Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Toronto Police Officers stand ready for formation at a funeral for Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell, killed in the line of duty January 2011.
DEAR SERGEANT AL: What steps should I take in order to become a police officer? I am in the process of applying for a police exam. I don’t know if I want to become one yet, but I would like to know what I will be up against. Any advice? —RECONSIDERING EVERY CANDIDATE'S RECORD UNTIL IT TELLS FAILED RECRUIT UNDER INVESTIGATION TODAY.
A company at attention for this photo for the Maine State Police.
DEAR RECRUIT FRUIT: Advice, well let’s see, ah, yes, first get your head examined, as you need a serious psychiatric examination, and perhaps some long term cognitive psychotherapy, supplemented with an intense psychopharmacological drug regimen. Let me know how it turns out. Good luck with that.



DEAR RECRUIT FRUIT: Just kidding. First of all, congratulations on taking the first steps of what I think is overall a rewarding career in the police service. In spite of my ups and downs I’ve faced in my over twenty years as a cop, it was a rewarding career in that I had the ability to serve that I did. I saved lives and helped a whole lot of people. I truly made a difference and touched people’s lives both on the streets and among my fellow officers. When I started this blog a few months ago however, I promised myself that I would not divulge that much personal information about myself other than what was in my resume about my personal life to the right of your screen in my bio and on my Linkedin profile (little if any). Other than telling stories of things that happened in my career in the past which I hope you see are either poignant or at times at least somewhat funny or interesting, I choose to live a very private and personal life that at this time I wish to share with no one in the cyber world. I am thinking about writing a book about my personal life and my career, but right now I need to gather my thoughts about my life these past ten years in order for me to consider what and how to write about my past. I remember about 15 years ago a literary agent approached me about writing a book about my life as it was at the time, and that was about my experiences up until then. You can only guess what more needs to be added . . .

The reason why I tell you this is because my entire opinion of a police career is unfortunately somewhat colored. As much as I love police work in a pure unadulterated sense, and honored to have the privilege of serving, I look behind to wonder at times if the sacrifices were worth it all to my health, my psyche, and my well-being. I have high blood pressure and four ulcers; guess where all that came from? As much as my police career has defined me as the man I am today, if I had to do this all over again however, I probably would choose another career. Don’t ask me why, I’ll tell you in the book. Therefore, the following analysis and advice I give you will be as objective and less opinionated as possible, which in actuality I think will serve you even better, in deciding whether this kind of career is actually for you. Here are the ten issues you need to address in considering whether you should, could, or might become an American police officer:
1.    Your criminal record: Right off the top, if there are any major issues here, don’t waste your time and mine, to move on to pursuing another career. If you have been arrested and convicted of a felony, FORGET IT. If you have been arrested for a felony but convicted of a misdemeanor, IFFY AT BEST depending upon the agency hiring, and depending on what and when. If you have been arrested to have the record sealed, the record expunged, or the charges dropped, YOU HAVE SOME BIG TIME EXPLAINING TO DO. If you are not sure if you have an active warrant, this is where you might want to consider hiring a lawyer, and have them investigate this before the police do, because your applicant-processing officer will come to arrest you if you do have anything pending, thus ending your embryonic police career. Otherwise, bring two forms of government ID to court and have the clerk run your name, and hope for the best. Expect that you might not be going home when he/she is done. Make sure when you leave court that you have the documentation that the investigator needs. When you pass the civil service exam, the medical, psychological, and fitness exams, you become an assigned case, no different than a homicide investigation. A detective or supervisor will be assigned to your case. He/she will dig deep, VERY DEEP into your background. I have heard of police candidates being arrested for things like homicide, domestic violence, warrants, etc., sometimes right out of the classroom at the police academy in uniform. There are going to be things that your investigator will find out about you that maybe he/she will or will not tell you. You will have to open all those old wounds that have healed and go down memory lane with your applicant-processing/investigating officer. It was one thing to have these problems as a civilian. Police departments cannot have these issues with you as a uniformed member. They want headlines with your name in it as the hero, not the perp. If you even have had moving violations and parking tickets, they will want to know about how you got every single one of them, in writing.  Make sure everything has been resolved and paid, and most importantly, LESSON LEARNED, and a promise before swearing in to NEVER HAVE THEM AGAIN.
At attention, this class is ready for the Massachusetts State Police.
