Secrets To a Successful Law Enforcement Career – 4 Rules To Follow

4 Important Rules For Future Police Officers

By Captain Ron Orso 

 This article is for anyone who wants to be a cop,  is in an academy or FTO Program, or who already is a cop.  It’s based upon 25 years of mistakes, missteps,  and just plain dumb luck.

 A truly great street cop who once worked for me for 7 years, Joe G., (and who is responsible for every gray hair on my head),  once pointed out to me (actually it was about once an hour),  my alleged shortcomings as far as police work was concerned. He often said that I couldn’t find a collar on a shirt.

It was due to him that I began to  review certain important rules of policing.  These weren’t tactical rules so much as they were rules of dealing with people, both those who worked with me as well as those I would deal with as “clients” on the job.  The following are my 4 rules.  I hope that they may help you avoid a number of screw ups that I brought upon myself.

#1.  FAMILY COMES 1st.   You must remember that you can still give 150% to the job, can be a robo-cop and lock up every crook in thepolice officer and family, cops and kids, law enforcement and family tips and advice world,  but if things aren’t peaceful on the home front,  you’ll never be able to give your all, or even your best to yourself and your agency.

The job, while it can be a fantastic life, and you may be able to do great good, is ultimately still a tool.  It’s a means to an ends.

It’s a way of providing for you and yours.  The reason why so many cops are on their 3rd and 4th marriages as well as drinking themselves into suspensions and ruined careers stems from not following this rule.

Now the very nature of the job means you’re going to miss dinners, birthdays, etc.  That’s not my point,  all I mean that your priorities are in order as far as God & family are concerned.

 #2.  NEVER LIE OR PERJURE YOURSELF.   Now there is a difference between telling a lie (a non-truth) to a mutt to get information, and all other situations.

Telling lies to the bad guys is a time honored cop trait, so I’m not speaking about that situation; although it can be argued that even that is wrong. I’m describing telling lies in all other situations, to your husband, wife, child, parent and especially ANYTHING that has to do with your official duties.

Aside from it being morally wrong,  a cop is only as good as their word.  Screw up once, and even if you don’t get fired and lose your pension (or worse),  your career is sunk because you’ll be useless as a witness, either on paper or in court. You may as well hang up your badge & gun and start selling pickles at flea markets.  This goes not only orally, as in interviews, reports to higher ups, and in court, but especially in every and all documents you sign your name to submit.

#3.  NEVER MISS THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO A GOOD DEED.   Yes, I know that a lot of us went into, or are going into the job because we want to help people and / or make a difference.  For those of you who follow the Judeo-Christian faiths, the “do unto others” or the “golden rule”, or “”What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow man “ applies.

For those of you who follow a strictly scientific bend it’s “for every action there is an equal & opposite reaction.”  Any followers of Eastern religions can call it positive Karma.  Whatever, it’s the chance to make someone’s life a tad better, and it is the basis of police work, so be aware of every opportunity to apply it in ever call you take.  MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE.

 #4.  NEVER STOP LEARNING.  Just like a shark that dies if it ever stops swimming (even in its sleep), any cop who stops learning will die, and usually in a very unpleasant manner.

No matter how smart you think you are, or how much experience you have on the job, there will always be a bad guy (or girl), out there who knows more,  and when you meet up with them, you’re going down unless you’re very lucky.  To paraphrase General Patton, it’s not you job to die, it’s your job to make the bad guy die if it’s the only choice.

 Joe G. used to think that I was very intelligent, but not so smart.  I hate to admit it, but until I started applying these 4 rules, he was more correct than I’d like to admit.

 God bless & stay safe.

Ron Orso is a retired Police Captain from the Borough of Fort Lee, NJ Police.  He holds a B.A. In History, and a Masters in Public Administration.  He was a police officer for 25 years, is married with 2 sons, and has 22 years experience in Emergency Management.  He’s also a Disabled Veteran.
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