Best Advice from 36 Leaders in Law Enforcement
We asked leaders in the law enforcement field about the best police career advice they have ever received. Here are their responses:
We have all heard of the “Golden Rule!” “Do unto others as you would want them to do to you!” Well, when we have a new officer begin their career, I spend some time with them on their very first day. And during that time, I share with them a little message that has taken me a long ways in my career and takes the “Golden Rule” to another level. If everyone they come into contact with during their career (burglary victims, parents of a runaway, vehicle stops, etc.), if they treat that person the very same way that they would want another police officer to treat their own parents (if their parents were the victim or person being stopped), then they will have a big impact in this community and go a long way in their career.
-Michael A. Keller, Chief of Police of the Andover Police Department and President of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police
Continue your education and the development of you police skills. Be open and flexible, think and grow. Develop a life and friends outside of police – it will keep you sane. I would also add what my first training officer told me: “Remember, Couper, everything that was illegal and wrong before you put on a badge will still be illegal and wrong.”
-David Couper, former Chief of Police of the Madison Police Department (retired) and author of the book Arrested Development.
My honest response was advice from a crusty old Sergeant who I loved and admired: His advice from day one was this- “Until you have been here for 5 years you don’t have an opinion, so keep your mouth shut and do your job and your opinion will matter when you have earned the right to share it”. He was absolutely correct and our new recruits could benefit greatly in their careers by abiding by this advice. Other advice I received as a supervisor is: “Be slow to Anger”, “Keep a good attitude”, “Speak from your heart”, “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated by the last guy”. This is advice that has served me well.
-Terry L. Thompson, Weber County Sheriff in Utah
Stay out of the rumor mill. Do what is expected of you and a little more. Consistent improvement, support of organizational goals, and positive interact with coworkers and the public is what I’m looking for.
-Lynn Nelson, Cache County Sheriff in Utah
Treat everyone you meet as if they were the most important person on earth. Your life may depend upon it.
-Lynn Yeates, Box Elder County Sheriff in Utah
The best career advise I ever received was from Stephen Gower. He is a professional speaker that I had the honor of meeting and got to spend some time with during a training class. He said this statement, “Remember that you Mic is always on.” He recounted a story that ran along these lines: “I was speaking at a conference for 100’s of Law Enforcement Officers. I got finished with my portion of the conference and made a dash for the bathroom. I unzipped and started relieving myself in the urinal. I may have been a little vocal with my relief. After a few seconds, one of the people with the conference burst into the bathroom and grabbed my microphone power pack from my belt and promptly turned it off. Yes, my microphone had been on the entire time. The sound guy couldn’t mute the mic.” Remember that you mic is always on. You have to carefully think about what you say. People are always listening and will remember what you say long after you have forgotten what you said. People will look to you for guidance when they hit unfamiliar territory. What you say can either guide them to safety or to destruction. Choose your words carefully!
-Brain Cain, Sergeant and Chaplain with the Holly Springs Police Department
I would suggest to young adults that education is very important and being truthful in every way and always be positive. I have been a Gang Detective for many years and was told in my early career that if you “ask a question during your investigation, and you don’t have the answer for it, your investigation is not complete”.
-Gene Ballance, Vice President of the Virginia Gang Investigators Association
What I was told awhile back was to always know your audience. Both in and out of the station. As a person in uniform, you are always looked at, stared at and commented about. So act like you are always on camera. Act professionally and respectfully and all will fall into place.
The other thing I was told is to separate your professional and personal lives as much as possible. You cannot bring either one into the other and keep your sanity. It’s good at work, bad at home. Good at home, bad at work. Bad at both and very rarely good at both at the same time. Share the funny stories and leave the garbage in your locker. Make sure you decompress and don’t act so stoic you develop ulcers.
This is a great profession and not for everyone. Approx 1% of the applicants make it through the academy and 30% of those make it through to a full career and healthy retirement. So you gotta ask yourself ‘Do you feel lucky?’ I have been with an outstanding department and never had a bad assignment.
-Matt Findlay, President of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association
There are always two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Never turn down a promotion even if it means a move to a place or position you did not want to work in.
-Jim Craft, Lafayette Police Chief and 2nd Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police
The best police career advice I ever received was from my father, a 42-year law enforcement veteran, who spent many years as Chief of Police. He said “you can’t do this job without the full support of your community and the backing of your department. Your honor, integrity, and reputation are vital to your success.”
I have taken that advice to heart and frame every decision I make by conducting an ethical double-check. You must do the right thing, even when no one is looking. I use one simple test, by asking myself how I would feel if my behavior or actions were printed in the headlines of the morning newspaper, for the entire world to read, including my mother, brother and sisters.
To be successful in this career you need to conduct a self-assessment on a daily bases. You must constantly prepare yourself for tough decisions by playing different scenarios in your head and asking your-self the “What if” questions. What would you do or how would you act if you were placed in that situation. Of course you can never pre-plan for everything you may encounter in your career, but if you do this, you will be far better prepared when faced with ethical dilemmas.
