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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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  • I_do_not_remember_where_or_when_this_was_max50

    DevineLimit

    over 5 years ago

    6 Comments

    How Ridiculous this woman must of Sounded, she might as well sat and ran a desk also and never broke a finger nail, forbidden she may whine about it. Everyone does things they don't like and things that don't make sense, but you always learn and grow. It makes you better, experiences always add and are a plus. I can't tell you how many times I had complained about working to much, even for those whom got sick and were contagious. I had to work even though I didn't like it or was tired. Nevertheless, I am spending time to 15 months in Iraq, rather than 12 and all the units around us whom have 12, do I like it? No!!! I deal with it because it is my duty and I know I have responsibilities back at home. In that time I have walked the path with two great individuals that have fallen, I tribute them in my memory and their loss was not in vain, but they live on through us. Things never get any easier. If she was looking for an 8-4 she should have been practically looking at being an accountant or secretary. Just deal with it, we all do things that bite!!!!

  • Cp5_max50

    kcsdlew

    over 5 years ago

    490 Comments

    Amazing how some folks just don't seem to get the principles behind this - it's a very well-put "primer" that every potential LEO (and a lot of other professions) should have to read AND understand. How can you expect to manage what you don't know how to do yourself? My dad used to call work (and life) experience "scar tissue" - hopefully we don't have to get real scars to make it work, but there's still no substitute for experience.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    outstanding reading should be required reading before hireing of any new recruirt or NEW HIRE.

  • Dscn0045_max50

    ChrissyK8

    over 5 years ago

    180 Comments

    Good Article.

  • N1176270160_30124669_6040_max50

    taknudown

    over 5 years ago

    18 Comments

    great article !!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    rgaines

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    Great Article, I can agree with it all

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    WarSkule

    over 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    She has to work in Dallas.....

  • L_fdc355dbe82b42a7aef173d8d8a5f047_max50

    dalonzo22

    over 5 years ago

    12 Comments

    well put

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    I agree. It just feels like it will take forever to get into what you want to do and you have to try and stay positive.

  • Delicate_arch_max50

    ryanhatch

    over 5 years ago

    1372 Comments

    Sgt. Smith this is great. Thanks fro all the good advice. Keep up the articles.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    jayshaw20

    over 5 years ago

    6 Comments

    Couldn't agree more!

  • Duke_max50

    DoubleT213

    over 5 years ago

    246 Comments

    Amen.

  • Dscf0029_max50

    anne125

    over 5 years ago

    12 Comments

    Excellent article. The advice applies outside of law enforcement also.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    Sgt. Smith writes an excellent article that brings out alot of points that most new recruits do not understand. First and foremost, you have to learn the basics first in police work, and the basics is your fundamental job as a patrol officer.

  • Swat_teaser_fin_sm001_max50

    lds0719

    over 5 years ago

    150 Comments

    VERY informative... thank you

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