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.
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.