Get Out and Be Sociable
One great thing about consensual contacts is that they don't have to end in an arrest. You can simply meet someone who's an interesting person, maybe even develop a less obvious means of intel.
Getting out of your car and roaming around can pay dividends. Not only does it preclude your being sedentary your whole shift, it also allows you to recon those problems areas that are not as familiar as you'd like them to be and scout for likely escape routes for suspects. Your knowledge of the lay of the land can facilitate your setting up suspect containments in the future.
While you're taking a lay of the land, talk with people. Strike up a conversation with the security guards at your local businesses, the kids that congregate in the courtyard of that problem apartment complex, and people who know who's doing what and when. As any foot beat cop can tell you, getting out of your car and giving people a face to remember can come in handy when you later need their help. Besides, it's nice to remember who you're working for.
Career stagnancy, whether imposed by ourselves or our administrators, can be dangerous. Failing to challenge ourselves can result in a loss of enthusiasm for our job, and may lead to some ethical impropriety and the loss of that job, a fate that's befallen some 19,000 of our fellow officers over the span of the last 30 years.
But how does a cop find new ways of challenging him- or herself?
"One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to move around every three or four years," says Velona. "You learn much more than just what you're learning at your new assignment.
"But you've got to be willing to be humble and be taught."
As Connor notes, networking is important. So if you haven't already primed your Blackberry, signed up on MySpace or Facebook, or gotten a database of go-to experts in your iPhone, then get to work.
So much of what falls on law enforcement's radar nowadays is so varied, so demanding of particular skill sets, that you need to have the "go to" people readily available.
There are a variety of law enforcement associations that share online intel on everything from narcotics, to gangs, to GTAs, to pawn shops. The POLICE-L listserv is a great networking tool that allows you to dialogue with officers not only from different regions, but throughout the world.
Not only can these "go-to" people come in handy at a drop of a dime, they can also mentor you in areas you might not otherwise be exposed to. They can assist you with networking, computer forensics, and developing crime tracking programs and matrixes.
Beyond networking, Facebook and MySpace offer investigative opportunities on members residing in your patrol area.
Got an iPhone? Consider downloading some of the following applications: The Law Pod ($0.99) pulls up Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure right to your iPhone screen; Language Translators (prices vary, many are free) Spanish, Mandarin, Italian-you name it, they have it; FBI Most Wanted ($1.99) not only features the 10 Most Wanted list but gives users breaking crime news, a listing of the most wanted terrorists, and a directory of the highest priority missing children. There are some 20,000 apps available, with many other possibilities worth investigating. The more that you can streamline various facets of your job, the more proficient you'll be at it.
Learn New Things
Every month or so, immerse yourself in something you have little or no knowledge in. (I'd say no interest, too, but don't want to be a hypocrite.) Some cops become entirely one dimensional.
"You have these guys that work Century or East L.A. Station and they're great at handling the hot stuff. Give 'em a robbery or shots fired call and watch 'em rock and roll," says LASD's Velona.
"But when they transfer to other 'slower' stations, they often end up asking for assistance. They haven't handled the sophisticated embezzlements. They don't know what to do on a theft by trick or device. It's weird. When we're on training, we're always buying calls, taking the handle on situations we haven't handled before to get exposure to them. But once we're off training, we tend to dodge the unfamiliar. And we're not doing ourselves any favors," he adds.
Becoming a better cop may not ensure formal recognition such as a promotion, but it'll virtually guarantee it informally. It'll simultaneously help you to do your job faster and increase your prospects to work elsewhere.
Besides, sometimes we need to do things to better ourselves not to please our bosses, but in spite of them.
Riverside County's Varga sums it all up:
"Ours is the best job on the planet. We get paid to be the cavalry, step in front of the bully, and save the day. Who could get burned out on that?"