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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Don't Call Me a Rookie

You might not like it, but it is a part of life.

June 27, 2008  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

I recently received an e-mail from a reader. In a nutshell, he is the new guy on his department, has been there less than two years, and is still called a rookie. He doesn't like it and wants to know if there's a different title people should use to refer to him.

OK, let's discuss this age-old dilemma.

Traditions run deep in law enforcement. We are neither the most subtle nor the most politically correct for that matter of all the professions. Rookie is an accepted title (like it or not) and it's police tradition. Most believe that it is a derivation from the word recruit. There are several ideas about its origins, but any way you cut it, it means that you are the apprentice. Neither the journeyman nor the veteran, rookie is your title.

When I came along, anyone was a rookie as long as he was a patrol officer. Then when he was promoted to advanced police officer (one stripe!) he lost that moniker. Speaking to other colleagues of mine, some departments left you with the title until another officer was hired to your junior. In some departments, this could be a long time.

I have heard alternative terms such as probationary officer, conditionally appointed trooper (CAT), recruit, kid, and cadet, and there must be another few more out there. And I cannot forget the ever popular FNG (Frickin' New Guy). "Young Pups" is used in some areas, which means rookies are like young puppies. They yip and yap and chase cars. Hey, I don't make this up; I just report what I hear. 

It matters not what the title may be; your actions may cause colleagues to call you a rookie. If you mature and conduct yourself as a seasoned officer, this title will eventually disappear from around you.

I have seen some officers with several years under their belt make a boneheaded mistake. The seasoned officers will mumble "rookie" behind their back. In that same department an officer who is junior will handle business and never be called any name. It is all in how you conduct yourself.

Names do not make you a cop. Besides, once you become a seasoned officer, your career will change directions. Then you will become the rookie detective or rookie sergeant. It is a cycle of life and traditional part of our vernacular. The irony of all of this is one day in the future, the officer who hated the title the most will be very fluent in its usage after becoming a Field Training Officer.

It is a life cycle; get used to it. Additionally, if you are the FNG, you best have thick skin. I don't know what it was like in your charmed little world, but stop and think. When you played sports and you were the youngest, what were you called? Seniority is based in life, even in your own family. I can recall having to sit with the other kids in the kitchen or side room at family gatherings.

I still hold deep in my memory the day I got to dine at the big table with my father and uncles. That day I was not the kid or the family's rookie anymore. You will appreciate your transition from rookie to officer or whatever…it is a great feeling. Hang in there.

Keep your cool and train hard, for your actions under pressure make you what you are.

Tags: FTOs


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

WILLIAM R. MARCHANT @ 7/2/2008 5:35 PM

This is funny. This brings back a lot of old memories. I am a retired California Highway Patrol Officer (Motor) who worked 28 years in the West L.A. Area Office. I started the Academy in Jan of '74 and got to WLA in May. When I got there, I was lucky if I got called Rookie or FNG. The majority of the Old Timers (which, in WLA was anybody with more than 10 minutes on the job) wouldn't even talk to me. No kidding. I still recall asking a Motor a question one day all he did was look at me like I had two heads and then turn and walk away. Well, I stayed the course, and what you say is true. The "Titles" you are called gradually go away. I even took it upon myself to speak to the new incoming "Rookies"...LOL, and help them get to know the area. During my time there I also had other "Titles" too. FTO (Car), CMTO (Motor Training Officer) Range Master, DT Instructor and was approached by Officers years later who remembered me and thanked me for helping soften their initiation to WLA. Like you said in one of your previous articles, Be a Mentor, Not a Monster.

WILLIAM R. MARCHANT @ 7/2/2008 5:36 PM

This is funny. This brings back a lot of old memories. I am a retired California Highway Patrol Officer (Motor) who worked 28 years in the West L.A. Area Office. I started the Academy in Jan of '74 and got to WLA in May. When I got there, I was lucky if I got called Rookie or FNG. The majority of the Old Timers (which, in WLA was anybody with more than 10 minutes on the job) wouldn't even talk to me. No kidding. I still recall asking a Motor a question one day all he did was look at me like I had two heads and then turn and walk away. Well, I stayed the course, and what you say is true. The "Titles" you are called gradually go away. I even took it upon myself to speak to the new incoming "Rookies"...LOL, and help them get to know the area. During my time there I also had other "Titles" too. FTO (Car), CMTO (Motor Training Officer) Range Master, DT Instructor and was approached by Officers years later who remembered me and thanked me for helping soften their initiation to WLA. Like you said in one of your previous articles, Be a Mentor, Not a Monster.

mtarte @ 7/2/2008 9:58 PM

Sorry, you are a rookie until a seasoned veteran says you are not. In fact, I was told I had no opinion until I had a 5 year hashmark. I think all baby cops (my term) come in and think after a year or two, they have done all and seen all, when they in fact are just getting their feet wet in the shallow end of police work. A wise old sergeant told me once, when I offered my opinion on a matter I knew little about, to "shut up and listen." Wise words from a wise man and for the most part, I heeded them for most of my career. So you are the rookie, relish these days. You will find as you move along in your career, you will look back on these "rookie" years with fondness and longing. You may not believe it now, but you will. So "shut up and listen" rookie! (Submitted with love)

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