How to develop a mindset of a law enforcement officer


As a law enforcement officer, you likely hear chitter-chatter about having an “officer mindset” almost every day. On top of that, there are hundreds of books, podcasts, and motivational speakers all preaching about the mindset you need to face your duties. You are taught to be a warrior instead of a pigeon.

What does this mean?

Many think of a warrior as someone who fights back and resorts to violence. In this article, we’re referring to a warrior as someone who adapts a mindset that helps them stay emotionally stable through difficult situations, and through an entire career.

The truth is, the psychological side of policing is no walk in the park. Officers have to deal with ugly scenes, such as homicides and domestic abuse, sometimes many times over. It’s not easy for an average Joe to go through traumatic events without some scaring. A strong mindset is crucial.

So, could your mindset act as your best weapon?

The short answer is yes. Committing to a mindset gives you a better chance of long-term happiness in both your career and life.

Tips for Getting a Mindset That Helps Officers Long-Term:

Know That Sometimes Your Job Means Survival

Cops talk a lot about “officer safety,” which usually stems around safety concerning backup, staffing, firearms training, situational awareness, decision making, etc. Talk applies to off off-duty survival as well.

Fred Freeland, CEO of Law Enforcement & Security Consulting, wrote in a blog post about officer survival:

“Talking about the concepts behind officer survival is great, BUT IT’S NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH! The concepts behind officer survival must be practiced and integrated into every aspect of officer mind set, attitude and personal approach to their duties.”

On regular day shifts, cops face the potential to come in contact with aggressors and many more unplanned events that can be life-changing. That’s why it’s essential to develop a mindset of heightened situational awareness and mental attitude, all while being approachable and engaged with those served and interacted with.

“How many of us apply these officer survival concepts on the street? How many of us take short cuts or fall into a complacent mindset and daily routine? How many think ‘it will not happen to me’ or ‘it will not happen here’?” Ads Freeland, “We ask you this question: Is officer survival just a concept or have you internalized these safety principles into your habits every day and on every shift?”

Talk is cheap, and it’s important to start applying the concepts of survival talked about in everyday life. If every officer does the things they talk about, learn continuously, and apply what they know to evolve the mindset, the entire LE community will be optimized to thrive both mentally and physically.

It’s Okay to Get Help

Dr. Carrie Steiner, a licensed clinical psychologist, says that owning an “emotional tool belt” leads to survival and long-lasting well-being. The psychologist also notes that officers who have available resources and use them have fewer problems later on in life.

“Understand what normal trauma and stress responses are and what they are not,” says Dr. Steiner. “It is a sign of strength that you can ask for help, not a weakness.”

A law enforcement officer should have the mindset that getting help when needed is necessary. It’s easy to shrug stress off. Besides, you’re a cop and need to show strength. However, avoiding dealing with stress can cause long term mental health issues.

How do you know if you need support?

After dealing with a stressful situation, it’s understandable to have flashbacks here and there. Where the problem begins is if these flashbacks persist weeks or months later. You may start to experience a lack of sleep, avoid certain areas associated with the scene, and hide your emotions from other people.

Talk to family, counseling, or any other resources offered by your law enforcement program. Communication is the best way to overcome post-incident stress and have a long-term mindset.

Mindset Is Found Internally

Knowing your job means survival, and it’s okay to get help are two vital items that influence a strong mindset of a healthy law enforcement officer.

However, the concept of mindset is vast and can mean different things to different people.

Patrick, a retired officer who worked for 23 years, thinks that the “right” mindset is found within:

“Some of the most valuable lessons I learned in my long career were about self-reflection, humility and mindset. Yes, I said mindset.” Patrick states in another recent article for Law Enforcement Today. “A lot of first responders might equate mindset to some sort of “touchy-feely” form of self-reflection. While I wouldn’t call it “touchy-feely” per se, I would absolutely assert that having the right mindset in law enforcement can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful career.”

How does a law officer get the mindset Patrick talks about?

First of all, being grateful can add to a rewarding mindset. Being grateful that you’re alive and healthy, as well as for the people in your life that you appreciate. It may seem like your job, or life sucks, especially after a challenging event. It’s essential to pick out the little things you consider yourself lucky to have.

Secondly, taking responsibility will help you in the long term. Taking responsibility means that if something terrible happens to you (on duty or off duty), you accept the responsibility and avoid blaming other people for your misfortune (your boss, family, friends).

Lastly, believing in yourself has benefits. Having a mindset that you can do anything you put your mind to is powerful and will help motivate you through your goals. Besides, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

In the end, developing the mindset of a healthy law enforcement officer can be done in different ways. In this article, we outlined what professionals in the industry have learned through their experiences.

The mindset of a police officer can indeed be their best weapon. You can’t take care of other people until you take care of yourself first. Honing a positive grateful mindset can help you move forward through hard times and be a better officer and person overall.

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