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Cover Story

10 Rookie Errors To Avoid

Department training programs are designed to teach prospective officers the ropes, but some mistakes could end your career at an agency before it really starts.

May 18, 2010  |  by Jody Kasper

5. Lack of Respect and Professionalism

Being a police officer is an extremely dangerous and serious job. People's lives will literally come and go in front of an officer's eyes and recognition of the seriousness of this duty is imperative. Rookies who come to work with a cup of coffee in hand, a sloppy uniform, and a newspaper under one arm convey an inappropriate attitude as a new officer. Rookies who show up to work in this state will often receive poor ratings in the Daily Observation Report regarding appearance and attitude toward the job.

6. Inability to Move Beyond Mistakes

Mistakes will be made. Mistakes should be made. Rookie officers don't know it all and making errors is part of the learning process. Early on in the FTEP it is normal to receive poor scores in certain areas. If every score were rated as acceptable, then there would be no reason to be in a training program.

As you move through the FTEP, the unacceptable scores should diminish as your skills improve. That is the normal progression through any training program. Rookie officers may tend to dwell on errors and it can negatively impact their behavior for the remainder of the shift or even into the next few shifts. You need to accept mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

7. Failure to Properly Prepare for the Job

Officers who are in FTEPs should expect to spend a minimum of 40 hours a week on the job working and up to 20 hours a week engaged in other activities related to their training. These activities involve uniform and equipment preparation, law and ordinance familiarization, review of policies and procedures and, most definitely, familiarization with the physical layout of their jurisdictions.

If you are hired by an agency in a community you're not familiar with, you need to spend off-duty time driving around the city and learning street names, locations of major businesses, and other key locations such as hospitals, jails, schools, and courthouses. City orientation takes time, but FTOs cannot spend the 40-hour work week testing a rookie's knowledge of street locations. There are other important tasks to focus on and new officers must take it upon themselves to familiarize themselves with their communities.

8. Paperwork and Report Writing

Many rookies may struggle with this part of the job. For every event, there is often an associated piece of paperwork or a required entry in a computer system. From traffic tickets, to shopliftings, to child endangerment cases, there is paperwork. It is critical that you be able to complete your reports in a timely and accurate way. A common problem with rookie officers is poor report writing skills and even poor penmanship.

Writing skills can be challenging to improve, but it is essential that you avoid getting tripped up in this area. Some methods you can use to improve these skills include reading more, writing more, and using a dictionary or thesaurus when necessary.

9. Lack of Command Presence and Initiative

While it is reasonable for brand new officers in their first phase of training to be cautious and reluctant to make decisions, decision-making is a skill that needs to develop over time. Once a uniformed officer arrives on a call, people expect that the officer will take control and make decisions. It is a critical skill that can be difficult to teach.

Additionally, new officers need to seek out activity, even if it may be outside of their comfort zone, so that they can get comfortable completing different tasks. You can show initiative by conducting motor vehicle stops, investigating suspicious activity, and by volunteering to take the lead on multi-officer calls.

10. Lying

When rookies lie during training programs it is commonly done to cover up errors. An FTO may ask you if you remembered to fill out a specific form, searched a certain location, or pat frisked a person for weapons. Not wanting to get in trouble for an error, an officer may be tempted to cover up a mistake with what seems like a simple lie. Don't.

Remember, errors are expected and rookies in training will make mistakes. Lying about them, however, is unacceptable behavior. It may result in termination or can quickly cast a shadow over a new officer's career. A key characteristic of any police officer is honesty. It's important for positive relationships with peers, trustworthiness, and can become a factor in report writing and courtroom testimony.

Being a new officer in a post-academy training program can be a stressful experience. But it is an important step in the process of becoming an effective police officer. It takes an incredible amount of hard work, preparation, and commitment but it is a career that is well worth the effort and can be incredibly rewarding, interesting, fun and challenging.

Jody Kasper is a police sergeant in Massachusetts who has worked in the field of law enforcement for 15 years, many as an FTO. She is also an adjunct professor at Elms College where she teaches criminal justice.

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Comments (13)

Displaying 1 - 13 of 13

Alex Andrews @ 9/19/2012 5:58 PM

Great info. Thanks.

Daniel Davenport @ 8/8/2013 1:07 PM

Great article, extremely well written with a ton of good information. Outstanding.

granny @ 8/8/2013 6:11 PM

Got pulled over last night after running over a dead skunk( 30 miles later). Was asked if I did drugs. Rookies told me low grade marijuana smells like skunk. I'm lmao thinking of them taking deep whifs of the aroma to get a second hand high just to realize it's. Skunk. They smelled it as I was sitting at a red light; didn't break any laws.

Richard Goldstein @ 8/16/2013 8:02 AM

I have been a Police Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 26 years. The job today invo

Anonyomous @ 4/8/2014 10:32 AM

This site is the only site I need to get each bit of information needed for my 8th grade essay.

Anonyomous @ 4/8/2014 10:32 AM

This site is the only site I need to get each bit of information needed for my 8th grade essay.

John @ 11/6/2015 2:01 PM

One thing I learned in my military career which moved over to LEO, is failure. It's going to happen. The trick is to "fail short," if you have a brain fart, unfuck yourself , and get back to the task at hand. Learn to fail in a shorter window , rather than precifoarting over the failure , move past it learn from it and drive on. Stay safe all.

Frank @ 11/12/2015 8:40 PM

Attitude, Attitude, Attitude !

Ame @ 5/28/2016 1:50 PM

Presently I am a student of Criminal Justice. Will Degree in Feb.2017.

Ame @ 5/28/2016 1:54 PM

Recently found this site because of an assignment and found it helpful. Thank you

Bob @ 11/22/2016 4:15 PM

As a rookie police officer, I didnt know any of this. I made a mental note.

Frankie @ 1/11/2017 12:07 PM

Thanks for the info man. I'm a 28 year old man with intentions to join law enforcement. I do happen to have a DUI which I obtained five years back. I am currently pursuing criminal justice at LACC and hoping to join LAPD at the middle of this year or at least a program to better my chances.

Thanks again.

Bk184R @ 12/16/2017 4:06 PM

I started my tenure in law enforcement in 1974, retired in 2010 (you do the Math). My daughter is in the hiring process of a relatively small police department. As a FTO for man of those years, I can attest to the fact that the comments in this article are as relevant today as they were when I was a rookie. My daughter gets to read this one.

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