I've been a cop for a little over three years now, and I'm really getting frustrated with a couple of our department's "veteran" officers. They're out of shape, smoke like chimneys, almost never wear their body armor and even go without a seatbelt most of the time. I don't think they could get over a chain-link fence to save their lives (or mine). However, they pretty much run the show around here. It seems like they put down those who actively look for crooks, calling us "taillight chasers." One of these officers was my FTO, and he still treats me like I'm a trainee. How do I change these guys? Young Gun
Dear Young Gun:
Let me get this straight. You're upset by the actions of people who have taken more time off from this job than you've spent on it. Is that right? Listen up! I know you're already pissed at me because hey, you have three years on, and with that much experience you certainly have achieved the status of journeyman cop, right? Get over yourself, Slick. You are but a child in an adult's game. These veterans, as you so negatively call them, were already screwing a gun into some felon's ear while you were still following Betty Sue home from the school bus because you had a crush on her.
Truth be told, I'm not real big into "time-on" as a measure of a cop, but I do think the men and women who have dealt with society's ills for years on end deserve some credit. These folks have seen enormous change in society and policing it. Despite that, they still come to work, get into a black and white, and go out every day to deal with the worst our nation can produce. Some of the lines have likely started to blur a bit for this group. Back in the day, only the crooks had tattoos covering their bodies, and only hookers dressed in skin-tight shorts with their chonies hanging out; these days, who can tell the difference?
Let me ask you something, Slick. How often do these old timers get into brawls? Not too often, huh? You think that's because they are scared, or because after 15-plus years of rolling in the dirt, tearing uniforms, scraping knees, knuckles and elbows, and having to justify their actions to a significantly increasing degree, they just got sick of it and finally learned how to talk to people? Maybe you could learn something by watching how the old timers pick up on clues and defuse tense situations without landing in the hospital and maybe even in federal court. That sort of verbal ability must be cultivated and practiced, and it sounds like the veterans at your department use the egos of the young and motivated to hone their verbal skills, having a little fun at the expense of thin-skinned cops like yourself in the process.
All right, I think I've had enough fun at the expense of you and your thin skin. Let's move on and see what you can do about some of these other problems you're having with the old timers. Let me preface the rest by saying that anyone who does not wear their seat belt is crazy, and any cop who does not wear their vest is just plain dumb.
To work on changing this, I'd start with that former FTO of yours. Every day he isn't wearing a vest, I would walk past and casually dime him off in front of other cops by saying something like, "Hey bud, looks like you forgot some of your equipment." We all know a cop without their equipment is like a bleeding lamb swimming through a pool of hungry sharks everyone will perk up to hear what you have to say so they can jump into the pool and try to bite off a leg or an ear. After he asks what you think he forgot, come back with something witty like, "Your vest, baby, time to come out of the stone ages. There are people out there who don't like us." One of two things will happen: Either he'll take you out to the gas pumps and spank you, or he'll get embarrassed and come back with something about how he isn't doing anything stupid to end up in a shooting. That's when you hit him with the statistics happily provided by our bean-counting, tie-wearing half brothers and sisters at the FBI who say most police shootings happen at disturbance calls, not because some young, hungry cop is out chasing taillights.
Next, when you're at a call where you pretty much know no amount of tactical communication will keep it from turning into a donnybrook, and one of the out-of-shape smokers is your backup, request an additional officer. If that veteran confronts you about it and hopefully they will just tell them they're far too out of shape, and you don't trust them to look out for your children's dad in a fight or a foot chase. They will either hate you until the day they retire, or realize how far they've let themself go and try to make some improvements. More importantly, however, you will have made a stand against the old timers who have lost sight of both the fun and the danger of police work.
Leadership is one of the reasons you were hired. A great leader must be able to ignore the critics, especially when those critics try to lower the bar by stopping people from doing the right thing. Instead of letting those who have already retired but just keep showing up for briefing run the show, you do it. Go out and chase taillights, and engage the other young hungry cops to do the same. Every time the old timers get on your back about working hard, give it right back to them about their inability to make an arrest or their sorry state of health. You may never change the old timers, but you control your own behavior and attitude. Thirty years is a long time if you aren't having fun, so grow a few extra layers of skin and go have some fun.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion with both barrels.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax him at 619/699-6246.