I learned early in my career that there are two attributes that have to be developed in order to become really good at law enforcement. Sadly, they don't teach these attributes at the police academy, nor do they cover them in most FTO programs. The two attributes I'm writing about are having a sense of curiosity and a sense of urgency. It's my opinion that without them, you're just another cop floating around in the sea of mediocrity and have very little credibility within your community.
Curiosity is a huge part of being a cop. It speaks to your powers of observation, filtering information, and turning that information into useful intelligence. In simple terms, curiosity is having that "Why?" button. Why is that car parked liked that? Why won't the suspect look me in the eyes? Why does the son always flinch whenever the mother comes around? Why is that person wearing dark clothing on a hot day? You will never get anywhere in law enforcement without asking why.
It's easy to let yourself become complacent if you're not careful. It's your 15th burglary in vacation row. You run across similar details, take down the information, throw some fingerprint powder around, and you write your report. But, did you really ask good questions? Did you really canvas the area for witnesses? Did you take a good look at your crime scene? Your sense of curiosity will help you see things that the bad guys would rather remain hidden.
I remember one time a colleague and I made a traffic stop of a suspicious vehicle from an earlier call. The flatbed truck was filled with small used car parts that included used oil and air filters. There were a couple of things about the type and number of parts that piqued our curiosity. We secured a consent to search, put on some gloves, and started making our way through the pile.
We eventually found several stashes of drugs that were neatly wrapped in plastic. It was brought out later that the suspect and a few of his cohorts had been transporting drugs like that for months. That's the importance of curiosity. Chances are if you spot something that doesn't look right, there is a reason. Make sure you check into it because you never know where it might lead you.
There are officers and supervisors alike that pick and choose what they deem important. It goes beyond prioritizing calls, and enters the laziness zone. We tend to forget that everything we do is important, even if for no other reason than it's important to the person calling us for help.
When we lose our sense of urgency our work product starts to falter. We start playing games with how much effort to put into something. In essence, we decide what deserves our attention. If we are not careful, we will talk ourselves out of having any need for importance and treat every call in the same lackluster way.
You should be at your best during any call and give it the attention it deserves. The example I like to share is that of a theft of an old beat up bicycle. The true victim is an 8-year-old boy who rides the bike daily. The bicycle may not mean anything to you but it means the world to the 8-year-old. Your sense of urgency becomes quite clear through your demeanor.
That 8-year-old should walk away knowing you are going to try your best to find his bicycle and catch the bad guy. You don't ever lie to him, but you do show him you are serious about doing your job. And that's what having a sense of urgency is: the direct translation of your actions, which shows not only how you view your job but how you perform it as well.
It's your sense of urgency that helps convince people you are serious about helping them. Without it, you are sure to lose your credibility in the community.
If you are to be taken seriously as a law enforcement officer, you must develop both your sense of curiosity and your sense of urgency. I have never known an effective officer who didn't display these characteristics. As a leader, if you want to have an impact on the future of your agency, I suggest mentoring younger officers in these two areas. You will find that when you do, the rest of the job comes so much more easily.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant and holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.