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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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Surviving Rookie Mistakes

Take your lumps and learn from them.

June 09, 2010  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author


Image via Flickr.com (kk+).

Everyone makes mistakes but if you are the FNG (Fabulous New Guy), they hurt more than they actually should. Let's get this straight: Everyone makes mistakes. The human element will always come into play. Additionally, don't forget Murphy's Law of Policework: If anything can go wrong, it can go terribly wrong quicker with another cop there as a witness.

Let me tell you a story about my stupid rookie mistake. I had just been cut loose from my Field Training Officer (FTO) and this was my first shift on the street. Of course, my FTO Steve Hood stood there at briefing and told me not to screw up and make him proud. That lasted about an hour.

It was an afternoon watch and, yes, as a rookie I got a "maintenance car," which translates to the junky, crappy car that nobody used except when the beat cars were in the shop.

Like the aspiring good cop, I inspected the vehicle inside and out and found there were some old musty papers and other trash in the trunk. Being a good rookie, I decided to clean it out, so I pulled next to a dumpster off East 31st Street and jettisoned the garbage.

While I was there, a motorist went by performing a traffic violation in front of me! So, I sprang into action, got into the patrol car, and spun around to chase this reckless violator.

Unfortunately, in doing so, my right rear bumper caught the dumpster. Good police work, poor driving.

I did stop the violator and he received several citations out of the event. But I got my butt handed to me by the watch commander.

Yes, I had to learn from this and the point of the matter is that we all have to learn from our mistakes. No matter what happens, you must turn your lumps and embarrassments into what I call learning experiences.

Young officers or rookies will have more than their share of learning experiences, but the key here is to take the mistake and the requisite butt-chewing (discipline) with dignity and truly learn from it. Then apply these lessons learned.

The Irish wisdom here is that there is always some good within the bad. You may not be destined to fully understand it now, but in time it will reveal itself. This is the "silver lining in the dark cloud" theme. Of course, you will be picked on and probably get a nickname (mine was not Crash), but you take it and walk.

Finally, if people keep giving you "friendly" little reminders of your mistakes, know that it's partially being done to test your mettle. If you can't take some ribbing in good jest, you have no hope of surviving being grilled in the courtroom by a defense attorney who will jump all over you and your case. This is preparation for the real world, although it may seem like a grade-school razzing.

Keep your dignity and maintain your professionalism. Then one day you will be the FTO telling some FNG not to screw up. It's all good when you step back and look at life.

Train hard. We need good warriors.

Tags: Career Advancement, FTOs, Hazing


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