Please welcome my friend, a "rookie" sheriff's deputy. To say he is a deeply and diversely talented man is to bleach out the essential meanings of both of those words. A combat veteran, a photographer and videographer. Here he describes vividly the feelings of a new officer when their trainer says "You got this" and turns them loose for solo duty.
The patrol car feels awfully lonely when you first sit in it by yourself. For the past seventeen weeks I’ve had a mentor in the seat next to me... They are a hand in your back, guiding you towards the right answer, even if it’s barely even a nudge at times. They want you to succeed, even if they leave you out on a limb to figure it out for yourself. The best way I can describe this process might come across as a teeny bit obscure but that’s the way I was raised – I am British, after all.
Imagine jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. Your guide, the Field Training Instructor, is in a wing-suit next to you as you start to plummet towards the earth. He looks sleek his fancy goggles and bright smile. He gives you double-thumbs up, then hands you an unfolded cardboard box and says, “Okay, you’re doing great, now land with this!” As you tumble towards utter ruin, your FTI might snip at the cardboard box you’re holding, streamlining your descent as the details start to focus. The closer you get to stumbling, the more in-depth your perspective. Small things start to matter the faster you fall.
The questions you will ask yourself, your preemptive decision making and your adaptability to changing situations, all the more clear as it becomes all the more urgent. Your cardboard box, over the course of your descent into the wild and wonderful world of public service, starts to look like it might become something more aerodynamic and soon, before you know it, your FTI will pat you on the back and say, “Good luck with your new team!”
When I say “shape”, I mean beaten enough that you can at the very least land on your own two feet and work through the problems you’re going to face. Complicated and sometimes dangerous problems like; human crisis, mental disabilities, violent crime… The odd dog in the road.
Field training really is as I was once told, “Like drinking from a fire hose.”
Before I transferred to the patrol division, my Sergeant at the time told me that I’d start to see patterns as I progressed. That every call will be different but the principles of your response are going to be the same. Every call will have a reporting party and if it’s a crime, a victim and a suspect. If you’re lucky, you’ll get witnesses. If you’re unlucky, your victim will be uncooperative and your suspect unknown. If you’re very, very unlucky, your victim will be a child and your suspect, incarcerated for the property crimes that fuel her methamphetamine addiction.
I’ve been a cop for two years but a patrol deputy for only a few months. As I write this, I am half way through my third week flying solo. Field training is over and I am figuring things out little by little. Your brain doesn’t stop, ever. Every single problem you’re given has a thousand ways to be solved and like it or not, we don’t live in the black and white contrast of our patrol cars. Every single aspect of law and the justice system is debatable. Only half of all lawyers are right, at any given time. The law is full of gray areas, a science that is subject to interpretation, and that’s the fun part. It is encouraging to see senior cops on my team debating back-and-forth about labelling each incident and how the solution was discovered. Even when it’s a heated debate about whether there is enough with which to charge the principals, it’s a bonding ceremony. Outsiders might see it as an argument. Insiders get excited and pull the small legal source-book from their shirt pockets, so they can join in.
Seriously though, what do I know? I’ve been doing this job for about two hot minutes.
I’m writing this because a good friend and leader encouraged me to share this new experience. He is an incredible person, who thinks logically, speaks carefully and has a deeply creative spirit. The level of intellect he exudes makes me feel smarter by proxy. He doesn’t know that I regard him as one of the greatest leaders that I’ve in my life. I’ve served overseas, on the front-line, with war-fighters and warriors. I am cautious not to understate the positive influence that and so many others have made upon my law enforcement career, short as it is. Pick good people to follow. They’ll take care of you. Even more so if you buy “Rookie cookies” at the beginning of each training phase.
So here I go again: Off into a world of the unknown with already a full list of things to remember. It gets easier, once you find your rhythm. I’ve been told that this happens during your third year, so I’m doing alright! Everyone is looking out for me and supports me in my successes and my mistakes. As long as we are all doing that for one another, we will survive the day and get home to what is important…