To Be a Positive Cop, Don’t Forget Where You Came From and Be Willing to Help Others Learn This Job!

“If you light a lamp for someone else it will also brighten your path.” ~Buddha

I started my 27 year as a cop this month and the truth be told, I still love policing and most cops I meet and interact with. Some of you reading this are thinking “come on Fred, really!” Yes really I do, although the job is not without its frustrations and moments of intense emotions from both external and internal factors, a cop I am both proud and honored to be. One of the things I have found that keeps me sane on this job is the proverbial quote; “Don’t forget where you came from and be willing to help others.” I mean really don’t forget and really help others learn this job. Staying focused, positive and being effective requires it. Have I been flawless at following this mantra? No I have not! But what I have always done is make the effort to do so by learning from my mistakes. By making a conscious effort to be self-aware and remember where I have come from has help me build a solid foundation. This foundation was built on recognizing mistakes and if these mistakes affected someone else apologizing for it both up and down the chain of command as well as to the public and then making every effort to learn from and attempt not to make the same mistake again. The same holds true for the tactical mistakes I have made. The key to this is remembering I am not flawless, never was and never will be. I can however always aim for flawlessness and more importantly I can remember this when I deal with others on this job as they take on the challenges of policing and work the ever more complex situations and threats they face on the streets. They will make sound decisions and some not as sound as I have done and I will help them learn from what I have learned by remembering where I came from.

Remembering your quest to get this job, and remembering, your excitement and wanting to and needing to, help others that drove your every waking moment to the calling of becoming a cop. Remember the exams you took and the anticipation, nervousness, fears of did I pass with a score high enough to get you in the game which gave you the opportunity. Remember the interview process and trying to keep your nervousness concealed. Remember becoming an auxiliary or special police officer, putting yourself through a reserve academy on your own time and while working for free. Or perhaps you became a dispatcher to help support police operations and learn more aspects of the job in an effort to become a cop. Remember while doing these things to get you noticed thinking, how long must I do this before I become a cop and get out on the street to help people. It’s important to sit down and think about this time in your life, from time to time. This keeps you anchored and interested in the work that you do and gives you some empathy for others wanting to be a cop. Yes, the cynical side comes out all too often in us cops and this affects all of those around us. This includes family, friends, the public we serve and also the new young cops coming on this job.

“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” ~Benjamin Franklin

One of the biggest factors that keeps me positive is observing these young cops who pin that badge on after graduating the police academy and start working the streets. The look in their eyes tells me they are both excited ready to take the world on, as well as scared to death thinking, am, I capable, worthy of it, do I possess the skill set necessary to be a cop? Many of us veterans cops talk to these guys like we have never been in their shoes, never felt that same excitement and fear, never asked the same questions or did the same things in our efforts to become a cop. When in fact, those same questions, although tempered by experience still rise from time to time, as we, handle a serious call that is ridden with chaos, uncertainty, and unpredictability.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~ John Quincy Adams

Another example of what keeps me positive is the veteran cop who has gotten promoted and now takes on the new responsibility of inspiring other cops to do this job has the same excitement/fear paradox of a rookie, takes hold of him as he thinks about, its not about just me anymore and instead it’s about us? This is a tough challenge and transition for the newly promoted sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy chief, or chief. When the newly promoted cop seeks advice from others experienced in his new position will he find a mentor willing to help guide and develop him or will he seek help, only to hear about how much tougher it was to get promoted on this job, back in the day (you know, the days when you walked the beat uphill both ways, in 4 feet of snow with no insulated jacket or boots, fought more bad guys, more often, with no radio to call for help)…I had to learn on my own and so must you, good luck. This leaves the new supervisor thinking that’s it, that’s all you got for advice? We learn much about how to do this job from watching others do and lead us. What impression are you leaving others? Is it about me or us? Is it about going it alone or working together?

“To varying degrees, each squad had its own internal chemistry. That chemistry fostered not only communication and cooperation, but also a tremendous bond. Whatever befell one would be endured by all. …For as long as it lasts, great things are possible.” ~H. John Poole, Gung Ho! The Corps Most Progressive Tradition

How much better would we all be if we remembered where we came from and understood we are all part of something bigger than ourselves and offered one another help and worked together in every aspect of this job? Instead of hiding the excitement and fear, you share it with others about to challenge themselves as new cops or new leaders. Take that ever so powerful cop peer pressure out of the equation so we all feel free to use our insight and imagination as we work the streets. Critique one another in a positive way by using after action reviews and debrief in an effort to learn and get better versus the behind the back, gossip, that’s all too prevalent in our profession. There are great benefits to this, as in, keeping both you and those you help thinking, learning, unlearning, and relearning. Which helps develop every one of us into fuller spectrum cops capable of working both individual and collectively as the circumstances necessitate.

Remembering where you came from helps you keep fantasy and reality in check. It drives you to help others learn from both their mistakes and successes. This helping of others to learn this job keeps you focused and helps young cops and new leaders in this profession become more effective at this job. Not that you or I have all the answers, because clearly we do not. The job of policing is just too complex and always changing for even the best of the best to know everything.
There is plenty of room on this job for lifelong learning, this job requires it and, it’s very important not to lose sight of this as we evolve in our careers as cops. Remember the excitement. Remember the fear. Remember the unanswered questions you had back in the day. Remember thinking, can I do this job? Will I screw up? Will I be thought of as a screw up? Will I dishonor the profession by some stupid thing I do? Then think back real hard, did you really do it alone or was there somebody there who helped you? My bet is indeed there was!

Stay Oriented!


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