-Fred W. Hayes, Chief of Police of the Joliet Police Department and 3rd Vice President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police
Have a passion for your job and the people you serve. Use every call and contact to make a positive difference. Treat everyone the way you would like to have your family or friends treated. Building trust internally and externally is the key to policing. Trust takes a long time to build but only seconds to destroy. Your integrity is the only thing YOU can lose. No one can take it from you. You have to give it up.
-Frank Kaminski, Chief of Police of the Park Ridge Police Department and 4th Vice President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police
The best advice came from my father who told me to treat people how I wanted to be treated until they gave me reason not to. I’ve been in law enforcement for over 31 years the first 21 with the US Army Military Police Corps. I’ve done law enforcement operations in Europe, North America, Asia, and Central/South America. The last 10 years I’ve been with the Missoula Police Department serving in the Patrol Division for the first 5 years and currently assigned to the Office of Professional Standards as the Training Officer. I’m a Montana POST Certified Professional Instructor and teach Weaponless Defensive Tactics, Ground Fighting, PR-24 Baton, Taser, Multi-Media Deadly Force and Tactical Communications (Verbal Judo). In short my father gave me the best advice and I’ve used that advice throughout my career in the military with young soldiers and now with young officers.
-Truman K. Tolson, Training Officer at the Missoula Police Department and Past President of the Montana Police Protective Association.
You should concern yourself with the job you are doing and don’t worry about what the other guy is doing. There are a lot of egos in law enforcement.
-James F. Kilmer, Sergeant at the Butte-Silver Bow L.E.D. and Treasurer of the Montana Police Protective Association
I received two very simple pieces of advice from a very senior officer when I first started this job.
1) Be an ethical professional. People will immediately know if you are honest and competent. Prepare for your job as a professional and expect those around you to be professional. Speak like a professional (no cursing) and look like a professional (be sharp). There is never a need to curse or belittle any person for any reason. Never forget your Code of Ethics, and strive to make your community proud of your Department. Take the time to explain your actions and decisions to the citizens around you. Even if they disagree with you, they will appreciate that you took the time to treat them respectfully and not as an occupying force.
2) Be calm and in control. Too many officers seek to control people by overpowering them with an authoritarian attitude. Do not fall into that trap. Be in control of yourself, and people will follow your lead. Be calm in the face of chaos and keep the big picture. Avoid using force unless it is absolutely required, and then use only the amount necessary to meet your goal of controlling the situation. Do not get caught up in the emotional hype or drama of the situation because it will cloud your judgement. People call 911 because they are unable to control a problem, and they expect you to be confident, calm, and in control of yourself.
-Jim Foster, Vice President of the Long Beach Police Officers Association
The best advice I received as a young police officer is never forget where you came from. Often times people will go through the ranks and “change” , how they treat people, how they act, their priorities, etc. I take pride in the fact that most people will say I am the same person they knew 20 years ago, and it has positioned me well for promotions and leadership positions.
-Sandra Spagnoli, Police Chief of the City of San Leandro and President of the California Peace Officers’ Association
Do not ever stop learning (don’t become stale in accomplishing your job duties).
The world has changed overnight on how business is conducted, how people communicate, and, most important, how people learn. A good foundation in the criminal justice system is a prerequisite for a career in law enforcement, but one needs to bring other knowledge to the department. Public administration, organizational behavior, computer science, political science, mathematics, English, psychology, etc. are used every day in modern policing.
-John Standish, Board Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association with 32 years of service with California state law enforcement.
Know what success looks like. If you want to survive and succeed in this profession then research, study then emulate the behavior, character and style of law enforcement leaders who have been successful in each phase of their career. Then apply that practice to every aspect of your life.
-Paul F. Sireci, Chief of Police of the Tampa International Airport Police Department and President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association
I was told at a very young age to always treat people as you would want to be treated.
-Stephan Dembinsky, Chief of Police of the Daytona Beach Shores Police Department and Board Member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association
The best advice I ever received was that the grass is never greener on the other side. Every agency is a bureaucracy and even though the managers may change they still have to follow similar rules and regulations. Thus it would be more beneficial to stay at an agency till you are able to retire, instead of moving around from agency to agency.
-Andrew Scott, Sergeant at the Clay County Sheriffs Office and Board Member of the Florida Gang Investigator’s Association
When I was going thru the field training class with my field training officer, (a retired Navy Chief) he told me this that at first I didn’t understand but now rings true:
He told me that when I got off duty and was living my personnel life to not surround myself with only law enforcement friends. I took that advice and had friends with other careers outside law enforcement. That was 16 years ago and I believe that advice helps me stay focused and not get the “burned out” feeling a lot of the officers/deputies get. Don’t get me wrong, I have great friends in law enforcement, but, sometimes you need to step away and get away from all the negativity we see on a daily basis.
