Recently, I was listening to the radio when a wonderful song by MercyMe titled, “Dear Younger Me” came on. The lyrics are beautiful. The song highlights how our lives and the choices we make would be different today if we could speak to our younger self.
When I heard this song, I couldn’t help but think back to when I first started my career in law enforcement on October 15, 1981.
Given the opportunity, what would I tell my younger self?
#1. Put Family First
The first and most important thing I would tell my younger self would be to put my family first. No question about it.
No one warned me of the dangers of getting too wrapped up in the job of a police officer, while ignoring my family.
I spent a lot of time and energy climbing the corporate ladder, so to speak, and neglected my family. I worked long hours, volunteered for special assignments and never said no. I was rewarded by getting the assignments I wanted and being promoted, all at the expense of my family.
When I speak to new hires today, I take the time to tell them how important it is for them to put their family first, even ahead of their job.
I wish someone had taken the time to share that message with me when I first started.
#2. Serve the People You Work With
The work we do is all about helping people. It is the reason most of us became a police officer. We want to serve our fellow man. It is no accident that “Protect and to Serve” is the motto of many departments. The motto of my current agency is “Serving With Distinction.”
It is all about service. Service to the community for sure but also service to those we work with.
As we move up through the ranks, we should also focus on the people we work with. It is easy to get caught up with the day to day work of being a supervisor, all of the administrative responsibilities and forget our responsibilities to lead.
Creating a safe work environment where those you work with look forward to coming to work is an important part of what we do. Asking questions, showing concern, advocating for the needs of your staff and generally helping them reach their goals is important.
At times during my career, I failed the people I worked with. I focused on the busyness of my job, my responsibilities and didn’t focus enough on the people who worked for me.
I remember walking by one of my peers in the hallway talking to a subordinate. About 20 minutes later, I walked by again and they were still speaking. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he is wasting so much time.”
My peer was actually doing the best thing. He served those he worked with.
#3. Keep a Journal
Life passes by quickly and our memories fade over time.
I fondly recall many of the calls, investigations, trainings, meetings and events I attended throughout my 36-year career. The comradery, the practical jokes and the relationships that endure even today bring back great memories.
Unfortunately, I’ve probably forgotten more than I can recall.
I’m reminded of the memories I have lost each and every time I meet with past co-workers as the conversation invariably moves to a discussion about old times.
I am always amazed when they vividly describe something that happened in the past with me there and I don’t remember it even happening.
I wish I would have kept a journal and documented my past experience. A journal would certainly help me recall these past memories.
I would definitely tell my younger self to keep a journal!
I hope to develop a journal for police officers in the future.
#4. Promote and Support the Mission, Value and Goals of the Department
A healthy organization depends on the supervisors to carry out the mission and goals of the department while promoting the values of the organization. When this doesn’t happen, organizations struggle and are often enveloped by controversy.
Unfortunately, many supervisors never understand this responsibility.
In 1996, Chief Bobby Moody joined the Marietta Police Department. He was a perfect match at a perfect time for our department. A transformational chief at a department in need of transformation.
In short order, we developed a new mission, new values, a new motto and defined departmental goals for the first time ever. Sadly, some supervisors were not on board with these changes.
As a result, the rank and file of the department suffered because of the mixed messages being given by some supervisors. I remember one incident in particular where a supervisor stood in roll call and spoke about a new policy. He was reading from a memo and when he finished, he crumpled the memo up and threw it in the garbage.
What kind of message did his actions send to the troops?
Eventually, all supervisors got on board in supporting the mission, value and goals of the department and the department excelled. In fact, the department is still healthy today and providing great service to the community.
When the leaders of the department operate off the same page the entire department and all of its members plus the community benefit.
#5. Find Your Passion
Generally speaking, a law enforcement leader is a much stronger leader when he or she has broad experience and an understanding of many aspects of policing. However, there should also be room to specialize in an area you are passionate about.
You need to know a little bit about a lot. You also need to know a lot about a little.
What I’m really talking about is to find something you love to do, learn everything about it and do it to the best of your ability.
Only you can identify your something.
You will likely find your something when you work a variety of assignments, a variety of shifts under varying conditions. Only then will you discover your passion.
Find your passion as soon as you can.
#6. Don’t Take Yourself Too Serious
We have a serious job. But we should never take ourselves too serious.
The officers and supervisors I enjoyed working with the most were the ones who had a sense of humor. Our job can take a toll on our emotions and the stress of the work can overwhelm you at times. A little humor goes a long way to break the ice and relieve the stress.
In Marietta, officers use to have to walk the Square at night, which contains a park and a lot of businesses. On one occasion, the officer walking the square parked his car in a parking lot behind one of the buildings.
Well, every car was keyed alike. An officer took all of the equipment out of the front of the vehicle and put it in the trunk. This included a shotgun. The window was rolled down and broken window glass was spread in and out of the car.
When the officer returned to his car he was shocked. He called his supervisor immediately over the radio. Of course, his supervisor was in on it. After keeping him on the hook for a few minutes, the supervisor finally gave it up. We all had a great laugh and we are still laughing about it 25-30 years later.The job of a police officer is much more fun when you work with people who have a sense of humor. Click To Tweet
I worked with a Captain in the early 1980’s that had no sense of humor. His idea of fun was to catch officers outside their car without a hat on or yell at an officer for leaving his car in the sally port after unloading a prisoner.
It was no fun working for this supervisor.
I’ve tried to take this advice as my career has advanced. I don’t take myself too serious and I try to maintain a good sense of humor.
Take a moment and think about what you would tell your younger self.
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