Graduating FTO: How to Be Successful as a Rookie on Your Own

The author of this article requested to remain anonymous. He has been a police officer for about 2 years after some time in the U.S. Army. He has quickly made a name for himself as someone with an eagerness to learn and also help his peers.

As a new officer there are obviously a bunch of challenges you will face as your career progresses and there are probably a hundred stories you are being told on how to be successful in your career.  Many of these stories probably contradict each other and leave you feeling lost as your being released from your field training.  Upon being released, you are on your own and you’re trying to think about what your FTO taught you and your training in the academy.  As I write this I am in no way a senior officer that has 20 years of law enforcement to speak to, but I see this somewhat as a good thing.  This short article isn’t going to be an answer to your prayers on how to be a good officer, but hopefully will provide you with some tips from a rookie who’s had success that I wish I knew sooner.

To go back and touch on experience, just having been a police officer for 20 years doesn’t make you a good officer.  I have seen plenty of officers who have been in law enforcement for 15-20 years that claim to be the best there is.  In reality they are not up to date on current case law, support a piss poor attitude which creates a piss poor work environment (the salty veteran type), and are just filling a spot on a roster to ride out their retirement.  As you go through the beginning of your career you will have questions and you will need to ask others for help.  Don’t feel ashamed by this.  My biggest suggestion is to seek advice from a variety of people and ask them how they have come to that conclusion.  Many officers will speak to their experience which is good and something to value, but you’ll find many time this leads to conflicting ideas and stories.  Take what others say and do some research on how case law backs up their advice.  This will really provide you who knows what they are talking about and who just speaks to how they have done something wrong for 20 years without knowing it.  A good resource for this is Google Scholar.  Get to know it and you will be a smarter officer than some people who have been out here for ages.  I have used this and found both prosecutors and salty veterans teaching improper and/or outdated techniques and tactics.

On a similar note, don’t let people with bad attitudes toward their job affect your opinion.  Each person is going to have to use their own experiences to develop their own opinions about their department or daily shift.  Law enforcement has a variety of specialty roles and positions that vary greatly in their daily duties or responsibilities.  For some enforcing traffic laws and writing a bunch of tickets is their pride and joy.  For others making large quantities of drug arrests or taking calls for service is their bread and butter.  Find what you like and become good at it, don’t let others talk you out of it.  No one will always agree with you or think that what you like is entertaining.  Personally, I couldn’t care less about writing traffic tickets but it doesn’t mean that there’s not a purpose for it in law enforcement.  In the end, if you allow other’s opinions on these matters to suppress your desire to pursue a specific career path, you’re going to find yourself unhappy at work.

As mentioned, find what you like and become good at it.  As much as people talk about the academy being one of the toughest experiences of their life, when speaking honestly, I have yet to find a basic academy which truly wasn’t ‘basic’.  This was true for basic training in the U.S. Army and policing.  Find additional training that you can go to that dives deeper into specific topics that are universal in policing.  My suggestion is to find good interview and interrogation, criminal interdiction, and search and seizure courses.  No matter what department or specialty you find yourself in policing, these courses will helpful.  They teach you how to talk to people with a purpose, identify criminal behavior or activity, and then prosecute that criminal activity in a legal manner that will stick in court.  Also, don’t be afraid to apply what you learned right away.  You don’t have to be a detective to gather good information and write a good search warrant.  Go out there and get after it, don’t wait to have someone tell you what more you could have done.  Be confident and stop crime from day one.

Finally take a breath and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  The first thing after arriving on the scene of an incident is to ensure its safe and contained.  After that take your time but make a decision.  If it isn’t an officer safety issue, it’s probably something you can learn from without causing too much damage. Learn from the mistakes you and others make and get better from it.  I would find it hard to believe there isn’t any police officer out there about to retire who can’t tell you about several stories of stupid things they did throughout their career.  This applies from the top to the bottom.

Good luck, be safe, be confident.  From one rookie to another.

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