2.   Never lie to your application investigator: I debated whether to make this the first issue. It comes in as a close tie to your criminal record issues. Above all else, and most importantly, as I tell people when going to court when fighting a ticket to never lie to the judge, never lie or hide information about your background to the police, which in this case is your assigned applicant-processing officer. IT IS BETTER FOR YOU TO TELL THEM SOMETHING THEY DIDN’T FIND OUT, THAN FOR THEM TO FIND OUT THEMSELVES. Detectives when assigned to a case do not like surprises. That means more paperwork and legwork for the police applicant-processing unit and they will not be happy. This is the very few times in your career if not your life where it is better for you to volunteer information not requested than to withhold because no one ever asked. The truth even when not known by many if at all, shall set you free. If you should disqualify for anything, let it be for something you warned the cops about beforehand, not for something they had to draw out of you.
3.   Your financials: Make sure you have filed and paid ALL of your taxes. Start dusting off and clear the decks of negative information on your credit report. Resolve whatever issues you have with collection agencies and your creditors. AGAIN (see step 1) make sure all tickets and tow fines with the Marshall, Sheriff, and other law enforcement agencies have been squared. Ensure that your bankruptcy has been discharged and finalized. Start making sure that you pay ALL of your bills, and ON TIME, even the ones that don’t get reported to the big three agencies, things like your utility, cable, and water bill. The cops want to see that you are not a corruption hazard by paying off your debts on time. They want PROOF that you can live within the means of that measly police salary you volunteered to get paid. And should you get hired, make sure you keep it that way: make sure that if you don’t want to raise flags at work, then DON'T BRING IT TO WORK. If you insist on buying Princess Di’s necklace or that Rolls Royce however you can afford it, make sure you keep at it home in the garage (door closed) or in the safe where it belongs, and not around your neck in the muster room or in the precinct parking lot for everyone else to see . . . most likely it will be another cop (not a civilian) who will report you to Internal Affairs that you are on the take . . .
4.   DRUGS: I would normally tell you to use plenty of them because in this career you are going to need them (that you will), but in many ways even that isn’t funny. Need I say anymore? Wait, I probably do, so let me go down this road anyway because this is the biggest issue that disqualifies a lot of police applicants, and probably unnecessarily if they only had the willpower and had listened to their investigators. Police agencies are catching up with the times (finally) and the realities that ALL people at some point in their lives have experimented if not used drugs. I remember a friend who applied to the Secret Service tell me that this is the biggest hurdle for candidates during their process. The police will ask you this during your lie detector test. Be honest, there is no shame. It is in lying that not only will they not believe you, but they even will start to wonder right there if you already have a drug problem. As we have learned recently, even our incumbent President was somewhat of a teenaged Hawaiian pothead in his youth, and the public reaction to it fortunately has been to forgive him and overlook it as it only humanizes him, AS LONG AS HE HASN’T SMOKED POT RECENTLY AND NOW. If you have used ANY illegal drug in the past 1-3 years depending on the agency and their policies, FORGET IT. MOVE ON.
A urine test detects naturally grown substances (like cocaine, marijuana, etc.) in your body for up to SIX MONTHS. The threshold is high so you can’t use the excuse you were in the room and inhaled secondhand smoke or secondhand snort. If you must ask how many hits or toke does it take, then you are missing the entire point to be wasting both our time. Drug tests by hair or fingernail sample have gotten much cheaper over the past ten years, and this has become the preferred method of detecting controlled substances. If you ingest a controlled substance today and NOW it will take about NINE MONTHS, whether the substance is natural like coke or pot or something synthetic (made in a homegrown lab) like Ecstasy, Meth, or Ketamine to completely leave your system to not be detected in a hair or fingernail sample. Those potions, chemicals, and concoctions that are supposed to defeat a drug test that they sell in head shops are supposedly only good for piss tests, NOT hair tests, and are probably no good AT ALL. The testers prefer to take a sample off your head as this hair grows the fastest (thus the substances leaves this way more quicker), but if not, then the backup places are anywhere else on your body that has longer hair. If necessary they will take slower growing samples from your pits or your pubes. Drug tests will be given during the course of your applicant process, right before you enter the police academy, during your academy training, at the end of your training, and at the end of your probationary period while you are in full uniform on patrol. When you are tenured, and depending on the agency’s policy, you can be subjected to testing at any time, upon probable cause, or on a routine basis. Unlike fire departments that have rehabilitation programs for either/or alcohol and drugs, I’ve never heard of a police agency that has substance rehab other than for alcohol. You test positive for drugs will be FIRED. No exceptions: absorbing drug tainted urine or semen into your mouth, anus, vagina, etc., will NOT be excepted, yes this has been tried before by BOTH men and women . . .
