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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

  • Sany2509_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Obviously dreams or thoughts come true if you try..

  • Terry_smith_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Excellent points!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    I wonder if she wears a Vest ?

  • Patch_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Well, that is one way to look at it but I am still going to continue on my own path.

  • 1884-turner01_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Great article. Stupid lady. She was given an opportunity to join the police force...and THAT is what you respond with? Ignorance MUST be bliss.

  • Admiral_field_cropped_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Yea, this was a good article. Just being a police officer would be an accomplishment in itself, opportunities for other things within the department will always come around. You have to learn to walk before you learn to run.

  • S1224030704_30136538_8544_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    I am appart of the "young generation" however, I don't know if I was raised differently than the majority or what but I know that everything I was or will be blessed with I will have to work for. I am certain I will bring this philosophy with me when I decide to join the force. With any career you have to start somewhere you may not want to be to get where you need to be. I believe this career is no different. I am willing to pay my dues, after all I am here to learn. I know it will only make me better as a cop and as a overall person. This article, in my opinion, has great information that I will use to better my knowledge in the law enforcement world.

  • M_d44d31cab78a1a2733c227cc1d286557_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    the author of this article knows what he is talking about. it's really great.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago

    The young generation always feel something is owed to them. I am 36 and just starting out. 15 years ago I was like them, but I know it will take hard work and time to move up. I think they get this attitude from the things they see on TV. Hard work pays off, I know that for a fact. You have to start at the bottom, those that think they are owed something are dangers to themselves and others because they think they know it all already.

  • 10954533_10152768417768138_2117542071882865207_n_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Great article.

  • B-25_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    You speak the truth as always, Sgt. The attitudes among the younger generations of officers is astounding to me. They all seem to come from a generation that does not believe in hard work, but they expect immediate gratification.

  • Dscf2149_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    this write must have been well thought out in a gated community. The defying of arrogance continues to dischord us. protect and serve would really be humiliating had the cycle been full circle. Being American and defining its fabric cultivates emotional warfare between us. and we all end up with scars. as long as we have to protect, the advancement of humanity will be sub-dued and stagnated. What we need is positive vibration, like using rubber bullet.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago


    what do i havet to do to become a cop without a deploma are a degree

  • Camndad_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Great article! I have seen the tendancy emerge among young officers thinking they should automatically be given the assignments many have worked hard for years to achieve.

  • M_84c7a84cabfa4bcbf2857d50d9e7ce69_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    I fully read you're article officer and after a full review, I think it was incredibly well written and very informative and accurate. However, after a second look and double take, please allow me to make a correction on the use of word incapable if I may. After double checking the dictionary, I believe you meant to say insatiable or something to that effect. It would make a whole lot more sense to me. Thanks for you're effort and let me know what you think. Thanks, Capt. Ev

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