Time and Again

The point is all of us were once new, and someday, we'll all retire. But try telling that to a rookie.

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Time marches to its own steady, unwavering beat. Regardless of how fast or slow we perceive its passage, its rhythm never changes.

Law enforcement is necessarily crisis driven. Today's crisis will always replace yesterday's crises, and tomorrow's crises will replace today's, and so on. Where this applies to us is recognizing the dynamics of time, and then using time to our advantage.

Let's look at how time is perceived by those at different stages of their careers. This could easily apply to all in law enforcement, but I'll make it specific to SWAT for this column.

Getting Up to Speed

New SWAT personnel have their entire futures ahead of them. They are eager, enthusiastic, and like sponges they absorb everything they're taught by veteran SWAT officers. Even those new personnel with years of police experience quickly discover SWAT has its own learning curve involving many skill areas, proficiency requirements, and, most difficult of all, fitting into an existing team.

I fully agree with the reader who posted on this site that it takes new SWAT personnel two to three years to become familiar enough with SWAT to become fully functional. In busy SWAT teams, this may mean participating in hundreds of operations before being allowed to be the #1 point officer on an entry.

On less busy teams, the time for new personnel to get fully up to speed may take even longer because of less operational experience. Virtually all SWAT personnel today must pass basic SWAT training—lasting from one to two weeks up to one to two months—followed by a lengthy field training period. The reason is both simple and obvious. SWAT missions require an extremely high degree of skill, tactics, strategy, and teamwork. It takes time to get up to the team's speed. And for SWAT rookies who can't wait to get in on the action, it can seem like an eternity.

Moving up the Ranks

SWAT officers view time differently at each stage of their careers. While new SWAT officers can't seem to perfect their skills fast enough, what seems like forever doesn't last quite that long.

In time, new guys turn into veterans, and in many cases they become the trainers and teachers of future new guys. No longer are they consumed with trying to make the cut. Instead, veterans get into a groove of proficiency and prowess, honing their skills to a razor-sharp edge. The veterans are the team's steady, stabilizing influence, making the team stronger and better. Veterans are the backbone of SWAT teams, but we need to remember that "once upon a time" even the veterans were "rookie" SWAT officers.

Next are the "OGs," or Old Guard; those who have been on the team forever. They have a more measured perspective on time and the job itself. As long as they adhere to the required team standards and maintain good, positive SWAT attitudes, OGs benefit their teams as leaders with vast experience. But once upon a time even the OGs were rookies who moved up to veteran status, eventually becoming OGs.

The point is all of us were once new, and someday, we'll all retire. However, say that to a rookie cop, and watch the look of disbelief. Or tell war stories to veteran officers, and watch them roll their eyes. It's hard to view the job from the same perspective as officers at other stages of their career.

Experience and Experiences

Just as time marches steadily onward, there is another constant at work. And that is that with experience comes knowledge and wisdom. OGs obtained their wisdom the hard way—through many years of experience. They make ideal mentors, and SWAT teams would be wise to pick the brains of their OGs or chance losing all those years of their vast experience once they retire from the force.

But ask any OG or veteran, and he or she will tell you that many of their most memorable career experiences occurred early in their careers. Many, if not most, can readily replay frame-by-frame versions of early career memories. The middle portion of their career is often a blur of names, places, numbers, and events, with only certain ones standing out above the rest.

ALL of us start our careers as the new kid on the block, looking up to the veterans and OGs, hoping we don't embarrass ourselves or get anyone hurt because we screwed up. Then, at some point in our careers we discover we're now the veterans the new guys look up to. The veterans we looked up to are now the OGs, a status that eventually veterans who last attain.

We were rookies yesterday, but today we're veterans. And tomorrow we'll be OGs—law enforcement's Jedi masters. Perhaps the ideal SWAT officer would be a hybrid of the rookie's enthusiasm, the veteran's knowledge, and the OG's wisdom. Put them all together and…

The force will be with you.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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