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Paying Your Dues in Police Work

Paying Your Dues in Police Work

Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith

I had been a field training sergeant for several years when we hired a new recruit who sat down with my boss and told him that she really didn’t have the time or the inclination to go through all that silly police academy and patrol officer stuff. She asked to be immediately assigned to our Investigations Division as a detective, and by the way, she could only work 8am – 4pm, Monday through Friday. She appeared quite certain that her experienced deemed her more than qualified and didn’t want to “waste time” working patrol. Besides, our department would undoubtedly jump at the chance to take advantage of her extraordinary talent.

Needless to say, we withdrew our offer of criminal justice employment. This experience was part of a growing trend that we continue to see in law enforcement today: many young officers fail to understand that they need to “pay their dues.” Go to any of the online forums and you’ll find a young wanna-be cop who expects to skip uniformed patrol and go right into SWAT.

Ambition and Goals

Many cops start out with big dreams and even bigger ambitions. I wanted to be the first female chief of my agency. I wanted to be a K-9 officer, a narc, a detective, and a manager too, but it never occurred to me that any of that would happen without a lot of hard work, plenty of advanced training and many years in patrol. Fortunately, I loved being in patrol, but I also enjoyed the other assignments I was privileged enough to be assigned to. As it turns out, my goals and ambitions changed over the years and, as I matured and learned more about the profession and about myself, my idea of “success” changed. Ambition is a great thing, but unrealistic expectations can ruin a law enforcement career before it begins.

Learning the Basics

In most agencies, patrol is where you begin to understand the basic function of policing. Most of what you learn in the academy and in field training relates to the uniformed patrol assignment. Patrol is the crucible by which your ability to make spur of the moment, critical decisions is judged. It’s where you learn to write reports, deal with people, and keep both yourself and the public safe. You begin to figure out how to negotiate departmental politics, determine who might be a good role model or a potential mentor, and what specialty you might truly be interested in. Even though you watched all those hours of “CSI” while in college, when you actually become a cop you may discover that you like the thrill of running code to a burglary in progress much better than lifting latent fingerprints at a cold burglary scene. Patrol is where you grow up.

Moving Up

The skills you learn in patrol ultimately translate to almost every specialty and ancillary assignment in the department. View the early years of your law enforcement career as a continuation of your education; it is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to enhance your knowledge. Almost limitless advanced skills can be developed in patrol: interview, interrogation, investigations, fitness, weapons, tactics, reading people, interpersonal communication, leadership abilities and so much more. As you develop talent and expertise, you must also cultivate your own humility. One of the most detrimental traits a young officer can have is arrogance.

Be Realistic and Be Informed

If you want to fight the war on drugs, join the DEA. If you want to fight the war on terror, join the CIA. But even these highly specialized organizations have their “rookies” and their “grunt” duties. Do your research and learn everything you can about the organization you want to join. You may want to work at your local police department for a few years before pursuing a federal career; you just might find that policing in your hometown is exactly what you were born to do. Wherever you decide to work, don’t expect to be assigned to a specialty as soon as you are off probation. Does it happen? I was a detective within two years of becoming a cop. One of my fellow FTOs was still on probation when he became a field training officer. These were unique situations, and while they worked out for us, it’s not always beneficial to be “moved up” too quickly. Although I had been a cop for five years, I was in patrol for less than 18 months before taking the sergeant’s test. I didn’t have the necessary experience to supervise my fellow patrol officers, so my placement on that first list was not very high. When the next test came up three years later, I made sure I was ready.

Check Your Attitude

No one is entitled to a specialty. It’s great to set a goal of making the SWAT team, however it’s arrogant to feel that you are owed it. The line between confidence and hubris is a fine one. It’s great to have high self-esteem, but if it becomes self-adoration, no officer is going to want you as part of his or her specialty unit. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the best trainers, investigators, and tactical operators in this country and some of their common traits include approachability, humility, sincerity, dignity and an incapable desire to continue to learn.

One of the best compliments anyone can give you, no matter how talented and renowned you are, is “he sure seems like a regular guy” or “I would have never guessed that she is a world champion shooter.” And if you ask, they will all tell you the same thing: “Oh yeah, I had to pay my dues.”


Criminal Justice Career Paths


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  • New_avatar_4_max50

    HijoDeDiosMRM

    about 1 year ago

    346 Comments

    This article is written very well.Recently ,I have talked to a lot of people who would like to pursue a career in law enforcement,but don't want to do the worst jobs until they can get to the "better positions."I think that the former officer that SGT Betsy wrote about is in my department.

  • Hpim1110_max50

    Texasbluebird

    almost 2 years ago

    4 Comments

    Great article! This has really made me re-think some of my opinions on what I want to do in LE.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    about 2 years ago

    I know that some will be rather surprised. I am not a citizen U.S. I come from Germany. My dream was always to work as a police officer in the U.S.. Unfortunately, I have been a mid stay 51 years. But the dream remained. I was here in Germany 24 years with the police. Right now I'm in the interim retired with an option to allow me to move within the next 5 years back to active duty. I went into retirement, since I was four years ago had an accident.
    Now I read that there are young people out there that prefer to have an immediate, executive chair. "I myself have started as a beginner in addition to an experienced officer. We had at that time at least 6 months run along, the sooner we could go to the police academy. Were after school we then trainees. After further review, then finally we were allowed to go alone patrol. if you wanted as a patrol leader in the radio car or a driver, were again 3 months on the patrol car duty.
    I hope I have hit the topic

  • Untitled_max50

    ToServeAndProtect

    over 2 years ago

    46 Comments

    I actually am looking forward to patrol work. Moving up would be an honor, but if my local agency needs a man on the streets, I'll always be there.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 2 years ago

    I really appreciate this article. This is a must read for all interested in.. well... any job field. Everyone must pay their dues, no matter where they work. Even if you are promoted, if you're the least senior supervisor, you are probably going to be treated like one by your peers and superiors.

