|So you want to be a
Well let me tell you a few things, you can
ask yourself some questions and then we
can discuss it.
I’m an old officer: class of 1977 to be
exact. Worked in a fairly large city, and
then retired as Chief in a small city. I
have been certified to teach in Police
Academies, I have walked beats, worked
traffic, did detective work --- name it, I
have probably done it. Was also a police
officer in the Navy and was the U.S.
representative to Scotland Yard for a
while. To this day I am still on the
advisory board of the National
Association of Chiefs of Police.
Being from the “old School” I’m going to
give you my opinions on police work—feel
free to take them or leave them.
Back in my day, we were not law
enforcement officers; we were peace
officers or just the police and I liked it
that way. We drove around in black and
white prowlers so everyone could see us
and there was never any doubt as to
who we were.
And a short thought on traffic tickets.
We never had a “quota.” If we saw a
violation we simply wrote a summons or
more often gave a warning. Speed traps,
to my way of thinking, are dead wrong
unless you have statistics to back up
your enforcement. (Accidents etc.)
Traffic summons are not a source of
income no matter what some cities say.
Traffic enforcement is a way to control
and correct unsafe behavior.
Anyway we were given a district and that
district was yours. If anyone stole
anything or there was a disturbance you
took it personally and if fact could be held
accountable by the supervisors.
We checked shop doors, answered calls
for service and yes wrote an occasional
traffic summons. But we did not just
enforce laws. We took “Protect and
Serve” very serious. I’ve changed many
a flat tire in my day for civilians, took kids
home I found drinking underage—after
making them pour out the booze, ran
trouble makers out of my district and
generally worked for the people who paid
If you owned a business in my district
chances are I knew you and probably
knew where you lived. We were required
to memorize the addresses of all the
major landmarks in our district such as
buildings, churches, schools, etc. When
someone ask for directions you could be
pretty certain an officer could tell you.
Answering calls for service: Rule number
one for us was don’t be late. Code or
not you obey the traffic or code rules but
you got their in a hurry. Rule number
two: Don’t let the shift sergeant catch
you without your hat. Rules three: Find
out what happened, fix the problem, get
back in your prowler and when you get a
free minute you write up a report, all
preferably without calling in 5 other
officers to help with something simple.
(But never be afraid to call for help when
you need it)
Back then we carried .38 wheel guns and
I am still partial to it to this day. If a call
got really bad, you reached under the
front seat and got out of the car while
wracking a round in the .12 gauge.
Believe me it got everyone’s attention.
(I am not really in favor of the
militarization of the police unless it is
absolutely necessary in a large city or
certain situation. There is something
very unnerving about an officer with a
black hood covering his face)
And if you think police work is anything
like you have seen on T.V. you’re
probably very wrong. Sometimes it was
hours of boredom with minutes of pure
terror thrown in. And in all my time on
the job I can count on both hands the
number of times I have drawn my
weapon in anger. (Yes I know things are
different now and safety should always
be a concern.)
I guess the bottom line is this: Why do
you want to be a police officer? To serve
and protect or to act the bad ass and be
a bully? What do your family and
especially your spouse think of your
choice of professions? Police work is
dangerous and involves shift work and is
tough on families and social lives. They
must be on board if you are to succeed.
Attitude is a huge plus or minus. I have
seen officers that could turn a jay walking
into a riot or the other way around. I
have also seen officers that could arrest
on a warrant without the slightest
problem. Then I have seen others that
need 5 officers and the paddy wagon
almost every time they made an arrest.
A few tips: Listen to the old timers; it
might save your life. Look up every now
and then if you’re sitting somewhere;
always know where you are; and every
once in a while backtrack. Just turn
around and drive down the same street.
You never know who may have been
waiting for you to leave.
Last piece of advice: Profiling. Yes we did
it all the time and so will you. Example:
Grandpa and Grandma Jones are sitting
at a red light in their 72 Chevy pickup. A
teenager pulls up next to them revving
the motor of his hopped up car. Who
are you going to watch? Sometimes
profiling is just experience.
All this is just an old police officers
opinion and times have changed. Follow
your department’s safety rules and use
your common sense. About all I can tell
you for sure is that police work is a noble
and honorable profession that needs
noble and honorable people. If you
choose this profession remember “serve
and protect” is not just a motto but a
way of life.
Now rookies hit the streets and make us
old timers proud.
God bless you all and stay safe out there.
Chief Steve Newton (ret)
Be generous. If you have any used
equipment you don’t need contact me.
He serves on the Advisory Board of the
National Association of Chiefs of Police and
as Director of the Law Enforcement
Equipment Program. He is the Founder of
the Silver Star Families of America.
Steve Newton is a 25-
year law enforcement
veteran and a former
Marine Navy veteran.
He served with the 3rd
Battalion, 24th Marines,
4th Marine Division.
With the Navy, he was
and was called back to
active duty for the first
Now retired and
Parkinson’s Disease, he
continues to write
articles for various law
publications. He is also
the author of the "Old
Sergeant" and the "Old
Sergeant and Friends."
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|Copyright © 2021 Barry M. Baker
|Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide to a Career
in Law Enforcement
|Recommended reading for
those of you thinking
about becoming a Police
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