I submitted my report explaining exactly
the details of the incident to include my
disposal of the needles.  My sergeant
reviewed and signed the report without
comment; however, it was a different
story when the lieutenant reviewed the
report.  Both I and my sergeant got a
verbal slap down over my deviation from
established procedure.

I know what you're thinking, "What's the
big deal?"  After all, a bio-hazard
container is a bio-hazard container.  
What difference does it make where the
container is located?  Well, here's the big
deal that has nothing to do with needles
and disposal.  It's all about established
policy and procedures.  What that
lieutenant was communicating to me was
this... "Whenever you get the urge to
‘think out of the box,' be prepared for
the stress that may follow."  

When you become a police officer, you'll
be dealing with departmental policies and
procedures every day.  While you may
disagree with the way some are designed
or implemented, it will never be up to you
to alter those policies and procedures.  If
you join a police department where
supervision, management, and command
are well in tune with all the written
policies and procedures, you'll have a
pretty stress free existence.  Your
supervisors will keep you on a short
lease, and they won't let your thinking
out of the box think you into trouble.

You'll soon learn that a lot of people
think out of the box all the time.  Some
simply don't know the rules while others
think they know everything better than
anyone else.  Police officers aren't
immune from this form of ignorance and
self importance.  Unfortunately, the
countless television shows and movies
about cops show cops breaking the rules
all the time to get the job done.  While
the movies frequently portray the stress
created by these masters of thinking out
of the box, it's find for entertainment,
because stress = drama.  In real police
work, stress simply equals stress.

When done on a grand scale, thinking
out of the box often results in
unintended consequences.  In May of
2008,  faculty members from El Camino
High School in Oceanside, California, and
at least one California Highway Patrol
officer, gave an even newer meaning to
thinking out of the box.  The faculty
members and the officer devised a hoax;
wherein, highway patrol officers visited
20 classrooms on a Monday morning to
inform students that a number of their
classmates had been killed in drunk
driving accidents over the weekend.  The
reports are unclear as to how many
police officers were involved in the hoax.  
It doesn't really matter, because one
police officer is one too many.  The hoax
was part of a program to
stress the
seriousness of driving while drunk – yea,
talk about
stress.  The idea was to let the
students stew in their emotional stress
created by the news – DELIVERED BY A
POLICE OFFICER – for a few hours,
before the hoax would be revealed at an
assembly later in the day.  
Of course, some students became so
emotionally distraught that they had to
be told immediately that the news was
not real.  It's not surprising that the
creators of this sad act kept it going to
its conclusion.  The faculty members and
the police officer who devised this idiocy
defended their stupidity with the usual
caveat, "Though the deception left some
teens temporarily confused and angry, if
it makes even one student think twice
before getting behind the wheel of a car
while intoxicated, it is worth the price,"
said the California Highway Patrol Officer
who orchestrated the program.  I wonder
how this police officer would have
responded if one of those "temporarily
confused and angry" students, not that
stable to begin with, had taken a walk off
the roof of the school?

While it's impossible to know if this stunt
had any positive effect regarding drunk
driving with even one student, it's a
certainty that the credibility of California
Highway Patrol officers, or any police
officer for that matter, was destroyed in
the minds of those El Camino High
School students.  

As I said earlier, you'll be fortunate to
work in a police department where your
leaders understand the importance of
organizational continuity and keeping
everybody on the same page.  However,
if you join a police department where
thinking out of the box is a favored
activity among those who lead, you could
be subjected to a lot of stress not of
your making.  Such police departments
definitely do exist where people in
positions of supervision, management
and command essentially make up rules
as they go along while ignoring previously
written policy directives and procedures.  
If you find yourself working in such a
confused and stressful environment, you
must simply adhere to written directives
and procedures and statute law where

Never confuse initiative with thinking out
of the box.  One has nothing to do with
the other.  As a police officer, you'll be
making decisions and acting on those
decisions all the time.  Your initiative is
simply a timely means of applying a
solution to any situation or circumstance
in the best interest of public safety.  
Don't forget that the "Box" is
synonymous with "Organization" wherein
lies the guidance and support for the
decisions you make and the actions you
When you hear a person use the phrase,
"thinking out of the box," take a very
hard look at that person.  Most of the
time, when a person utters that phrase,
that person is using it to justify an act
already undertaken or completed which
deviates from, or violates, an established
way of doing things.  If you're fortunate
enough to join a police department that's
really at the top of its game, it's going to
have a well developed organizational
structure designed to deal with just
about any situation or circumstance.  
Now, you say, "Ah... just about anything
doesn't cover everything."  While this is
true, you'll experience few, if any,
situations and circumstances that are not
addressed, to some degree, in a well
organized police department.

I once received a call to a vacant lot for
suspicious activity.  When I arrived, I
found no people, but I did find over fifty
hypodermic needles spread across the
ground in a two foot circumference.  All
the needles looked to be new; however,
some had the needle covers removed.  I
had plastic bags in my car, but I looked
around the littered lot for a more secure
container where I found an empty coffee
can.  I put on a latex glove, and I very
carefully picked up the needles, one by
one, and dropped them into the can.  I
placed the can of needles in the trunk of
my car and headed off to dispose of the

Here's where I deviated from established
procedure.  The department had a
written directive for this very
circumstance.  I was to take the needles
to the Evidence Control Unit which
maintained a large container specifically
designed for the collection and storage of
hypodermic needles prior to proper
disposal.  While the Evidence Control Unit
was located all the way downtown, there
was a hospital emergency room only a
few minutes away from my location.  I
entered the emergency room where a
nurse took me to a bio-hazard container
where I dumped the needles.
"You'll soon learn that a lot of people
think out of the box all the time.  
Some simply don't know the rules
while others think they know
everything better than anyone else."
~ Barry M. Baker

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Out of the Box
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
There are Five
Indispensable Truths
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