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Battling Second Thoughts in the Academy

Battling Second Thoughts in the Academy

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

You’ve filled out the endless applications, taken the tests, sailed through the interviews, rocked the physical agility test, and chosen your police department; now you’re finally in the academy. Whether you find yourself at the local junior college or at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, there’s no doubt this is going to be tough, and its just going to get tougher. What if you find yourself faltering? What if you start having doubts; about your chosen career, about the academy process, about yourself?

I was one of four women in my academy class (in January of 1981) at a time when women were not welcome in this profession. We started on a Monday and by Friday I was the only female left standing, and we had a long way to go. If you’re considering becoming a cop, about to start the academy, or you’re halfway through and you’re not sure you can make it to graduation, consider this advice:

Be Prepared Physically

Start prepared, both mentally and physically. According to Dave Smith, (aka, “J.D. Buck Savage,” legendary police trainer and former staff member at the Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy (ALETA), starting at a low level of fitness is the number one indicator that you will have a difficult time in the academy. All too often, police officer candidates do just enough to pass the physical agility test and then stop working out. Months later when they are called up for the academy, they are not ready for the physical challenges that lie ahead. Make fitness a part of your daily routine long before you begin the academy. You will benefit not only physically, but emotionally as well.

Read

Your level of reading comprehension is also tantamount to your success. Cops have to know a lot about some things and a little bit about almost everything else, so you’re going to spend a significant amount of time hitting the books. Prepare yourself by doing as much reading as possible, especially if you’ve been out of school a few years. And yes, this means actual books, not your favorite blog. Go to your local book store or shop online for some good non-fiction best sellers that interest you. Books on leadership, psychology, or communication might help you out in the academy or later on in your career. Read a few chapters and then test yourself on how well you remember what you read. Write a summation of the first three chapters, and then go back and see how you did. This is one of those skills that takes practice, so be willing to put in the time.

Grow a Thick Skin

As you begin the academy, accept the fact that you are entering a paramilitary situation. I began the academy two weeks after leaving college, and I was stunned when in the first hour I was being shouted at, swore at, and ordered around by the academy staff. As a kid right out of college, I had no idea this was going to happen! Understand that to test your ability to deal with stress you will probably be “hazed,” or put in very stressful situations that may seem confusing and certainly not politically correct. Don’t allow yourself to be abused, but also understand that law enforcement is a difficult job and your instructors have to evaluate your ability to function in a crisis. If you’re offended by the f-word, sexual references in the context of scenario training, or being called names other than the one your mother gave you, being a cop probably isn’t for you.

Take Good Notes

As classes begin, get in the habit of taking good notes; review and revise them frequently. Many people find it easier to remember a concept when they’ve written it down. Find out what kind of learner you are and what helps you to remember things. If you’re an auditory learner, record the concepts you’re trying to learn and play them back on your IPOD while you’re running, but keep in mind that sometimes “old school” is still the best. Even in this age of computers, there’s nothing better than flash cards for remembering laws, codes, Supreme Court cases, etc. And study, study, study, and then study some more. Put in the time…this isn’t school, it’s your career.

Ask Questions

Never fail to confess that you don’t understand a point, a concept or a tactic. The instructor is the best person to give you insight so don’t wait to talk to your peers that night or on a break, ask the instructor, either during or after class. Laws, criminal code, search & seizure concepts and reverse arm bars can be confusing, so get clarification when you need it; don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a test to ask!

Form Good Study Habits

Share your frustrations with others, but in a positive way. Don’t whine and complain. Start a study group and ask your most successful classmates for suggestions on how you can improve and endure, and then follow their advice. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get involved in any of the class drama (there will be some, trust me), and don’t fraternize. In fact, put your social life on hold as much as possible. If you’re single, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re a spouse, a partner, a parent, or you’re caring for your own aging parents, this can be more difficult. Try to put the academy at the top of the list, and remind your family and friends that this is temporary. If you do end up having issues at home that are affecting your performance, be upfront with the academy staff if it’s appropriate. Your mom’s battle with cancer is a legitimate concern; breaking up with your girlfriend is not.

Positive Self Talk

When things get really tough, remember what it took to get there. Keep in mind that less than 2% of all candidates who apply ever get to where you are right now. Look back and reflect on how far you’ve come. Sometimes you have to take it one day, even just one step, at a time. Utilize positive self talk and remember this won’t last forever. Envision positive outcomes for yourself; visualize yourself acing your next test, crossing the finish line easily on your next run, hitting center mass fifty times during your next session on the range. If you are struggling, look in the mirror and ask: “What can I do to make things better?” Take personal responsibility for your performance, and don’t worry about class standing and awards. Such things become irrelevant the minute you sit down next to your field training officer during your first shift as an academy graduate.

