STEP 2: Resolve, Evolve and Drive
This is Step 2 of the series 12 Steps to Become a Police Officer: Mindset, Preparation and Equipment For Your First Year.
This will not be a conventional law enforcement article. It’s not about tactics, techniques, procedures or laws. This is about your mind, body and spirit … your core. This is one of the most important steps, but one people tend to gloss over or skip entirely at great detriment. I will not refer to it as a mental state. A state conveys a stagnant mode to which you can switch when it is convenient. Instead, you are going to resolve, and ignite a new core that will only burn stronger when the challenges arrive.
Define Your Success
If you read Step 1 of this series, then you should have a basic familiarity with the range of law enforcement options and how to research them systematically. This article is intended for those who are moving forward. Ideally, you should have now decided on a LEO position either at the municipal, county, state or federal level and need to start preparing to apply. I want to be clear that these steps can be overlapping. For instance, I will be recommending a physical fitness regimen later, and that will of course not stop once you advance to the next step.
If you have not decided on a position, then stay on Step 1 and keep hunting. Before you move on, you will have transform your goals from abstract ideas such as “some job in law enforcement” and “sometime soon” and make them concrete. Once you have defined your goals, you will be able to visualize them, and these visualizations will help generate a trajectory to your lifestyle. If you can build up enough mental tenacity towards succeeding, you will then start to make certain decisions which become habitual. For some, getting up at 4:30 am is ridiculous. If you are convinced you need to do that to accomplish the mission, it’s easy.
Do I even believe in the Law?
If you want to be a cop, you must believe in Law. This may seem tautological, but it astounds me how many people I met in the preliminary stages of entering a new life who had virtually no comprehension of the legal system. You do not need your J.D. or to become a legal scholar. But, please deeply consider the philosophical and practical implications of enforcing the laws before you decide to join. This may keep you out of the comical tragedy of being in a gunfight wondering why the hell you’re even doing this.
Deliberate as to whether you have any fundamental problems with the general nature of the laws in your chosen jurisdiction. Think about taking a primary role in holding someone else accountable for violating the laws. As mentioned in Step 1, the laws range by general entity and by jurisdictional boundaries. So, spend some time researching some laws in your state before you swear to carry them out. It seems intuitive. But you may be surprised to find out how many cops hit the academy having done zero research on the laws they plan on enforcing. Remember in some states possession of marijuana is felony offense for which someone can do hard time. If you will hesitate to arrest someone for pot because they may be sent to prison, then that can be real problem. Or if you want to work for Customs and Border Protection, you may need to assist in a case that results in a deportation. Of course, you won’t lose sleep if that person is a career criminal, but there are many cases where the detainee is trying to escape violence and poverty. If you will be psychologically tormented about potentially sending someone back to a perilous environment, then that is an important consideration before dropping an application simply because it’s a solid job in federal law enforcement. Dig deep into your morals and take time to be introspective. Although police officers have discretion in some cases, we do not get to pick and choose which laws to enforce. You don’t have to like or agree with every law you enforce, but you must stay true to your oath and carry out your duty.
What do you believe about laws? What do you believe about the needs for law enforcement, and the methods of enforcement? Should the central goal of Justice be about Revenge, Retribution, Fairness, Restitution, Forgiveness, or something else? Is the system rigged? Are the courts fair? Will a public defender be as good for a poor person as a private attorney will be for a wealthy person? Why are so many criminals set free? Are people actually innocent until proven guilty? Do jails serve as “corrections” and are they really rehabilitative? What does recidivism indicate about our system? Does a speeding ticket make the road safer, or just drive someone into further into financial crisis? The questions of criminal justice are endless and the debates commonplace even within law enforcement. But, they are important to deliberate upon before you commit. Start thinking about where you stand, and what credible foundations you have. Yes, just about everyone scrolls on Facebook and on their favorite news portals. The information found on the internet is often shallow, and not of the substantive nature you need to make serious life decisions. To be truly objective, avoid the political bandwagons and mob mentality so prevalent in popular culture. As a new public safety PROFESSIONAL, it is time for you to increasingly seek knowledge from other resources, i.e. books. Picture yourself answering a question during an interview “I read that on FaceBook…” versus “I read that in “The Path of the Warrior: An Ethical Guild to Personal & Professional Development in the Field of Criminal Justice” by Dr. Larry F Jetmore.”
What should you read first?
One of the fundamental responsibilities of a peace officer is to protect people’s constitutional rights. Please, read over the United States Constitution. You can purchase the most important legal document in the world for under $4.00 here: The U. S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About It.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The White House website has a great introduction some historical perspective here: The Constitution.
This is a good site that breaks it down in a very organized transparent manner, making it easy to navigate to the various sections: U.S Constitution by Section.
There’s a good PDF version here: Download PDF of the Constitution
And, for the best law enforcement field guide that contains the most commonly referenced constitutional rights, check out the TacBook Field Guide for Law Enforcement.
Go to your State’s website and read some over some of the criminal laws. For California, (referred to as Penal Codes), you can visit California Penal Codes.
Recognize the Gravity & Competition
You may be generally decided on a law enforcement position. But I am here to help you do better. There are two main reasons why you must commit before moving too far.
1. The responsibility or a police officer is so grave, you must have your heart in it and appreciate what is at stake. You can get killed, permanently injured, disabled or disfigured. At the time of this article, the line of duty death count for 2019 is 73. You may have to kill another human being. You will see human suffering and death up close. If you are not afraid by this, perhaps you are in the wrong place. Police PTSD and suicide are key issues in the law enforcement today, let alone divorce, isolation, depression, alcoholism, stress, heart problems and that very specific “duty-belt-back pain”. Take adequate time to deliberate the risks. Think through the worst-case scenarios. Fortunately, you do not have to be fully prepared to meet these challenges (who really is?) nor, do you have do it alone. And, human suffering will happen whether you choose to face it in the course of your profession or not. Although critical incidents are serious (by definition), they are not an everyday occurrence for most cops. Personally, I don’t want bad things to happen to people. I just know I should be there when they do. I am a rescuer.
