If you’re new to the police force, you’re undoubtedly excited about the new chapter in your life. Becoming a law enforcement officer is a major accomplishment but it’s also a big challenge. You’ve met the requirements, trained, and beaten out countless other candidates. You’ve polished your shoes and you’ve gotten your date to report for work. Congratulations on your new career.
If this is you, you’re probably a little bit nervous. It’s hard to be the lowest on the totem pole, especially in the police field. It’s hard to adjust to a career that is physically demanding, too.
You want to make sure that you do the best job possible. It’s important that you avoid police rookie mistakes that can hamper your career. These mistakes can hurt and even end a career before it even really begins. Lots of officers have been there before you, and they know the important things to avoid when you’re beginning your career in law enforcement. Here are four police rookie mistakes to avoid in order to get off on the right foot:
Acting Like You Know Everything
Going to police academy is just the beginning. You have a lot more to learn. In fact, expect to spend the rest of your career learning. No two days on the job are the same.
When you’re a new police officer, you’re at the bottom of the rank and file. It’s your job to do as you’re told, period. You don’t get to decide if you don’t like orders from the top. That’s a great way to stay at the bottom, forever.
The people above you have been in law enforcement for much longer than you have. There’s a reason that they’ve developed the protocols and guidelines that they have. Don’t try to swoop in and change things off the bat. Accept the rules and their advice and do your best to follow them.
You can ask questions, but make sure that they’re respectful questions that are designed to help you do a better job following the rules.Start your job with confidence, but know that you have a lot to learn. Accept advice from your superiors and come in willing to learn and make mistakes.
Being Too Confident
No one likes a know it all, especially the public. You need to be able to be confident, yet professional. You need to be able to take direction from other officers.
The people you work with can be a great resource for you. When a new situation comes up, they’ve probably been through something similar, so they can help you avoid police rookie mistakes in that situation. Take their advice, but always compare it to what your supervisors teach you is common protocol, too. Most veteran officers are proud to pass down what they know to help you get started.
Humility is a key quality for a new law enforcement officer. Having a badge doesn’t mean you can run around town doing whatever you want. It’s also not your job to intimidate or harass the public.
At the end of the day, you want to be able to brag about the cool things that you did that day on the job. You want to be able to tell your friends or family that you made an arrest, that you wrestled an unruly arrestee, or that you stopped a vehicle that was in a hot pursuit. These things make great stories, and you want to put a few feathers in your cap.
When you work in law enforcement though, you want to de-escalate conflict. You don’t create tense or unlawful situations. Instead, you only react to them. You should do everything you can to help people react and deal with situations in a calm and collected manner. You will have plenty of chances to investigate and intervene in situations such as these during your career.
It’s far more important to avoid police rookie mistakes and establish yourself as a calm and collected officer that can handle any situation. It’s better for you if you can convince your co-workers and the District Attorney or Prosecutor that you have a level head. You want the cases that you charge to result in convictions. This only happens if you have patience and if you can take things in stride. Always follow guidelines for pursuits and arrests, and don’t go looking for fights.
Not Being a Good Example
When you’re a police officer, people know it. You quickly get a reputation around town and people look to you for a sign of how to behave. That makes it your job to be a role model, all the time.
If you do something off duty that you shouldn’t do, chances are, there is someone there to take a video of it. Then, it can find its way to social media. Your career could be over. It only takes one police rookie mistake slip up and it could spell the end of your career. Don’t do something that you’re going to regret.
You probably also have to take periodic drug tests. Don’t do drugs that you shouldn’t do. Certainly, never try to cheat a drug test. If you can’t follow the law yourself, working in law enforcement isn’t going to work at all.
Failing to Document
When something happens when you’re out on patrol, you remember it for a little while. You could probably recount what happened fairly easily later that night, or the next day. Sometimes, however, court doesn’t happen for months after you investigate an incident. In the cases of very serious crimes, it can take years for a crime to come to trial.
You might think that you can remember something forever, but you can’t. It’s important to get in the habit of writing down every detail, so that you can refer to your notes later on. Likely, your memory will fade over time and you’ll need to refer to your notes before you testify. Also, take the time to spell things properly in your notes. If you have a lot of misspellings in your police reports, you might be seen as sloppy or incompetent. It’s worth taking the time to get it right the first time.