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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

  • Snoopy-cool_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I would also really like to work traffic and be on our fatality investigation unit. My current career provides much experience with trauma patients and motor vehicle crashes.

  • Snoopy-cool_max50


    over 4 years ago


    That story is hilarious! I CANNOT believe that someone would have the nerve to say that. Are people that naive? Don't they know that being on the street is how you learn? I haven't even applied yet but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. I was hired last year but had to withdraw because the paycut was too big at the time. I have since downsized my life and I'm saving as much $$$ as I can for it and working on downsizing my body and getting the appropriate fitness level. My most immediate goal, other than getting hired back, is making valedictorian of my academy class so I can pick my district. I want to absorb as much experience as I can.

  • Clone_trooper_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I'm still looking for my first job. It might be in the jail but my reason for becoming an law enforcement member is to be on the streets. Will I go on to other specialties? Maybe, but the street comes first.

  • Challenger_cop_car_max600_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    LOL I was looking forward to being a patrol officer! But after a couple of years I wouldn't mind going for Motorcycle or SWAT. No one wants to be a motorcycle cop anymore...everone wants to work Forensics or be a detective. All the fun stuff happens on the street so to me thats where I plan to spend most of my LE career.

  • White_shirt_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Goals are good. Pay your dues. I wokred with a female officer who after breakin requested a transfer to investigations. She was informed she needed at least 3 years on the bricks and she resigned. She had a degree and thought patrol was beneath her.

  • Jack_bauer_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    This reminds me of the many times some wanna be type has said something similar to wanting to be a detective/swat officer....or better yet, a CSI detective....They seem to not realize you need to still go the academy, training, FTO, spend some time on the streets, ride around in a patrol car for a few years before you get this. I don't know where this comes from, other than TV, but many shows if you pay attention close they walked/rode a beat somewhere....

  • Nys_omh_police_max160_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Great article Betsy. Talk about learning to walk before you can run.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    This is anamazing article by an amazing author. She has hit thenail right on the headwith this one. This article should berequired reading for anyone wishing to become involved in LawEnforcement in any capacity.

    I've been with my department in the Corrections Division for about 10 yearsnow. During that time, I too have witnessed my views of "success" changeright before my very eyes. I remember starting out wanting to be on the CERT team because they got to have all the cool gear. I also wanted to be an FTO, a Hostage Negotiator, a Firearms Instructor, a "Less Lethat Munitions" Instructor and anything else i could get my hands on.

    Then, "Reality" stepped up and slapped me right in the face. Sure, I've been lucky enough to take part in those specialty teams and be an FTO. But now, I am a shift supervisor, and my goals have changed completely. As a sergeant, everything that happens on a shift ultimately comes back to me. My goal each day is to make sure my Corrections Officers go home safe and have done their job to the best of their ability.

    My mind set is this; If everything goes as planned (as we all know it always does right) and everyone goes home safe, then it's because my C.O.'s have done their jobs correctly and tothe best of their ability. If on the other hand, we run into bumps in the road and have issues that need to be dealt with, I take full responability and see to it that those problems are corrected so they don't happen again.

  • 001_1_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    That is a great article and Sgt. Branther is so correct. Without humility and being a public servant first nothing works out correctly. My Police Director told us at the beginning of our Collegiate Officers Police Program that if we were arrogant and allowed the power and the badge to go to "our heads" we needed to leave the Academy then. Lots of hard work and moving through the ranks and caring about serving our fellow officers and solving crimes and caring about people should be mandatory for all officers. Being a qualified Police Officer is a "high calling" from God Almighty! None of us should ever take our "callings" for granted! Prayers for all officers and departments.

  • Co_blue_line_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Yes this was a good article and every officer should read this. I'm in corrections now but plan on becoming a police officer in two yr. These training articles do help a lot.

  • Img_0933_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Excellent article that every rookie shoud read.

  • B-25_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Seems to be a generational ideology that is becoming increasingly adopted by society. It seems to stem from the idea that they are entitled to immediate gratification.

  • Moms_jpeg_photo_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I would be more than glad to pay my dues as an officer on the street but getting in seems to be the problem. I can not seem to pass the "push-up" part of the physical agility test. It seems the more I try to improve on my upper body strength the worse it gets. I have muscles that hurt that I did not know I! I am an honors graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Forensics. That does not seem to matter and neither does any working experience you have....if you can not pass the physical agility test law enforcement does not want to talk with you. Any suggestions on how to work on the upper body strength so I can pass this part of the? I really liked this article and know that you have to earn what want.....nothing is handed to you on a silver plater.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago

    I wish everyone going into law enforcement would read this article.

  • P23-2_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I know nothing. That was my philosophy through the academy and when I got hired and to this day, one and a half years later. I love talking with more experienced officers and getting opinions on what to do.

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