2. The competition is so intense, if you are not resolute, you will not develop the performance level required to stand above the masses of applicants. Just for the police exam, I have seen a line going around the police station. That can be a daunting site, especially if there are just a few vacancies. For some agencies, there are only a couple of vacancies every few years. For some academies, there can be over 100 applications per seat. If you are determined and follow these Steps, you’ll have the confidence in thinking “There is no way 99% of these people have done what I have to prepare”, and you can distinguish yourself from the masses. Meditate on those ideas.
Feel Your Success in Advance.
If you simply “try” for a few positions and “dabble”, thinking “maybe” things will work out you probably won’t make it. It is commonplace to adopt a non-committal attitude when considering goals. That is a defense mechanism, so when things do not manifest with success, perhaps it won’t feel like a failure, since you weren’t really that into it. However, you can do better for yourself. Your time and energy are important. Make the decision, share it with others and then live it… own it. “I’m on my way to becoming a cop.” Be all in.
Define your success temporally, and memorialize it to writing, i.e. “By January, 2021, I will be an exemplary peace officer”. Take a moment right now and write it down for yourself. Make it a medium-range goal. “Submitting an application” is short-range, and “Promoted to Patrol Sergeant” long-range. Once you have written it down, tape it to the wall next to your bed. Make it one of the last things you see at night, and one of the first things you see in the morning. There’s no more question about it. You’re doing it.
Stand up right now and read this. No really, stand up, you will up and read this:
On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the agency I serve.
That was the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor. For many of you, that may be the first time saying an oath. I wanted you to do that to get the feel of swearing to fulfill an obligation. When people call 911 in times of crises, they should never have to question whether police will go into harm’s way to care of it. We are sworn.
A good way to get yourself into the zone is to use visualization. After reading this paragraph, try closing your eyes and actually visualizing yourself in your new role. See past the hiring process and become an officer. Fast-forward through the early mornings, the late nights, grueling PT sessions, exams, interviews, academy classes and graduation. See the badge being pinned onto your chest. Think of a special person you will ask to pin your badge. Envision yourself in uniform on patrol with your Field Training Officer (FTO) and then on your own in the driver’s seat. Feel your future confidence that you know how to handle emergencies and investigate crimes. Foresee yourself about placing someone under arrest. Close your eyes for a moment and create this vision.
How did that feel? Maybe it was not the first time. I know you are not ready to hit the streets today, but seeing yourself already accomplishing the goal is an indispensable step. You must be completely convinced in your mind that you are already a police officer, but you just have a few things to handle before you get your badge. The process of becoming a police officer mentally will then reverberate into your surroundings. You will see yourself differently, you will start to feel different, and your habits will start to change. You will start evolving.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Do ten push-ups right now. Do it! For those of you who did that, congratulations. You are following along and starting to take real actions. Most of us are pretty busy. But if you think through all of your actions in a day, are they really reflective of your values, and steps toward your goals? Instead of thinking of what to eliminate from your day, start with what you can add.
How can I add tasks to my day when I am so busy?
Get up earlier. “I’m not a morning person” is a popular and lame resolution to avoid one of the best strategies for getting ahead. Maybe it has been kind of funny to say it, and it has been part of your identity. It can give you some superficial comfort like an excuse for not getting anything accomplished before 8:00am. Change that habit. It’s nonsense. Your body will evolve with your mental fortitude. What time? Well, what time do you normally awake? Tomorrow, make it one hour earlier. (Ideally, you want it to be before your family members awake, so it is quiet, personal time.) Set your alarm right now. It may be a bit challenging at first, depending on your mentality. But, this will be a crucial step! You have just given yourself an extra hour in the day to drive toward your chosen goal. Here is another critical part of this step. Leave your cell phone in another room when you get up. You will start scrolling and thereby waste valuable time in this extra hour you have designated for personal goals. Have some coffee and tend to your task(s) for that hour by priority.
Am I going to list some other habits to help you evolve? Yes, but not here. Start with that one hour. You will be amazed by what happens. You will make life-changing decisions during this hour.
There is so much work to be done to get into the job. You will now have this hour in each day to write out those tasks and strategize. You can find the Criminal Justice programs, police exams, vacancy announcements, physical fitness regimens, or order some duty gear. Trust me: If you genuinely devote this hour to your new chosen life it will snowball into other habits. Your whole day will change. You will start to eliminate the unnecessary and time-wasting endeavors such as aimless scrolling through social-media and binge-watching Netflix. The Early Bird catches the worm. The Early Recruit earns a badge.
Now you have devoted adequate thought to the moral implications of law enforcement. You conducted exercises in visualization and can actually see yourself in uniform. You have committed to getting up one hour earlier to ignite what is going to be a an explosion of action. These are the ingredients you need to drive forward with relentless enthusiasm. Don’t question or deliberate any longer. Charge forward. Attack. Stand up straighter, walk with intention. Carry yourself with your confidence and dignity. Be more alert to your surroundings. Crime is happening all around you; see it. This is not only part of your personal path, it’s training for the command presence, clarity of mind and deliberateness of actions necessary to uphold the public trust according to your oath. Devour motivational material. Listen to Jocko Willink. Encourage others. Look to who inspires you the most and emulate them. You may not yet be ready to lead a battalion into combat. But you CAN lead someone. Start there and grow. Grow in mind, spirit and …body.
This leads us to STEP 3: Develop A Physical Training Regimen.