Attention gym rats and muscle heads:  you’re physique will awfully come in handy for your police work for you to be as big as the biggest prison inmate, except with a badge, but NOT HOW you got your body to be where it is, unless you have a VALID medical prescription AND condition diagnosed and prescribed by a VALID REPUTABLE doctor (preferably from the US and not somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela) for taking steroids. Otherwise forget your police pursuits and go back to pumping your muscles. Tenured officers have tried these kinds of tactics to get around drug tests. They eventually find themselves not only fired but also jailed, as well as the doctor who went along with them. Look up the Mitchell Report on the Internet. The doctor who prescribed the steroids to baseball players finally went to jail after prescribing them to police officers and fireman. They all tried to pull the prescription card, but their police agencies weren’t having it. THEY ALL GOT FIRED AND WENT TO JAIL. AND DON”T PLAY GAMES WITH THE TEST: if you show up for a test like one of the Coneheads, a hairless alien from another planet with a shaved head (the one on top of your shoulders, not the other one if you shave that too), chest, back, pit hair, and pubes, you most likely will be DISQUALIFIED. Nail samples are the last resort and the worse kind of samples to take a hair drug test, as the substances are more concentrated in the nail follicle tissue giving a slanted reading against your favor. DON’T DO DRUGS.
5.    Character: Speaking of drugs, that includes whomever you hang out with. If your friends indulge in the free-spirited life, this is where you have to make a tough decision that is the first step in making a law enforcement career a lifestyle change. Your investigator has to do a background check of everyone you live with. Be prepared to open up your Facebook page for closer examination. Ditch the dirt bag friends. The only ones you need to have a police record right now are probably just your parents, if at all. Say goodbye to anyone you live with that has had a shady criminal past. Nobody likes a spouse beater. If you cannot resist the temptation of turning your spouse into a punching bag that it hasn’t already gotten you into trouble, look for another job. If you are on the receiving end of that fist, this is the time to get rid of them AND FOR GOOD. Cops HATE responding to domestic calls, and you will cause nothing but resentment among your police colleagues over a dirt bag you should have dropped a long time ago. Besides, off-duty police involved domestics require high ranking officers to respond and lots of extra paperwork. The investigators will put pressure on you to drop him/her now OR ELSE, even if you have a kid in common. Regardless, and on the other hand, if your spouse has no qualms making you out to be a wife beater that you REALLY are NOT, then cut your loses and get rid of her NOW, baby and bath water. If you have a significant other that has a not so significant track record, this is where you have to decide if you love them that much for all the baggage they bring. The cops will get on your case about this whether it’s a dirt bag boyfriend, or a dirt bag buddy, to make you decide who or what you want, the cops or the dirt bag(s). The cops are willing to pay you to be a member of their family. Is your friend willing to do the same? Eventually the only friends you will have other than maybe an old neighbor or an old childhood friend are nobody but cops themselves. If you want a police job that badly, so much the better, as they can put in a good word for you. Cops love to ask other cops what they think of people to trust their judgment and be guided by their opinion. 
6.   Physical fitness: If you muscle heads have cleared the drug tests to build naturally, don’t let that fool you. You probably don’t do enough cardio, so stop worrying about building and start working on cutting up. It’s all about pushups and the daily run. Police academies like for their recruits to run anywhere from 1.5 to 5 miles a day so start a ramp up to that goal. Regardless of your condition or physique, you should start preparing yourself for a run anywhere from 4-6 months before day one of the academy, depending on the shape you’re in. For the sedentary: start running 15 minutes and work up to 45 minutes to an hour everyday M-F right before you raise your hand for training. Start going to bed early (eight hours of sleep) and get up early, even if you don’t have to. Even if you were found within the required weight, make adjustments NOW and start to eat HEALTHY. Some agencies may force you do to it, but if not QUIT SMOKING NOW!
7.   Your present job: NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO DON’T QUIT UNTIL THE COPS TELL YOU TO DO SO. Continue to go to work and pretend that you love what you’re presently doing. Stay out of trouble with work. Don’t be late and stay on top of your responsibilities: don’t slack. If you get fired, the cops are going to want to know why and will speak to your superiors. If your excuse doesn’t cut the muster with your now ex-boss, the whole show goes down the toilet. If you’re having problems at work, whether it is a boss that’s a tool, or a coworker that you don’t get along with, the time to let the cops know about this is at the beginning of the process (see step 2). Regardless, you should be building a good rapport with your present employers to get as many references as you can at your present job. Don’t burn any bridges. Build some more. Just in case you decide the whole police thing just isn’t your style, at least you’ll have some solid references to get back into the job market if not get your old job back afterwards.

