By: Stephen Scrobe, O2X Lead Instructor
On my first day in Police Academy, Class #242, I was 22 years old, and (I’ll admit now) I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. A very solemn, gruff, heavy-set instructor entered the class and began our training. “Welcome to law enforcement. You will have a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth. You will get modest pay, decent benefits, and unbelievable stories. It will leave you with depression, PTSD, anxiety, at least one failed marriage, an unhealthy addiction to alcohol, knee pain, shoulder pain, and back pain. You will miss holidays and major family events. You will be overworked, and when the opportunity arises, you will chase overtime instead of resting. Your old friends will not understand your sense of humor, and you will only associate with other cops. Now skeptical of everything, you will change how you see society, and not for the better. Leave now if you feel like this is something you can’t handle. Otherwise, welcome to the thin blue line. We take care of each other.”
I’d be lying if I told you that most, if not all, of these things, didn’t manifest themselves at some point in my career. This doesn’t have to be, and most certainly shouldn’t be, the narrative we get out of the gate. Looking back 17 years later, given a chance, these are the top FIVE things I would tell myself at the start:
You can never be too good at the basics
Interviews, traffic, search and seizure, and officer safety. Never stop training in these four areas. This is where you really need to be an “expert.” The knowledge here extends into all other aspects of policing. Narcotics, Street Crimes, K9, Spec Ops, and investigations are all sexy titles, but you’ll never be considered an asset to those units without being great at the fundamentals. Make these your priority, even if traffic stops or roadside interviews “aren’t your thing.” Take all the training you can get as soon as possible. Although K-9 is the greatest job in police work, specialty training can wait.
Form your own opinions and stay positive
It’s easy to get caught up in the political and personal drama of your co-workers/agency. Don’t just take the hearsay from others about an individual or a unit’s reputation or performance on duty. Form your own opinions on how different people operate, then learn how to work with them based on what they can offer. Negativity breeds negativity; always be the one looking for a solution and cohesiveness. If you find yourself in a circle that isn’t trying to make each other better and help each other, you’re in the wrong circle.
Train in some form of martial art/self-defense
This is REAL “life insurance”, not that stuff you buy from HR. It took getting my ass handed to me for the first time to learn this one. Growing up, I was a runner, who also wrestled. I thought that I could hold my own at 6’2”, 210 pounds, and 7% body fat. When I finally met someone with my number, and I got thrown like a frisbee, I realized something had to change. I linked up with a Muay-Thai gym and began learning to defend myself on different terms than I was used to. Get out of your comfort zone, find people better than you, and Always Be Training. It may be the thing that saves your life. What you are provided in the academy is NOT enough and will not be retained if you never train again after you leave.
Don’t skip the rest and recovery
Your schedule may be tough. You will work yourself into the ground. You will be stressed. Working out is a great way to improve mental health and reduce stress. However, there is such a thing as working out too much. Sleep is the most important habit you can build into your daily life. If you don’t sleep, you can’t recover. If you can’t recover, you won’t get the results you want, and you’ll also see functional decline in mental ability, focus, and energy. No supplements can compensate for lack of rest over time, and you significantly increase your risk of injury. Focus on managing your time to include enough recovery. You can’t work well if you’re hurting.
Learn to talk
Being able to talk WITH people is a very important learned skilled. The worst thing you can do as a cop is to be rigid, unsociable, and uncreative. We tend to talk AT others and come off as arrogant. I quickly learned that talking people out of fights, talking them into handcuffs, and being a calm voice that allowed people to speak their peace without getting offended, saved me A LOT of trouble. Having casual conversation will get you access to the information you’d never thought you’d get and create trust with communities that are wary of law enforcement. So, talk to everyone you can, especially those who have different upbringings or cultural expectations than you. Be genuine when you speak, listen to what other people are trying to tell you, and learn. There is always that time when we need to turn it up and be extremely direct, but outside of that, this is your time to “humanize the badge” and be more than the uniform.
I’m proud of my time in law enforcement. I was fortunate to have several amazing co-workers and supervisors take me under their wing, let me learn without getting in trouble, and help me when I was punching above my weight class. There is no substitute for experience, which is exactly where the O2X “EAT, SWEAT, THRIVE” curriculum is rooted, and I’m proud to help provide this education to better OUR community. Whether you’re a recruit or seasoned vet, I hope this includes something you can implement to become 1% BETTER EVERYDAY.
Stay safe and enjoy the show.