I’m generally going to be writing about my experiences, and the experiences I’ve heard from others, regarding various academies and departments (not just my agency’s). This is just a broad overview for areas that tend to overlap, not just the jail/street thing, but the common events/situations in all academies in my area.
Oh yeah, and I curse. I’m not writing a report or submitting a proposal to my department. I’m writing this like if we’re sitting at a bar, shooting the shit. If this offends you, well, let me be the first to tell you that you’re looking into the wrong profession.
First, the hiring process: Depending on location, hiring processes can take a hell of a long time. Up here in my area, hiring processes can take anywhere from a year & 1/2 to three years (this is standard for nearly every department up here, not just my agency). Average time from my academy class spent in the hiring process was 20 months, and my department generally hires hundreds of people per year. The process is easier to understand if you know up-front that this shit’s going to take FOREVER, the department moves at a pace that makes glaciers appear to be speedy, and when they call/mail you and schedule something, they give absolutely zero fucks about what you’ve got going on in your life. Either you show up or you don’t; if you don’t, there’s someone else who will. Welcome to the suck that is hiring processes. You’re simply a number on a paper.
Personally I believe the process is designed to trip you up in certain areas. By this I mean: be polite, be personable, be professional. Answer their questions in the interviews, but don’t dig yourself a hole. Just like in the real world – and every cop here has had people talk themselves into handcuffs – you can talk yourself right out of a job. I’ve watched it happen, and it’s happened to people I’m close to. Hell it’s happened to people I currently work with, who had to reapply and start all over from scratch. Simply answer their questions and then shut the fuck up. I can’t stress that enough.
Oh yeah, paperwork in the hiring process. You’ll destroy a large forest with your packet, paperwork, and various endorsed/signed crap. Have copies of EVERYTHING, and carry that shit in a folder with you at every step of the process. Chances are, they will lose some of your shit at some point in time. I’m especially looking at you, military veterans; DD 214’s are like that sock that disappears in the dryer. That fucking Sock Fairy ganked that shit, and that bastard has a cousin who loves 214’s. You’ve been warned.
Do what you’re told, when you’re told, and how you’re told. Personal initiative and thinking outside the box is NOT the name of the game. Your instructors give zero fucks about who you are, where you come from, or what your experience is. You may have more experience than your instructors (many of us did); they don’t give a shit and you’re not going to change their minds. You’re there to learn, not change the department. Get through the academy, do shit their way, and when you’re out, go ahead and do what you want. As others have said, chances are your FTO’s will tell you to forget all the bullshit that the academy taught you, and *they* will teach you the way to jail/police.
Show up on time, with all the junk you’re supposed to have. I recommend you get extras of the small shit that people tend to forget – ties, tie clips, black socks, white socks, dollar store watches, etc. and keep them in a bag in the trunk of your car. This will save you and your class mates from the special love & attention that Instructors love to give the forgetful Recruit. My class damn near had a whole uniform store in the backs of their vehicles before it was said & done.
Understand that the Academy, In-Service (your annual refresher training), and most Department-ran courses are geared to the lowest common denominator. They’re not geared towards the high-speed/low-drag individual; they’re geared for the dumbest motherfucker you work with (and you WILL work with at least one dude where you give him the Forest Whitaker eye at least once a shift and wonder how this dumbass got hired).
That being said, save your pennies and seek outside training, as much as you can afford and can swing with your schedule. Shooting & tactics, immediate trauma care, report writing, National Incident Management System/Incident Command Systems (NIMS/ICS), terrorism, interdiction (narcotics/human trafficking), Active Shooter (Rapid Response/MACTAC) whatever floats your boat or sparks your interest. Remember the old phrase “Train for the job you want”? It’s alive & well in LE – and the areas I mentioned above are generally taught poorly by most large urban departments. It’s a matter of resources, and they don’t have the funds to put everyone though everything. (Note: Those are all classes I’ve taken, on my own time & dime. Why? Because I don’t want to be a jail guard for life, and I’m not going to wait for my Department to unfuck itself. NOW is where that “personal initiative” I talked about earlier comes into play.