You have chosen an amazing profession full of adventure, frustration, laughter, disappointment, danger, and most of all, service. The academy is designed to prepare you for all of that and more. Enjoy the challenge and revel in the camaraderie, as it will go faster than you think. Adopt the number one concept we teach in deadly force confrontation courses: “Keep Fighting No Matter What!” Good luck!


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  • Ship_patch_max50

    KB3MMX

    over 3 years ago

    136 Comments

    Another Great Article Sgt. Smith !!

  • Delicate_arch_max50

    ryanhatch

    over 5 years ago

    1372 Comments

    I will take this to heart, and do my best while I'm art the academy. Thanks. KEEP FIGHTING!!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    1patti

    almost 6 years ago

    252 Comments

    KEEP FIGHTING is something that I learned a long time ago when I was a child. Never give up --- no matter what happens, keep on going to the end of what you are planning on doing.

  • Avatar_max50

    MissJess_09

    almost 6 years ago

    332 Comments

    Awsome tips thanks..

  • 6921071_max50

    Rookie13

    almost 6 years ago

    2484 Comments

    Awesome tips, thanks.

  • Tac-me_max50

    JRich81

    almost 6 years ago

    1418 Comments

    Great article!

  • Baylor_police_badge_max50

    tonymartinez1984

    almost 6 years ago

    528 Comments

    Good advice.

  • Sonny_sworn_4_max50

    ssberry2

    almost 6 years ago

    424 Comments

    k

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 7 years ago

    kEEP FIGHTING NO MATTER WHAT? THAT IS SURVIVAL HUMAN IS TO WANT TO LIVE YES I UNDERSTAND FIGHT OR FLIGHT BUT WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE TOO HURT TO KEEP FIGHTING BUT STILL REPORT FOR WORK EVERY DAY IT CAN BRING DOWN THE GREATEST OF PERSONS! WHEN ARE THEY EVER GOING TO TEACH WHAT TO DO WHEN I AM HUR! LOOKS LOKE NEVER

  • Dscn5191_max50

    Topgun420

    about 6 years ago

    46 Comments

    BETSEY Great advive. I am trying to advice my 25 year old son but he is not ready for a police profession yet!. December 28 will mark my 30th year in LE and I salute you for 1981 was a difficult time for a female officer. We could not patrol the housing projects of Bridgeport CT without the touch and personalities of our female officers!! JOHN CARRARO

  • Holly_max50

    hollyk

    about 6 years ago

    534 Comments

    NatalieR429, I think that has a lot to do with being an attractive female, I have had to deal with that crap ever since I have been in law enforcement. It sucks and it takes a toll on you, I have been there more that I can say. What it boils down to is men aren't quit as emotionally attached as we are, as in, they usually don't care about the rumors, the when they are said about us, females, we do take it seriously. I have had some horrible things said about me and what's really sad is some people believe it and that's when you find your true friends!

  • Dsc01102_max50

    NatalieR429

    about 6 years ago

    414 Comments

    The hardest part for me in academy was the social BS and rumors. You think law enforcement would be a little more mature at times, nope there are rude, lying, drama starting people in this profession too. Be prepared to be judged for everything you do in your life, past and present. You are under a microscope ..well until somone new with better gossip comes along. Girls its even harder for us...keep your heads up and help your sisters out.

  • Scannedimage_max50

    194

    about 6 years ago

    16 Comments

    i was the tuffest 2 degree black belt,350 lb bench pressing, snot nosed, egotistical, mirrored
    sunglass wearing part time cop ever seen...
    I went full time and went went away to the Chicago Police Academy. About half way through things were sinking in ! It wasnt just week end fun anymore this was for keeps. My ego wouldnt
    allow me to know what the problem really was and I started to have severe acid problems and some bouts of anxiety disorder. When i graduated the academy i went to the midnight shift and thats when it sank in. I was affraid !!!!!!! I admitted it and took action vowing to use my fear to
    keep me alive. 22 years later Im still here and love the job even more. Ive been shot and attacked with edged weapons. I won the latter confrontation with .45 slug to the chest of the bad
    guy.......... rmember heroes are nothing more than people frightened to the point of taking action!!

  • Wzor_policjanta_max50

    CHPFantasy

    about 6 years ago

    30 Comments

    Sounds like good advice no matter what career you've chosen.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    dispatcher54

    about 6 years ago

    22 Comments

    A great piece of info for cadets. thanks so much i will be able to use this.

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