Photo: Flickr (bitzcelt).
I must have sounded like the father figure again, when I responded to a recruit who e-mailed me with a few life questions. His questions were signs of the changing times.
The recruit wrote that he would soon be graduating the academy and starting the FTO program. Good for him. He had planned his marriage and big honeymoon adventure cruise, bought a new ride, and began searching for a house during his first year on the job. Stop the crazy train, because I had some questions. How secure are you in your abilities to pass the program? How financially strong is your agency? Far be it from me to derail the dream express, but there's too much going on here for my comfort.
The FTO program can be demanding, and I've written several times that the first year is the most critical in your career. The academy and FTO program are the most critical and stressful times most young people encounter short of the military experience. I have told many recruits to get their life in order; this has been and will always be my advice and marching orders to them.
What worries me most is the vast number of police layoffs occurring across the U.S. due to the economy. Several years ago, many thought if you left one department, you would be hired by another in short order. Additionally, there many departments with countless unfilled vacancies (also the economy). The traditional job-seeking logic may no longer apply.
Watching younger officers entering long-term financial obligations such as homes, credit or vehicles worries me greatly. Research the stability of your job during the next two to three budget cycles before you ink any contracts. Read local news coverage, seek out command staff, and speak to your labor representatives.
I'm not anti-romantic, but consider your timing and the expenses of major life events as well. I have received several invitations to post-academy graduation weddings. Don't even ask me the survivability of those marriages. I've always told young officers to get their feet on the ground first; love will wait (according to the romantic novelists). During the past few years, I've seen more and more officers entering credit or financial counseling to avoid looming legal issues.
Here's some advice that may have come from your crusty old father — define your needs versus your wants. Then decide what you're going to do. I know you want to live out your dream goals in career, personal and family areas. Rather than seeing it as standing in the way of your dreams, read this column as my hope that your dream won't become a nightmare.
The academy, FTO program and patrol are far too stressful. Job stability and financial stress adds to your burden and affects your well-being. My job here is help you make the right decisions, so you can be your best on and off duty.