-Ted Roy, Sergeant at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and Board Member of the Florida SWAT Association
The best advice I have ever received in law enforcement which makes me better at my job, was from Assistant United States Attorney Richard (Rocky) Rothrock. The advice was to keep a running/current resume of all my training and to aspire for any new training or techniques within my current certifications which will make me better as a witness when testifying in court. I have also learned that teaching in front of peers and other professionals in medical and fire science makes me a better spokesperson when addressing law enforcement issues and testifying in court. I have found that specializing in certifications outside of my comfort zone makes me a better and more credible police officer.
-Daniel L. Stepleton, Special Agent for more than 22 years and Regional Director of the Iowa Narcotics Officers Association
Get a college education before you get into police work.
-Marc Povero, Detective assigned to the Gang Section and General Director of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association
Always keep your emotions in check. No suspect is worth losing your job or going to prison for.
-Ray Hunt, 2nd Vice President of the Houston Police Officers’ Union
Before joining the Houston Police Department, I was an officer for the NYPD, and the best advice I ever received was from my Sergeant at the time. The advice he provided, and what I would share with aspiring officers is, always treat fellow officers and people you encounter on the street as you would want to be treated. If you do that, you will have a long and fruitful career. Another piece of advice I would pass on to aspiring officers, is to always strive to learn, attend additional training, and complete some form of higher education. As someone who holds a master’s degree in Homeland Security Management, a higher education opens doors within a department, and will continue to do so in the future.
-Joe Gamaldi, Board Member of the Houston Police Officers’ Union
“Take one day at a time and never look back. If you carry the events you witness everyday with you, then remove your badge and call it quits today because you will not make it. As callous as it sounds, your mind must stay fresh everyday.”
-Brad Piel, Board Member of the Houston Police Officers’ Union
-J.G. Garza, Board Member of the Houston Police Officers’ Union
I think the best advice I got is to decide what type of officer I want to be, and stick with it. Not to let any person dictate the type of officer I will be.
It may sound simple, but if you consider that throughout your career, you see the worst of things and situations and deal with the worst type of people. It is tempting (and perhaps arguably even justified) to give them what they deserve, but then you are letting them decide what type of officer you will be. Even if you don’t act professionally toward them because THEY deserve it, do it because YOU deserve it. In other words, remain a professional DESPITE what others may deserve, because it is the type of officer you want to be.
-Scott Jones, Sheriff of Sacramento County
There are only two things that we control in our careers. Our integrity and our work ethic. Integrity is key in policing. It’s too big a topic to discuss in detail here but the bottom line is that you need to be vigilant in living your Oath and Values. There is nothing worth sacrificing your integrity for and the ends never justify the means. You need to develop a strong ethical decision-making process and apply it consistently.
-Glenn Hoff, Retired Deputy Chief of the Rochester, NY Police Department and founder of Guardian Leadership
Integrity, Honesty and Fairness is the key to good law enforcement and career growth. Within the department or dealing with the public.
-Fabian Blache, Jr., Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police
Thirty two years ago, a gentleman from my church gave me a framed calligraphy print that he had done. It said, “Christ is the best back-up you can have…He is the only one that can get there before you do”. I just retired in January of 2011 and have repeatedly told new hires that very thing!
My other advice to new officers and anyone wanting to be a police officer is…”you get out of this job what you put into it”.
-Catherine L. Collins, Retired Lieutenant and Treasurer of the Indiana Drug Enforcement Association
Don’t park your patrol car on the successes of today. There are plenty of other bad guys out there that need to go to jail.
-Steve Conner, Homicide Investigator and Vice President of the Colorado Homicide Investigators Association
Don’t be afraid of a variety of assignments. Try them all, to see what really appeals to you. What you think you may like, you may not. And vice-versa. A well rounded officer has a better chance of advancement.
-Dave Markss, President of the California District Attorney Investigators’ Association
I worked in the Custody environment for the first 16 years of my career and the first Sergeant that I ever had told me in dealing with the inmates “be firm but be fair”. Some other advice that was given to me is “always do the right thing even when no one is looking”.
-Dan Duffy, Vice President of the California Background Investigators Association
Learn to listen, Learn to see everything around you, and never stop educating yourself.
-Guy Christian, Supervising Investigator of the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office Welfare Fraud Unit and President of the California Welfare Fraud Investigator’s Association
The best advice I ever received was, “if you start to approach a location during a call, and the hair on your neck stands up, something isn’t right.” Listen to that sixth sense.
-Tony Masten, President of the Escondido Police Officers’ Association
Best advice I ever got was from an old guy, ready for retirement when I came on full of it. He said “Look Kid, when dealing with prisoners or the public for that matter (this was in a jail setting), start easy you can always get hard, but if you start easy you can always take it up the needed notches, but if you start hard you “got” no place to go. No wiggle room.”
-Wes McBride, Executive Director of the California Gang Investigators Association
See our Criminal Justice Career Interviews for more great advice for being successful in a law enforcement career.
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