“I Graduated from the Academy, Now What?” Tips for the rookie police officer
“I'm going out on the street tomorrow, any advice?”
This is a question most every law enforcement trainer has been asked by recent academy graduates. My first response was always, “Did you pay attention to all your instructors while you were here for the last 6 months?” Unfortunately, that response usually gets the deer-in-the-headlights look. So, for newly-minted officers, and anyone mentoring them, here are four bits of wisdom—passed to me when I myself was a recruit—that served me well throughout my own time on the street:
● Awareness at all times—know your surroundings
Do not become complacent on the job; awareness and vigilance are priority one. Be alert. Constantly scan the street. When approaching people, look at areas accessible to their hands. Put your phone away. Take in as much information as possible from your senses, including your sense of smell (among other things, the deceased have a certain odor that is not soon forgotten). Watch your partner's back. Literally. Don't allow people to just walk up on you. Attempt to always maintain safe separation.
● Location is everything—and not just in real estate
You must know your location at all times. Do not rely on GPS to tell you where you are. For example, you have to know that you are at 1234 North Ambush Road, 3rd floor, down the hallway, apartment 43, green door, in the kitchen. If you are calling for help, your life (or someone else’s) may depend on your being that specific..
● Handcuff correctly—it's not glamorous, but it’s critical
Handcuff training may not have been one of the most exciting classes you took at the academy, but it’s by far one of the most important. Remember the golden rules of handcuffing: hands behind the back, palms facing out, check for tightness and always double lock. Far too many officers—not to mention those in their custody—have been injured or worse due to improper handcuffing tactics.
● Search and search again—don’t let mundane activities make you complacent
Another daily (for many officers, hourly) part of the job is searching. Be systematic when searching people in your custody. Methodical search practices such as “top to bottom, front to back, and overlap.” are good reference points to remember. Develop your own pattern, but always search thoroughly. Then, have your partner search the subject again if needed. Just like improper handcuffing, awful things can happen when you miss a weapon on a search.
These four lessons may seem basic, but they are truly as important as any advice a young officer will ever get. They helped me to survive and succeed in a long career in law enforcement, and they are worth remembering always.
Chicago Police Department (Ret.)
ASP Trainer since 2011