By Jeff Lurie, P1 Contributor
Many new police officers tell me after their first month on the street that they had no idea what to expect. They either love it or they hate it.
Some new officers struggle with all the paperwork. For others, the paperwork is a breeze, but they have never been more challenged psychologically in their life.
If you’re a new applicant, or you’ve been hired and are waiting to attend the police academy, one of the most important steps is to prepare your mental toolbox.
New cops are excited to receive their uniform, badge, gun and radio, but fail to prepare mentally for what will be the ride of their life. Here are five questions rookies need to ask themselves before hitting the streets:
1. Can you handle the emotions?
Police work is physically, psychologically and emotionally draining. Not all people can handle the pressure. Not all people can accept that you cannot save every person. Not all people can tell a parent that their teenage child was just involved in a vehicle crash and will not be coming home.
Being a police officer is not all about fast cars and action. Law enforcement is a serious profession. Now is the time to ask yourself: Can you handle it?
2. Can you handle the aggression?
You may have never been exposed to a suicide, a homicide, a fatal traffic crash, or even simply being yelled at by someone who doesn’t like you because you’re the police.
How will you react if someone swings a punch at you, spits on you or tries to provoke you to overreact or say something you’ll regret?
3. Are you ready to always be prepared?
You’ll be driving around in your patrol car one day and think to yourself, “Holy crap! I’m a police officer. I did it. This is awesome!’ You’ll smile. You’ll scan your surroundings. You’ll absorb the freedom you have to drive around within your district and talk to citizens, conduct proactive traffic enforcement, or team up with a partner to conduct some other law enforcement activity in between your calls for service.
But always be prepared.
Always wear your body armor on duty.
Always carry your gun and badge when you are off duty.
Always watch your speed when responding to calls. If you don’t make it there because you get into a crash, then someone could die.
Have a plan with your family so that they know what to do in the event you have to act in an off-duty capacity.
Maintain physical and mental fitness.
Buy life insurance to ensure the financial security of your family should you lay down your life for another.
Carry a tourniquet and get self-aid and buddy-aid training.
Know the laws of your state and the ordinances of your locality. These laws and ordinances are your boundaries.
Stay within the binding of the books and use these tools to your advantage.
4. Do you understand your mission?
A patrol supervisor commented during my squad’s Roll Call one evening: “If you’re where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there, wearing the appropriate uniform, and doing what you’re supposed to be doing, I will always have your back.”
Understand that we are representatives of government. We wear our badge as a symbol of authority. It is our promise to abide by the laws we are sworn to uphold. Our mission is clear. However, our actions are almost always scrutinized. We remain under the careful watch of the public eye as we maintain law and order.
5. Can you take care of yourself?
Mental wellness is vital to physical and emotional survival. When you experience stress or signs of depression, ask for help. Talk to someone. We lose far too many cops to vehicle crashes, illness and gunfire, but suicide is also claiming cops. If you need help or just someone to talk to, please say something. It’s never too late.
Remember that every good mechanic has an extensive collection of tools, but even the most skilled mechanic needs a new tool every now and again. Reading this article is just the beginning of filling your mental toolbox. Stay alert, stay safe, stay alive!
About the author Jeff Lurie is a police sergeant in Virginia and author of “Paving Your Path to Policing: The Reality of Recruitment.”