If I Knew Then: Lessons from Cops on the Street

Editor’s Note: Brian Willis is the editor and author of If I Knew Then: Lessons from Cops on the Street, a collection of real-life short stories written by police officers. Willis, who was recently named Law Officer’s 2011 Trainer of the Year, has committed to donating $10,000 to the ILEETA scholarship fund. Help support his efforts! If you enjoy this chapter, please consider purchasing the book–for yourself or a friend–at www.warriorspiritbooks.com. Enjoy and be safe.


“Shut up and listen!” This kind of advice is usually given by curmudgeonly old field trainers intent on ensuring their experience is passed on without any static. Although it may not always be said as directly as this, the message to new officers is usually the same: listen and learn.

Take away the rude delivery, and there’s something to be said about listening and learning. Nothing can replace real world experience and many a new officer’s progress has been slowed down by ignoring the advice of those that have been there. So, I guess shut up and listen is not as bad as it sounds, right?

Actually, it can be really bad. Now, I want to change gears here and be specific about what we are going to discuss. As mentioned, listening to an experienced officer can be very beneficial in the realm of skill and procedural development. But what I’d like to speak about is your personal development.

We all join “the job” because of the positive things we think policing will bring to our lives, our experiences. The truth is that every single positive thing you thought existed in policing is there. Every single day of your career at least one of those positives is there waiting to be enjoyed. There has not been a single day that I regret becoming a police officer. Yes, there are more difficult days than others but the thrill of a roller coaster only exists because there are extreme highs and extreme lows. You must have faith during troubling times. They are only temporary and soon pass. They always do.

Avoid the Dark Side
One of the most dangerous threats to your enjoyment is when you lose this positive mindset. I like to believe that all new officers have it or they wouldn’t have applied to become an officer.

This is where shut up and listen can become a lethal cocktail to your career and your life. It is sad, but there are officers who have lost focus on the positives and are now squarely fixated on the negatives. They will hold court with anyone that will listen, attempting to spin their conspiracy theories and hatred of everyone and everything. They relish any possibility of dragging another officer down to the dark side.

A lot suffer from what I call suspicious intent. This is where an officer becomes suspicious of the intent of every individual. Even if the intent is 100% real and legitimate, the officer will refuse to believe that the intent is good. They will believe there is a hidden motive. “He is only doing this because he wants to get promoted,” and “I don’t believe a word she is saying; she is just looking out for herself,” are common statements. Any challenge to their beliefs will probably result with you being viewed as the enemy.

You must learn to recognize these officers and avoid them like a cancerous plague. I applaud anyone who is willing to try to challenge or change the negative beliefs of these officers, but I have found that challenging them only serves to reinforce their beliefs as they dig in their heels to protect their ideologies.

The best way to help these officers is to isolate them and their beliefs. Surround them with positive officers who refuse to listen to their negative influence and the cancer will slowly start to die. They will realize that no one shares their feelings and no one wants to listen to their negative rants. In order to continue to be one of the boys, they have to change their beliefs.

Things Don’t Always Happen on Your Schedule
The next thing you must accept is that you will not always attain your goals on your time schedule. Whether it is a transfer, promotion or any other specific desire, you probably don’t have any direct control over when you’ll reach these goals. The only thing you have control over is what you are doing to reach these goals.

Work hard, prepare, remain positive. Treat everyone around you well, and good things will happen. Just realize they will not always happen on your schedule. You simply have to have the undying belief that you will reach your goals and desires. Remain positive and everything you desire will happen.

What Do I Know Now That I Wished I Knew Then?
That the only difference to whether or not you love the job at the end of your career as much as you did in the beginning is simply your choice. Choose to focus on all the great experiences that this job will continually offer. Choose to distance yourself from negative individuals and surround yourself with positive, like-minded officers. This is one of the greatest jobs in the world and being chosen to be an officer has already won you access to a job that will give you the most incredible experiences of your life. Enjoy!



Jeff Quail has been a police officer with the Winnipeg Police Service for more than 20 years and has enjoyed working in several areas of policing. He is currently assigned to the service’s full-time tactical team.

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