  • Justice-400_max50

    clobster

    almost 3 years ago

    1552 Comments

    I'm insulted by some of the irrational and otherwise unintelligent over generalizations of new officers and officers with degrees made by some of you. I came into this with my B.A. in Law and Justice and not once believed I was going to br smarter than those with more experience. I also didn't come into this thinking I would be getting the newest car, the best specialization and be the gung ho hero of the department. No one in my academy class is stupid enough to believe they'll have the best schedule and get to do the special stuff right away. Sometimes those overly negative opinions are from overly negative people. Overly negative people should retire. Don't tell me it happens to everyone. I've seen living proof it doesn't.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    scarethemstright

    almost 3 years ago

    18 Comments

    UNFORTUNIALLY FOR THAT LADY, SHE PICKED THE WRONG JOB FOR HERSELF. WE ALL HAVE TO PAY OUR DUES, WHETHER LAW ENFORCEMENT OR OTHER JOBS. YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST YOU CAN AND THAT REQUIRES TRAINING AND TRAINING REQUIRES LOTS OF TRAINING. YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY WANTS TO GET PAID BIG MONEY WITHOUT THE EFFORT IT TAKES TO GET THERE. THOSE WHO TRAIN DESERVES THE CREDIT AND THE JOB. A DEPT. LIKE CHICAGO HAS A LOT OF OFFICERS THAT MAY BE OVERLOOKED, NOT SOMETHING PERSONAL, IT HAPPENS
    IF YOU HAVE THE PROPER TRAINING, MAKE IT KNOWN YOU DESERVE A CHANCE TO IMPROVE YOUR POSITION WITH THE DEPT, MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN. GOOD LUCK TO ALL

  • America_s_future_max50

    Ghostwriter2012

    about 3 years ago

    70 Comments

    I work as a Deputy Sheriff. I am currently writing a book on the FTO program in general. What I am looking for are war stories, the good, the bad and the ugly. I had some of the worst FTOs for training and some of the best. I would like for you to share with me your stories in hopes that we can improve on a great idea for a program but one that can be a nightmare for you if you are assigned to someone that has no respect for an adult learner /trainee. Some FTOs can really unleash the abuse. Again I am looking for both good and bad stories, from the research that I have conducted so far, the stories are negative. I would also like to hear from FTOs about their experience with Trainees. This going into a book so if you like you can post anonymously. I hope to hear from you soon, thanks!

    C. Mason

    cdm1548@hotmail.com

  • Thumb_skulls_20_16__max50

    maverick823

    about 3 years ago

    766 Comments

    wow! She definately had stones....too bad she had them in her head. You can't do this job or any other job in emergency services without paying your dues. You have zero credability- no experience. great recipe for someone getting killed..usually won't be the rookie but a veteran coming to their aid.

  • Ronwestptjune2011_max50

    CaptainOrso

    about 3 years ago

    32 Comments

    As I understand it, the newbee in the article had been offered the job prior to her "career discussion" with the supervisor. I'd like to know who the morons were who hired her in the 1st place w/o finding out about her mental immaturity to begin with. That shows a waste of buku man hours and resources. Any good BI investigator would[ve drummed her out by the 2nd meeting.

  • Jr_max50

    sgtlaflower

    over 3 years ago

    48 Comments

    Another great article Sarge and right on the money. Way too many new officers think they are entitled these days to what veteran officers have had to work years to get to. One of the problems is that many of the new hires have college degrees and therefore think they are smarter and more experienced than seasoned veterans who may not possess a degree or at least not an advanced degree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Experience is the best teacher. When I came on this job you knew where your place was and you paid your dues like everyone else before you. Unfortunately today many think they are entitled without paying their dues.

  • Img_0351_max50

    Hammer520

    over 3 years ago

    748 Comments

    Sgt great article. I need to post this for some people to read....aka New Hires....I believe its a generation thing. My uncle was a cop for 30 plus years and a close friend of the family was also a cop for 30 plus years. They taught me respect and appreciation for working patrol and the senior guys working the roadway. I thank them and officers like yourself for setting that example. As I am to trying to pass that along now after almsot 15 years on the job, an being assigned a k9.. Take Care an be safe....

  • Rachel2_max50

    rachelk42

    over 3 years ago

    46 Comments

    SGT thank you for another great article!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    dbadge6603

    over 3 years ago

    8 Comments

    I find a significant amount to agree with SGT Brantner about in her article. Often though the Training Officer is not quite as dedicated to the cause so to speak as she. Far too often even today we still find remnants of the adages of "We've always done it this way" or "Who do think you are rookie." that seems to invade even the most dedicated programs. The program SGT Brantner is on "Female Forces" serves to support fully the comments and consistency she strives to achieve. Kudos to her and others that follow the strictures she addresses in her article. As for the underlying sentiment that some seek to impose upon those seeking to climb the ladder, I would offer that sometimes and more frequently now than in the past, that you will miss some pretty darn good officers if this is the sole or primary discriminator used to discern the most deserving or those of merit. Just a thought from a 20-year Army MP and currently serving Deputy Sheriff.

  • 024_max50

    lilguido

    over 3 years ago

    40 Comments

    Don't get me wrong I have specialty assignments I would love to do, but I'm in no hurry, I mean who really wants to give up patrol. I love it.

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