An effective police officer cannot just do an adequate job. Conditions on the ground are often dangerous, unpredictable and stressful. Whether you just started work as a beat cop or have made chief of detectives, the stakes and the stress will always be high. Before enrolling at the police academy, consider whether you have the right personality characteristics for the career.
Good communication involves two skills: talking and listening. When you get a call to investigate an incident, the victims, witnesses and perpetrators will often be upset and inarticulate. Listen to everyone and listen carefully. First impressions of what happened at a crime scene may not always be correct. A police officer should be able to speak to others politely, briefly and firmly. Speech, not force, is often the best means of resolving a volatile situation as expeditiously as possible.
Honesty and Integrity
A police officer faces constant temptation both inside and outside the department. Not a few criminals have tried to bribe their way out an arrest. Officers may also handle large amounts of cash at a drug bust before the actual amount has been counted in the evidence room. At the same time, many departments unofficially observe a “code of silence” in which officers protect corrupt co-workers even if they do not indulge in misconduct themselves. An officer will encounter incidents in which witnesses or offenders accuse him of not following proper law enforcement protocol. In all these situations, integrity allows an officer to do the job. No amount of supervision can substitute for honor and honesty.
Nerves of Steel
The job of a police officer can involve matters of life and death. When an officer ends up in the line of fire, panic is not an option. If you are easily intimidated by others or if you shudder at the thought of a physical altercation, reconsider your career path. At the same time, don't mistake aggression for courage. People who enjoy violence should not work in law enforcement. Many departments conduct psychological screening tests to weed out potentially dangerous personalities.
Holding Your Tongue
An officer must be firm but fair. Even when a suspect insults or abuses you, losing your cool can interfere with your ability to enforce the law. A few angry, ill-chosen words may complicate a solid case against a perpetrator. While there are many ways an officer can make things difficult for an uncooperative individual, a self-disciplined officer understands the difference between the law and emotions.
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