Take Stock of Your Life and Prioritize
Sgt. Gerry Velona of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department notes that getting one's ducks in a row on the home front allows an officer to conduct himself more constructively at work. Prioritizing what is important in life is what it boils down to.
"If you want to be a better copper, you better take care of your family," Velona says. "Because no matter what the department tells you, it's not going to do that for you. You don't want to do things that'll jeopardize your family, your home, or your career. That's not what being a better cop is about."
Lou Olivier believes that by not only spending time with your family, but being actively engaged in interests external to law enforcement, you actually improve your ability to do the job.
Keep Your Perspective
As noted many times by POLICE Magazine columnist Dave Smith, cops can be single minded when the chase is on. We can be kind of like dogs chasing prey. We're going to get it no matter what.
That instinct can be good when it's needed. But it can be dangerous to your career and even your life, if you lose perspective. In other words, make sure that who and what you are chasing is worth the chase.
Velona puts it this way: "I always had TOs who would tell me that we're going to do the right thing for the right reason in the right way. If the bad guy gets away this time, that's fine. We'll see him again. That little $20 rock of dope is not worth how you take care of your future ex-wife and children. End of story."
Remember, You Don't Know It All
There's an old saying that the beginning of wisdom is to realize that you don't know and can't know everything. That applies to police work as much as it applies to anything else.
"The hardest part is to look at one's self," notes Weidhase. "At five years on the job, the mantle of invincibility and the belief that somebody knows everything dissipates. Hopefully, that leads to the realization that you don't ever stop the learning experience. By stepping back and intellectualizing your job and your role as a law enforcement officer you become realistic: Just what can you accomplish?"
The stereotype is that cops fresh out of the academy think they know everything and think they are invincible. But Weidhase says it's the transitional veteran who starts to feel like he or she is God's gift to law enforcement.
"Way too many guys with three or four years on the job don't draw on their resources," Weidhase says. "You think you can conquer the world, and then you get your lumps, your failures.
"The catalyst for the change comes when the rookie-which is what I call anybody up to their fifth year of service-realizes that the rigid model taught in the academy does not always work and starts applying his or her intellect to each situation. You eventually come to the realization that there are different ways of doing things. And you start exploiting them."
Velona echoes Weidhase's sentiments.
"The day you think you've learned it all, hang it up, because you're going to hurt someone."
Take your time to pick your fellow officers' brains. Not just the old guys, but the young guys, too. Years before they became staples of investigative dramas, I learned from a younger deputy how criminals were using prepaid phones to coordinate their various illegalities. Everybody has knowledge that you can use.