8.   Your old jobs: Go back and reintroduce yourself and catch up with old contacts. Give them the heads up. Make sure that whomever you put down on your application will have nice things to say about you so as there are no surprises when your investigator actually shows up at their door and start asking questions about you. I remember when an old acquaintance of mine applied for the CIA. Field officers were very thorough, showed up at every door that he put on his application, and each contact was asked very pointed and specific questions about him. In some ways it was very scary, but that’s the nature of the work we do  . . .
9.   The locker room culture: This was one of the aspects I did NOT like about police work, the inherent locker room culture that often gets the police in trouble with the rest of society in the news, from the “us verses them” mentality, the distorted myth of the "blue wall of silence," to the often cultural or racial prejudices that is the ugly side of our American society that the police always seem to get in between or walk around. Please understand the context of how I'm explaining this before I joined the police: I went to college and came from a Wall Street job before I entered the police academy, so it was an adjustment I wasn't quite ready for or used to, a very white collar job to something that was oh so blue collar. About 150 years ago we fought a civil war that in many ways we still fight the same battles today in our culture and politics, and usually with the police somehow involved, whether it is with the 99% protests or Bush tax cut debate, a gay marriage or Obamacare or women's rights debate or demonstration, racial profiling or a police shooting, or at an abortion or tea party rally. 
    Historically police officers often have a difficult time discerning when to report vagaries that are genuine corruption issues verses ridiculous or minor violations in procedures and policies, thus the often misunderstood expression, "the blue wall of silence." 75% of misconduct allegations are reported by other police officers, and not civilians.
    Anyone who says that culture war issues plays no factor either in police work or in their specific agency is either in total denial or just plain dumb to purposely turn a blind eye. The culture war in America is alive and well, and it flourishes at the local police station near you. It was at times difficult working for a big city police force in the 1980’s and 90’s; I could only imagine how difficult it could be working for a more suburban or rural or even a small town police or sheriff’s office, perhaps even today. While things have improved over recent years with such issues as race relations, cultural tolerance, and diversity, as younger, fresher blood infuses police culture, that macho blue collar mentality still pervasively exists both in the squad room and the squad car, at times to the cops’ detriment. 
    A Connecticut newspaper published this cartoon signifying the East Haven Police Department's woes while being investigated for racial profiling. The fact is police agencies everywhere have to ensure that this kind of scrutiny doesn't happen to them, and frankly in a lot of cases, they have every reason to be concerned.
Although times are a changin’ and depending on where your agency is located, if you are anything but a straight white male you are going to at some point have hurdles to overcome. But in fairness and on the other hand, if you are a white male, and especially if it is about patrolling a poorer non-white neighborhood, you will be facing increasing challenges as you try to gain your community’s respect. It is ironic how that blue or gray uniform truly levels the playing field in some respects regardless of race or culture. But in either case although at times it might be difficult, you can succeed. It is a shame that in this post September 11th era, where most of the world truly hates Americans, that we cannot put aside our cultural troubles here to realize it is our differences that are our strengths, that we truly need to come together as one –E PLURIBUS UNUM.
This is an open shower in a male police officer's locker room. Here men shower in front of other men naked, that means without underwear unless you are a geek. Get over it.
By the way, speaking of locker room: this is the police you’ll be working for: it is a paramilitary organization that is run similarly to the armed forces. Instead of directives at the office, you will be given ORDERS to obey. You WILL SEE naked men and women, alive and DEAD, under all kinds of different circumstances, sometimes not in one piece. You are going to see body parts and body fluids like blood, semen, urine, and feces in places you ever don’t want to see in your personal life. You will see men in various states of arousal both DEAD and alive that any man or woman will NEVER want to voluntarily see. If you are the kind of person that skips the locker room experience at the gym because you are self-conscious or not that cleanly, then this work is not for you. 

Guys: if you are pee-shy at the urinal—FORGET IT. Another cop will pick up on it and pounce on you; you'll be forced to sit down to pee or you will never pee in front of anyone including your wife ever again! If you cannot at a moment’s notice get butt naked in front of other men or women within five minutes before physical training for it to be SO NOT about anything GAY, then DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME. At times it is about being naked in front of men or women (same gender please, of course) everyday for about 25 years or more. If you have a problem with being told to turn and cough while a part of you is in the possession of someone else’s hands other than your wife’s; or to be poked, prodded, fingered, looked at, in or at parts of your body while you are in various states of undress, then this will not be for you. I remember how one or two of my fellow academy recruits in the gym showered after PT in their underwear daily while everyone one else was naked to be crucified worse than Jesus Christ ever was. If you wish to have a peaceful non-eventful police career, don’t ever shower in front of other men in your underwear while the rest of them are naked. If for whatever reason God wasn’t as generous to you as he might have been with other men suck it up and take it like a man anyway. I often found it ironic how there were some cops who needed a badge and a gun of all things, and not a male sex organ let alone its size, to feel like they are a man. If what you have between your legs is not the greatest attribute that defines your manhood, remember that it is what's in your brain, more particularly in your heart that will make you the better man, if not the better cop. You can have the biggest pair in the world to fertilize the entire planet, and that doesn't mean you'll be the bravest cop out on the street. Cops can be judgmental beyond the point of cruelty. I could never understand what that was about; all I know is make sure you are not at the receiving end of it.
