Ignoring Bad Advice
When you become a police officer, you’ll probably be
young. Youth is unquestionably an advantage for
beginning a police career for obvious reasons.
Physical strength and agility will serve you well in
circumstances when your ability to resist and
overcome force is required.
On the other hand, youth presents a number of
disadvantages. A perception of physical
indestructibility is often a common and natural
phenomenon associated with youth. That
perception can cause a new police officer to hastily
act in incidents where a cautious assessment of the
circumstances would be a better course of action.
The simple truth is that during your police academy
training, you’ll be inundated with a lot of information
to prepare you for your new career. The simple
truth continues that you’ll be minimally prepared to
do your job as a police officer when you’re first
thrown out there on your own. Because you’re
young, you probably won’t appreciate your lack of
preparedness. From a psychological perspective,
that’s probably a good thing to the extent that it
won’t unduly affect your self-confidence.
However, you need to realize that during those first
days, weeks and months of your career, you’ll need
to rely on guidance and advice from others to
prevent mistakes and mitigate mistakes you make…
and you will make mistakes. Hopefully, you’ll be
assigned to a knowledgeable and experienced
sergeant who closely supervises you; until, the
sergeant determines that you’re capable of
performing your duties under minimal supervision.
There will be plenty of times when the sergeant is
not available, and you’ll turn to other members of
your squad for advice.
Here’s where you have to use the knowledge you
have and simple common sense to evaluate any
advice you receive from anyone. You have to ask
yourself, does the advice sound reasonable? When
defining reasonable, does the advice conform to
directives and policies of your department.
Remember, bad advice can sometimes sound
reasonable even when it contradicts your
department’s directives and policies.
Let’s use a scenario to demonstrate some bad
advice that could sound reasonable:
In this scenario, your sergeant is not exactly the
knowledgeable and experienced sergeant I
described earlier. Your sergeant is an obviously
intelligent young man who was recently promoted
just after three years of service. You’ve only been
on your own for a few weeks, and the sergeant is
closely supervising you showing up frequently to
observe your activities.
In this instance, you’re assisting another officer by
towing two vehicles disabled in a relatively serious
traffic accident where both operators have been
hospitalized. You’ve conducted an inventory of
both vehicles to remove and submit any items of
value for safekeeping per your department’s written
The only item you removed from one of the vehicles
is a cardboard box containing six hard cover
books. The books are old and worn and otherwise
unremarkable. The box is setting on the hood of
your police car when your sergeant arrives. The
sergeant inspects the box, and he asks you about
the contents. When you state your intention to
submit the books for safekeeping, he authoritatively
explains to you that items of value would include
things like cameras, laptops and items of obvious
value. The sergeant determines that the books
have no apparent value, and the time it would take
for you to submit the property would needlessly
keep you out of service.
You follow your sergeant’s direction and place the
box back into the trunk of the vehicle. When you
write your towed vehicle report, you note the
contents of the box stating the books had no
When you report for work several days later, your
sergeant grabs you by the arm, and he simply
states, “Follow me.” He takes you into the shift
commander’s office where your lieutenant is sitting
at her desk. Once you’re seated, the lieutenant
reads from your towed vehicle report. She asks
you if the report is accurate. After you confirm the
report, she reads titles of books asking if the titles
read were contained in the box. Several of the
titles sound familiar; although, you had not gone to
that detail in describing the books.
Here’s where things begin to get interesting. Your
sergeant is averting eye contact with both you and
the lieutenant. The lieutenant gives you the bad
news. The vehicle owner reported the books
missing from the trunk of the vehicle when he
claimed his car from the impound lot. The
lieutenant then gives you the really bad news. The
books did have value. Five of the books totaled a
value of about $400.00. The sixth book,
Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, First
Edition published in 1876, comes in at $3,600.00.
The silence in that office starts to get depressing as
you wait for your sergeant to speak up and take
you off the hook. You look at the sergeant… he
looks away… the lieutenant looks at the sergeant…
he looks down. The lieutenant asks the sergeant,
“Do you have anything to say, Sergeant?” The
sergeant shakes his head from side to side. The
lieutenant looks back at you.
You’re processing a lot of information at this point.
It’s obvious that your sergeant is not a man you
can trust. You’re learning a lot in a very short
time. You quickly determine that your sergeant will
deny his direction to you regarding the books. You
simply ask the lieutenant, “What’s next?” The
lieutenant explains that your action was technically a
violation of a departmental directive since the items
did have value. However, including the books in
your report clearly showed that you did an
inventory as required. The fact that you erred
regarding the value of the books was in no way
negligent on your part since assessing value of such
items is not in your job description.
The lieutenant tells you to consider this meeting as
a counselling session regarding the incident and
that she’ll be recommending no further disciplinary
Now, you might be asking, “Why wouldn’t I tell the
lieutenant exactly what happened?” Well, a number
of things must be considered. If the sergeant
denies the direction you would have alleged, that
means either you or the sergeant is lying. When
lying is introduced, the incident rises to a whole new
and serious level. You’re a brand new police officer
and still on probation. Your police chief could
summarily fire you for any reason. If the chief
believes the sergeant, you would be toast. You
have yet to know the relationships within your
department. For all you know, your sergeant is well
connected to any number of people in power
including the chief.
In the scenario, I actually put you in a no win
situation. Your sergeant’s advice was more than
just advice, it was an order. Had you submitted the
property for safekeeping, your sergeant could have
conceivably charged you administratively for
insubordination. As the scenario demonstrated,
this sergeant will be predictably unpredictable.
You can be absolutely certain of one thing. At
some point you will become a victim of bad advice.
As long as you apply reasonable standards, act in
good faith, and you know your department’s
policies and directives, you’ll ignore bad advice
whenever and wherever possible.
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|Copyright © 2020 Barry M. Baker
"... you have to use the knowledge you have
and simple common sense to evaluate any
advice you receive from anyone."
~ Barry M. Baker