things right and only (1) one thing wrong, but the public will remember that one thing you did wrong before anything else. This is a fact, proven time and again. You will constantly be in the public eye, and your actions will affect how you and/or the department you work for are viewed by the public.
I hope that this information is helpful to you in making informed decisions once you decide to swear to the oath to “Protect And Serve”. Law Enforcement is a calling, a way of life, and you have to approach it as such.
This information is based on personal experience, as well as training received from the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (C.L.E.E.T.).