If you are training with any state police, expect to live up to six months in a barracks and basically train at boot camp. The discipline will be brutal the first month but they will let up on you once you learn what they expect out of you and you comply. Any other kind of academy where you go home at the end of the day, expect the discipline to be something stricter than the most merciless Catholic school where a nun or a Franciscan Brother in a police uniform will teach you religion of another kind.
A ranking officer of Her Majesty's Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in procession in the funeral of 35 year old slain Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell, who sacrificed his life in service during a stolen snow plow radio run in January, 2011. My condolences and respects to both his family and the Toronto Police Department.
10. Lifestyle: Whether you are a police recruit for two weeks and quit or retire as a police chief after 30 years, your life will never be the same. People will always see you as a cop. And in that you have to watch how you behave, especially off-duty. The public has set for you a higher standard that rises to the levels of scrupulous if not at times ridiculous. It can be worse than being an officer and a gentleman. People will expect you to walk, talk, breathe, and feel a certain way to the highest standards, even though all cops laugh, cry, get angry, get jealous, swear, spit, get hurt feelings, make mistakes, tell dirty jokes, and/or even have toilet humor. Even today long retired I am, some people still expect things from me they won't expect from others. We need ways to feel human, like everyone else. Sometimes the scrutiny can be choking if not sickening. Sometimes at the end of the tour I wanted to rip my uniform off as it was at times suffocating. This is police work; it is not for the faint of heart: to sugar coat this would turn this into something it is not. If you don't get the humor or seriousness here in my blog, whether it's the stupid sometimes toilet humor acronyms I make up at the beginning of each letter or the seriousness of the responsibilities of the work you'll be doing that I convey here, then you won't get ANY of this at all. Life becomes more serious, more tragic, more dramatic, more dangerous, more absurd, more funny, more wonderful with more splendor once you become a police officer that at a moment's notice you will learn to either dread or appreciate life. You will learn to kiss and hold your loved ones a bit closer when leaving for work because you never know when you'll see them again, and they'll look at you like you're crazy to never understand until you're gone forever. 
     You can never go to jail (at least try not to), because they can never put you in the general population; the inmates will kill you. I remember foolishly telling a friend shortly before I retired that once I do I want my police career to be a trivia question that no one else will ever know. Boy was I wrong. I will always be seen as a police officer, even though I’ve been long retired and technically, I am no longer one. When you become one you will see that your life will begin to change. You will change, in some ways for the better, and if you are not careful, some ways for the worse. You can turn your badge into a chick magnet no doubt, but be careful, you can become a novelty that can quickly wear off--everyone loves to hang around or date a cop--especially when they're not one, until they get tired of it or for you to see they don't see you as an equal, for you to see how shallow people can be--don't advertise off-duty, don't tell them you're a cop until you know their character for sure. If they get angry and feel betrayed for withholding when you finally tell them and why, TOUGH. You definitely will lose a lot of your civilian friends. Because of the crazy hours you will be working, especially at the beginning of your career due to a lack of seniority, your friends will give up on you to assume you can’t come out and have fun because of the crazy hours you keep at work. This is where you find out if they were worthy of your friendship at all. Make sure your significant other is not high maintenance. You will be gone for long hours at all times of the day or night that they must be secure and trustful that you will try to be home when you can and if not, to perfectly understand why. Think about all of this before you put yourself through all this aggravation that once it begins like firing a bullet that soon enough you will learn how to do, you will never be able to take it back. Police Officers have the highest divorce and suicide rates.  . . . And we're one of the very few professions with an occupational hazard where we actually can get killed at work . . .
There you are RECRUIT FRUIT, I don't mean to scare you, but when people ask me about considering a police career I do it in a way to neither encourage or discourage them, so you are WARNED: If you are eager and your eyes are wide open, you are about to embark on an extraordinary career that is the envy of the world. Remember that there aren't too many movies and TV shows about plumbers, IT computer guys, or real estate agents. It’s all about cops, lawyers, and doctors, probably the three worse kind of people there are (wink). Good luck, and let me know what you decide to do! 

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Sgt. Al here. I welcome your comments, ideas, and suggestions. You have questions about the police, and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say as a citizen. Thanks!