Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
Police career advice can be positive or negative depending upon the source of the advice. Choosing an experienced mentor is a good start. You’ll learn very quickly that one of the most important assets available to you will be the people who are working with you. No matter how well trained, and knowledgeable, you think you are, those first months are going to be very difficult.
You’re going to experience situations where you’ll need police career advice from others. From the very beginning, you should identify fellow police officers who are competent and experienced. Believe me, it’s not a hard thing to do; they’ll be among the quiet ones.
It’s just as easy to identify those police officers whose police career advice you should view with skepticism. They’ll be the ones who respond to your questions with, “Don’t worry about it.” If you consider your question worth asking, that response should confirm to you that it’s worth your worry. Some police officers are notorious for taking short cuts, and the short cutter’s slogan is, “Don’t worry about it.”
Recognizing Bad Police Career Advice
There was a time when your inexperience would offer you some protection when acting on bad police career advice from a senior police officer. Senior police officers were rightly held accountable for the actions of junior police officers under their immediate supervision and control. It’s not like that anymore; you’ll be held fully accountable for your actions when you follow bad police career advice, and things turn out badly.
Right from the beginning, you’re going to have to use your head. You don’t have to have a ton of experience to recognize good police career advice from bad advice or direction. Aside from procedural nuances, police work rests solely on reasonable responses from a reasonable person. You’re going to make mistakes. Reasonable people make mistakes all the time, but reasonable people rarely make catastrophic mistakes.
When one spends over 32 years in a police career, it’s easy to forget many of the questions and misconceptions about police work one had at the very beginning. When I go on the Internet, and I read posts by young people seeking police career advice and asking questions, it takes me back to a time when I had some of the same questions and misconceptions.
As one becomes older and hopefully wiser, one conveniently forgets the inexperience and stupidity of one’s youth. That’s not to say that youthful inexperience equals stupidity. The stupidity part only applies to youth’s natural lack of appreciation for experience. How many times have you said, or heard a young person ask, “How can I get job experience if I can’t get hired for the job?” It’s a dilemma and question everyone has faced, but it’s just an inconsequential facet of youth that always works itself out.
Police work is unique since police employment at the entry level requires no prior experience in police work. It’s also unique in the enormous responsibilities you’ll undertake immediately after your training. You could, hopefully, complete your entire police career without ever having to employ deadly force. On the other hand, you could find yourself in a situation requiring deadly force the very first day you’re on the street. While training, like education for any other field, is essential, the amount of experience you’ll acquire during training is minuscule.
I can’t think of too many careers where I could have had as much fun and adventure, or a career in which my decision making ability would be tested so many times under stressful and dangerous circumstances. While in the beginning I thought I had a fair idea about what I was getting into, I soon began shedding all the misconceptions as I looked toward experienced police officers for police career advice through what was, for a beginner, some really complicated situations and circumstances.
It didn’t take me long to understand that experience is qualitative as well as quantitative. Here’s where your judgement in choosing mentors is just as important as it will be in responding to the life threatening situations which you will encounter during your career.
A police career can be rewarding in every positive way you can imagine as long as you never lose sight of the serious nature of policing.
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