There’s no denying thirty years of police work changed me. People who knew me in high school and college would quickly see the difference if we bumped into each other.
I’m not talking about physical changes. Those are obvious. My hair definitely isn’t where it once was, and I am now officially grey haired on my driver’s license. My weight isn’t that conservative number on my D/L either. I do have to admit I am much more handsome now.
The real changes aren’t immediately visible. After searching hundreds of darkened buildings looking for bad guys, crashing through doors, and running up back stairs looking for the man with the gun, I’ve changed. It isn’t fearless; it’s confidence. I know what I can do and what to expect. As I rose in rank, I was forced to overcome one near crippling fear. Public speaking terrified me. Today, I almost enjoy it. I’ve spoken at hostile community meetings and addressed countless roll calls. I know what might happen and how to handle it.
I see no reason to waste time with those who I find foolish. I move on quickly when I find myself confronted with a fool. At the same time, I’ve developed a very thick hide. Few people have an opinion I respect so if I don’t respect you, your opinion of me is insignificant and I don’t care what you might say. Since it doesn’t matter to me, there is no reason for me to get worked up over it and raise my blood pressure.
Like many young police officers, I took traffic violations personally. As I got more experience, I realized that stop sign the driver just ran didn’t belong to me and there was no insult. So, I greeted the violator with a smile and ended with a pleasant, “Have a nice day.”
I began to live by the motto that each driver wrote his own ticket. If they came across with attitude, they got a ticket. If they were genuine and saw their mistake, I usually gave them a pass. As a PO I might stop five to ten cars a night for traffic violations. I usually only wrote one.
At the same time, I began to see the work we do for more than the exciting adrenalin rush. Chasing a hot car was fun. Explaining to the vehicle owner their car was now totaled and all that could be saved from the mangled wreckage was the bent license plate seemed a waste. I saw most chases risked too many innocent lives and therefore the reason for the chase had better be pretty good. I’ve seen too many accidents left in their wake.
I saw the best police officers usually were able to convince people they were right without getting physical. However, those same officers were always the best to have on hand when it did get violent.
As a young officer, I tried every new holster and sidearm combination. I remember having a closet full of security holsters, shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, and a gun safe full of pistols. I eventually settled on something that was comfortable, secure, and more importantly reliable. I started to save my uniform allowance for more important things. What was important had changed for me.
As a teenager when you got in trouble you probably tried to limit your responsibility. You might try to justify your actions even when you knew they were wrong. “Yeah, I did it but …” Later in life, I learned to simply say, “Yes I did it and I’m sorry.” I think it is far more adult and honorable to take responsibility for your mistakes. I remember being called into my boss’s boss. He was mad and planned on giving me a good reaming. I might have even lost my position. I took responsibility immediately. I said I would do my best to ensure it never happened again. He was expecting an argument and when I accepted the blame, he wasn’t sure where to go with it. He quickly said “Fine, don’t let it happen again.” That was it. It was over. I kept my position.
Of course, there are other changes that have come with getting older. My son and I stopped for coffee one day and the cute young girl at the counter asked if I wanted sugar in my iced coffee. I told her, “No, I’m sweet enough as it is.” She agreed, and we flirted back and forth. My son later remarked he couldn’t believe I got away with that line. He would have gotten quickly rebuffed for a similar flirtatious response. I told him at my age I wasn’t a threat to her. She thought I was cute. My son is a handsome young guy and a flirtatious approach from him would have put her on guard.
These are all examples of developing confidence and maturing. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t gotten bitter like too many others have. We all know some people like that. I wouldn’t want to be that way.
So how have you changed? If you have only one year on the job you have begun to change, perhaps without realizing it. If you are the seasoned veteran you’ve changed a lot. What have you noticed?
Have a happy and safe New Year. If you are working New Year’s Eve at midnight stay safe. We’ve lost too many good officers this year.
Run low and zigzag.
– Robert Weisskopf (Lt. ret.)
Note: You can read all of Robert Weisskopf’s articles at https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/author/robertw332/ and find all his books on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2PsbT4t.