Steve Newton is a retired police chief and 25 year police veteran. Steve offers his advice to young people in pursuit of a police career.
Now retired and afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, Steve continues to write articles for various law enforcement, military and veteran publications. He is also the author of the Old Sergeant and the Old Sergeant and Friends. He still serves on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and serves as Director of the Law Enforcement Equipment Program. Steve is the Founder of the Silver Star Families of America.
So you want to be a Police Officer?
by Steve Newton
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.
Protect and Serve ~ Steve Newton
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 me.
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.
Calls for Service
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. Rule 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.
Just and Old Police Officer's Opinion - Steve Newton
All this is just an old police officer’s 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)