If you’re an aspiring law enforcement officer (LEO), there are a number of mindset shifts you’ll probably have to go through. One of the main goals of your academy will be to break down your old ways of thinking and start getting you to think more like an LEO. Here are five ways you can get a jumpstart on that transition:
Don’t carry things on your strong side. Which hand will you be using to draw and fire your service weapon? That’s what I mean when I refer to your strong side. If I refer to your support side, I’m talking about your other hand. Get used to having nothing in your strong side hand. This means books and notepads, water bottles or canteens, your hat (or “cover”), or even a pen. This is something my academy drilled into our heads every moment of the day. By getting used to it ahead of time, you’ll be making things easier on yourself.
The reasoning behind this should be fairly obvious. It’s the same reason I’ve carried my wallet in left pocket for years. My weak side hand is for trapping someone’s sneaky little mitt and my strong side hand is for pounding. Whether using it to draw your firearm, your baton, your O.C., or just for hand-to-hand combat, you want that hand free at all times. When someone surprises you by pointing a pistol at your chest, that isn’t exactly the time to be fumbling with your Big Gulp.
Pay attention to detail. A lot of the public walks around in a bit of a fog, with earbuds in their ears while staring at their smartphone screen. But you’re going into law enforcement, so more is going to be expected of you. Start paying attention to the details around you. A solid law enforcement officer is someone who can come across the scene of an accident (even while off duty) and be able to calmly relay vital information to the 911 dispatcher like nearby landmarks and the exact mile marker where the accident took place. The average person can’t do that because they were messing with the radio dial, don’t know whether they’re headed east or west, and haven’t paid attention to a mile marker in the last twenty miles.
Don’t let people put you at a disadvantage. Another thing that your average person doesn’t think too much about, perhaps unless they have martial arts experience is leaving yourself open to attack, or in some sort of vulnerable position. Think about the guy who walks up to you while you’re fueling your vehicle at the gas station. Are you the type who doesn’t realize he’s there until he taps you on the shoulder? When you see him coming, do you turn and face him, assuming he has good intentions? Those are habits and mindsets that need be broken and will be at the academy. You’ll learn about things like the fatal funnel and how close is too close for a suspect with a knife.
I remember just a few months ago making my wife promise me she would never do what I had just witnessed a certain woman at the mailboxes do. I had pulled up to the mailboxes in my car and saw that she was looking down at a stack of mail, sorting it all out. She, on the other hand, never even glanced in my direction. I got out of my car and had to walk behind her to get to my mailbox. Still nothing. I got my mail and then had to walk behind her a second time to get back to my car. Had I been someone with violent intentions, she never would have seen the attack coming or been in a position to defend it. After that sequence of events, she wouldn’t have even been able to describe me to police. Not only that, but what ever happened to neighbors saying hello to one another? It’s just mind boggling. If you have family members who you suspect are that oblivious to their surroundings, be sure to do them a favor by correcting them.
Get your hands out of your pockets. Going back to the gas station example, where are your hands as that guy is approaching you? If they’re anywhere but ready to respond, you’re wrong. Having your hands in your pockets or down by your sides takes way too long to get them up to defend an attack. Start getting out of those habits now by keeping your hands in front of you when talking to people. Think you’ll look weird? It doesn’t have to be. I’ll often just be adjusting my wristwatch or wedding ring, sometimes cracking my knuckles (or pretending to). You’ll learn that this is known as your field interview (FI) stance and this is the way to properly conduct your field interviews.
Get used to taking control. If you’re not coming from a prior law enforcement background, it may feel weird to be giving orders to your classmates and role players at the academy (prior military may be another exception this). Get used to it. You’re entering a profession in which you’ll be authorized to give lawful orders. These are different from recommendations or suggestions. You’re going learn the phrase “ask, tell, make” and you should be ready to follow through. Coming from the field of emergency medical services and having backgrounds in things like customer service and broadcast radio, this took some getting used to for me, but the repetition at the academy certainly helped.
Of course, use discretion and don’t let this power go to your head because that will only cause you problems. While you’ll be authorized to give lawful orders, there’s often an avenue you can take that will get the best results while stirring up the least amount of conflict. For some great reading on this topic, I highly recommend the book Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by George J. Thompson. This book will help you to be better prepared for every verbal encounter you face, and chances are you’ll face plenty.
The Mindset of a Survivor
Above all, if you don’t see yourself as already taking on the survivor’s mentality, that’s something to start working on. There is so much to go into on this topic alone, that it will have to be addressed separately. All of these individual habits directly relate to having the mind of a survivor.
The bottom line is that a good academy instructor will help to mold you into an LEO who encompasses all of these traits, but you have to work on it yourself. Start training yourself ahead of your academy date and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.