Making friends will make your job easier. I don’t mean people you’re hanging out with after work, or people you’re introducing to your spouse. I’m talking about the Chief’s secretary, your K-9 handlers, your Narcotics/Gang Crimes investigators, the jail guards, the beat cops, all that crap. Get on their good sides and you’d be amazed at the shit you can accomplish without having to jump through a zillion hoops and waste your time. You’ll also be surprised at the information you can get, which can help you out on the street. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
The job itself:
First, it’s a shitty time to wear a badge. Everyone seems to hate your guts. This shit’s universal: it’s not a jail guard thing, or a beat cop thing, or a bailiff thing, or a statey thing, or a tree pig thing, etc etc etc. If you wear a badge, it seems like you’re the bad guy. Watch your ass.
This job will change you. You’ll start using jargon you never thought you’d use (you will use 10-codes when you order your coffee at the drive through), you’ll speak languages you never thought you could (I’ve used more Spanish in my first year on the job than I did all throughout high school).
You’ll have to figure out a healthy way to separate work and home. Don’t bring one over to the other; it will be bad (like “crossing the streams” kinda bad).
Chances are you’ll carry a gun 24/7/365. I go NOWHERE unarmed. Nowhere. I don’t mow my fucking lawn unarmed.
Your job is to deal with the shit that the rest of humanity doesn’t want to see, nor do they want to acknowledge it exists. It takes a toll. Get some hobbies, find something to do for stress relief. Chill out. Do not crawl into a bottle, beat your old lady, or turn to drugs or hookers. Those are all common “cop problems” that you’ll see on the job. LEO’s are big tough guys, and don’t need help from anyone, so they “self medicate” with all sorts of dumb shit. Don’t.
If you’re a liberal, chances are after the first year, you won’t be.
If you’ve got friends who aren’t on the job, or in a related field (Fire, EMS, military, etc), chances are after the first year you probably won’t hang out with them much.
If you don’t drink, smoke, or chew, chances are after the first year you will.
Find a mentor or two; guys/girls who know their shit, aren’t fuck-ups, and aren’t going to get you fired, sued, thrown in jail, or D. All of the above. Become the Padawan Learner to their Jedi Master. Soak that shit up like a sponge.
Eyes & Ears Open, Mouth Shut. In other words? Shut the fuck up when the adults are talking, boot. Ok, I’m kidding…kinda. But when you don’t know what’s going on (and your first year, you probably won’t), that’s cool. Just keep your mouth shut, see what’s going on and how the guys/girls above are handling it, and learn.
If you don’t know, ask. Seriously. You may get made fun of (let’s face it, you’re the FNG – you ARE going to be made fun of), but it’s always best to ask something if you don’t know.
Have a thick skin. It’s necessary. You don’t want to be That Guy who gets a Butthurt Report placed in his locker.
LEO’s (and firefighters, EMS, military folks) generally have a morbid sense of humor. We will joke and shit-talk about the worst things you possibly can think of. It’s a self-defense mechanism; it’s how we stay sane with all the refuse of human life that we wade through every day. Speaking of, you WILL tell a story in mixed company that you think is completely hilarious – a story that gets cops, FF’s, EMS, etc laughing so hard they snort. And you’ll get crickets from normal people. They’ll probably give you the “What the hell is wrong with this guy?!” look.
Your brain – and by extension, your mouth – is your best weapon. You’ll mindfuck/Jedi Mind Trick assholes into cuffs way more often than you ever will tase/baton/spray/beat a dude – as well it should be.
When it’s time to fight, then fight. Every LEO knows who Dinkheller was, and the lesson the poor bastard left on law enforcement.
Report writing. MASTER THAT SHIT. Learn how to write an articulate, flowing report – one that you can read three years later (when the shit actually goes to trial) and understand everything that happened. If it’s not on paper, it never happened. You see, all this LE shit is like one big game of musical chairs. When something Bad happens (Bad with a capital B), that music stops, and everyone’s looking for a chair. Don’t be the asshole without a chair, and don’t let your partners be without a chair either. Chances are high that at some point your department will come after you and attempt to dick you down. Your paper is what prevents them from giving you more than just the tip (just for a second, just to see how it feels). All joking aside, it’s a critical skill that you need to eat/sleep/breathe.
Lastly, everyone goes home. Period. Either we’re drinking beers, or we’re in the hospital, but we’re all going home.