Becoming a Police Officer

imagesCAHR0LQJ           Someone recently asked me what I would say to a person who wished to become a police officer; especially those things which would help prepare a person for police work.

  1.   1. Receive a broad, liberal arts education leading to a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
  2.   2. Start (if you haven’t already) obeying the law and being an honest, moral, and trustworthy person.
  3.  Work on your personal maturity.  An education develops your knowledge and intelligence; now work on and develop your emotional and relational competencies and the ability to work with all kinds of people.
  4. Learn how to serve others. Be active in community volunteer work. Develop a curriculum of service as well as job experience.
  5. Be committed to lifelong personal and professional improvement. Be able to know who you are and where you are going.
  6. An added benefit would be to achieve competency in one of the traditional Asian martial arts – karate, taekwondo, judo, etc. so that you are familiar with physical interaction.
  7. Remember, police work is a calling, not just a job. It is a calling which is committed to assuring that our Constitution protects everyone and our way of life is worth preserving.
  8. And, lest I forget — read my BOOK about the qualities police need to hold in a free society!

From my “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off…”:

           I don’t recommend that we lower our expectations of police, but rather that we raise them. We should expect first class behavior from police officers because they ultimately represent who we are as a people and as a society. At a minimum, we should expect police to accurately identify and apprehend criminals with a minimal amount of physical force. They should be able to write full and truthful reports of their activities, and give honest testimony in court. We also should expect them to possess skills that help in the prevention of crime, to be able to aid individuals who are in danger of harm, and to assist people who cannot care for themselves. We should further expect police to know the laws they are to enforce, protect our civil rights, and also to be able to do a number of other tasks such as directing and controlling traffic, resolving inter-personal conflicts, identifying community problems, and preserving order. But overall, we should expect our police officers to be educated, honest, competent, and courteous—respectful in every way to everyone they encounter. They should do so because police are often the most visible representatives of our system of government—of America itself.

          These skill sets and functions are so complex and difficult to perform in today’s society that only those who are academically prepared, intensely trained, and properly directed should be given such responsibilities.

          In turn, citizens should demand that only the kind of people I outlined above are hired as police officers and are given both the necessary training and leadership to meet community expectations. We should also make sure that police officers have the kind of internal leadership that treats them with respect, listens to them, helps them grow professionally, and permits them to participate in workplace decisions. These are the qualities that will get police moving forward and out of the ruts they continue to be stuck in—subculture, corruption, and low expectations.

What advice would YOU give to an aspiring police officer?

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

4 Responses to “Becoming a Police Officer”

  1. An aspiring officer, needs to know what they are getting into, before, they make a leap of faith.
    Too many times, I have heard rookies complain that nobody told them. Be prepared. You will see some of the hardest things that you will have to live with. You will also see some of the best of life in humanity. Is the glass half empty or half full?

    1- Don’t take it personally, when your friends drop off.
    2- Don’t take it personally when people start to sound like elementary school kids.
    3- Don’t take it personally when judges let those, you know should be off the streets, go free.
    4- Nobody likes receiving a ticket and will blow off steam with harsh words.
    5- ALWAYS WATCH PEOPLE’S HANDS!
    6- DO NOT LET ANYONE GET WITHING ARM’S LENGTH OF YOU.
    7- There will be a degree of alienation involved, so learn to be comfortable with yourself, and learn how to remain calm.
    8- You walk onto the Job with ten fingers. Make sure that you don’t lose control or you will end up will ten fingers but six will be on one hand, and four on the other. YOU, control the situation – the situation DOES NOT control you.
    9- You train the way you fight, and you fight the way you train.
    10- ALWAYS, follow Departmental Policy and Guidelines. You start bending rules to suit anyone, as sure as God makes little green apples, it will come back to bite you, at the worst possible moment. Cops asking you to bend rules, will be the first to give you up or walk away from you leaving you with a bigger mess to deal with than the original problem.
    11- If there is a crime involving misdemeanor or felony, and someone directly involved pulls out a badge and ID, don’t let them walk away. They should know better, and they might also be armed.

  2. Yes! “1. Receive a broad, liberal arts education leading to a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.” This has always been my number one recommendation. I give the example that one of the best police officers I have ever worked with had a master degree in “Trumpet” (Music).

    I’ve always felt, although it’s needed, there are enough people that have a Criminal Justice Degree working the streets. I get very excited when I find officers that don’t have that traditional CJ background. I have found them to be the most approachable and service oriented type of officer. Personally, give me a true sales professional (not the typical used car stereotype whose working for only a bigger commission) with a strong desire to make a difference and help people.

  3. I would say::

    1) Know the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well. Do not think of them as documents that should have been thrown into the trash can along time ago.

    2) In college tried to take classes about other cultures and countries. If possible try to go on college sponsor student programs where you go for a couple of months to live in a foreign country and get to know the people at the ground level as Steve Rick says in his TV PBS show Rick’s Steve’s Backdoor to Europe.

    3) Prepare and don’t be surprise when the cops turn on you and shun you when doing the right thing and be prepare to deal with the mental and physical stresses when you face their retaliation. Also be prepare and don’t be surprise when some of your good cops, the police unions and management don’t back you up because they fear for their lives, jobs, and retaliation from the bad cops.. Also prepare and don’t be surprise when the district attorney will not help you out. Many of them fear of losing support from the cops and their jobs when it comes to re-election.

    Sometimes I wonder what is the point of a Criminal Justice education? Too many people get them but it has not help in reducing the recidivism rate of the prison population, it has not stopped police corruption, brutality, and misconduct nor has it brought reforms to to justice system along with improving police relations with the rest of the community.

  4. I would also say join a lot of groups like an Irish Culture Club, French Culture club, Chinese Culture,club, that activity do a variety of things in order to pass their culture and ethnic identity to their kids.

    Also stay away from the alcohol at all costs. If you don’t drink, don’t start now and resist the peer pressure from cops to have a drink even if it means that they shun you for being a teetotaler.

    I also agreed you need to take some form of Asian martial art; unfortunately, you sometimes may not fit it into your working schedule since most of them do not have classes from 8 pm to 5:00 pm when you have to work those hours and most of them don’t have classes on Sunday or during the holidays.

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