Through the Law Officer Facebook page, Lisa Marie Oliver asked for some straight-shooting, no-BS advice that will not only keep rookies alive, but will also make them highly effective and well-rounded career cops. This is the kind of advice she could get from picking the brain of any veteran. It’s also the kind of advice I wished I’d received on day one as an officer.
A few months back, I exchanged emails with an old salty dog who has a number of rules he teaches every new cop. I even told him I was going to steal his rules and share the information. He thought that was a great idea and told me to go ahead. Well, Ol’ Bullethead couldn’t find the email. So, instead of sharing his stuff, I’ll have to go with my own, which is probably pretty similar.
Life Outside Work
The first thing every cop needs is a life outside of work. I’m not talking about pumping iron or going for a run off duty with other cops. What I mean is a life completely outside the police environment—family, friends and activities that get your mind off of the job. (Yours truly learned this lesson the hard way and I’m fixing it now). So slow down there hard charger. I know you get sick of answering cop questions from all the non-duty-minded people who don’t get it or don’t need a gun just to go to work. Believe me, I’ve given all the traffic court advice. I’ve stood up for the mean cop who yelled at someone and I’ve even had an idiot chattering in my ear at a party about his DUI.
Really, I get it. But when cops let down their walls and get past the first few annoying occasions, they can find friends who help them stay centered. And when we’re centered, we can stop carrying three guns to go grab our mail. I know, I know: There’s the possibility that terrorists, gangsters and the guys we arrested last night might be out by the mailbox. But they probably won’t be. When we spend all our time with other cops, we keep the on-duty mindset all the time. As a result, we can’t find any friends—because who wants to hang out with a psycho cop?
Now here’s the old-guy advice Lisa wanted: Having friends and activities outside of police work will ultimately make us better cops. This is because we’ll have the experience of alternative viewpoints that we can use on the job.
Next up: exercise. “Lifetime Fitness” should be on the wall in every cop locker room. Listen, the reason public safety retirements are so good is because some really smart bean counters looked at the numbers and said cops drop dead within five years of retirement. Exercise is the best-known way to live a long life after 30 years of cop life. Shift work, bad food and emotional baggage will put us all in the grave early, especially if we don’t carve out time for exercise. I just finished a workout that almost put me in the grave, and now I’m enjoying the mental and physical euphoria it produced. I’ll be riding this wave for the rest of the day—and tomorrow I’ll do it again!
Education comes in many ways and we should each dive into every job we take at our department. This way we can give and receive the most from each position. We should also find the time for formal education. There are too many ways to receive a formal education these days for cops not to have one. I’ve spoken to folks at work who tell me they aren’t interested in promotion, and that they already have a plan to fish and golf when they retire, so why bother with the education?
Hell, this one is so easy to answer that I’ve started to bait officers into it. Do you love your kids? Yes! Do they look up to you? Yes! And do you want them to get a degree? Yes! Then go set the example! This usually puts them back on their heels, so I follow up with: Are you interested in the same things you were interested in 10 years ago? No. Then how do you know what you’ll want 10 years from now? Answer: Education not only helps you figure that out, but also prepares you for it.
So for rookies, and the cops that never got the memo: There are plenty of people who can show you how to do a safe traffic stop. But pursuing life outside work, exercise and education will make you a well-rounded, more effective career cop.
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