Once you get on the job, it's important to learn to live as a cop off-duty. The academy and FTO will give you all the information for the on-duty world; it is your off hours that can be a problem.
If you have ever hung out in public with off-duty cops, it only takes a few minutes to spot one. Did you drive up in your vehicle with a blue line sticker on the bumper and a lodge sticker on the rear window? Then there's your attire—we all have cool cop shirts, hats and a closet full of T-shirts. Make good wardrobe decisions; otherwise, you'll be registering for the class I like to call, Off-Duty Encounters With Drunks 101.
Wearing that cop shirt is one thing, but talking in police jargon is a dead giveaway—10 codes, signals this, code that and sprinkle a few terms in like perpetrator. Ask yourself whether in normal conversation, other than between cops, that word is used. Of course, telling a story about your most recent call, as others listen within ear shot, gives two ideas. Either you are a young cop or a 'mall ninja' who has overdosed on police shows.
Then when you pay for the meal, that big shield is exposed. Who else carries that whopper of tin in their wallet? Stop and think now! Are you trying to shield your way into a free meal? We used to call this "eating on the arm." Did you mean to do this? Probably not, but a bystander will think this and the rumor mill gets going that all cops eat on the arm.
Purchase a credential or badge wallet. This is for your shield, identification, cards and so forth. Your regular wallet is for the cash, credit cards and so forth. This is done because if you're robbed and the perpetrator has the drop on you, you can give up your regular wallet rather than the one with your shield. Pre-planning pays off.
If you receive police periodicals, training manuals and so forth in the mail, get a post-office box. Face it, most of our magazines have information and tactics we don't want the bad guys to read. If some creep roots around in your unsecure mail box and surmises that you are a cop, your home is set up for a burglary (Hint: Cops have guns). Get a secured post-office box for sensitive mail.
Watch your e-mail address as well. Create a non-descript name. We all know an officer who uses [email protected] or [email protected]. Grow up and get a non-vocational screen name.
When driving to work in your private vehicle, get a light jacket to cover up that uniform or put on the shirt at the precinct. Never leave your police equipment bags in your car's backseat; lock them in the trunk. I walked through a precinct lot the other week and right there on the front seat was a big black equipment bag with police stamped on the top. Some creep could have popped the window. You don't want to lose your equipment or have an arrestee spot your car; remember, your loved ones also travel in it.
Plug the right numbers into your cell phone. I know you have numbers for everything. If you got into a fix, do you want to go through 9-1-1 Central? Have your local department, desk sergeant or precinct numbers plugged in. Call somebody who knows you to avoid going through '911 Land.'
Have I covered all of the nuances of police life? No way! Try to be cognizant, and it won't be so bad for you out there.