It takes a platoon to raise a recruit

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted and I apologize to my regular readers.  It’s been a very busy summer and fall both at work and in my personal life.  I’ve had some vacation time, been on a couple courses, out of town at a conference, taught a couple courses and was the secondary field trainer for our platoon’s latest recruit.  I was finally back to what felt like a normal work block recently and got a message from one of our dispatchers “It feels like I haven’t heard from you in months!”.

I may be back to field training as early as next month but should be able to keep some regular updates coming.  Standby!

In the meantime the opportunity to field train and instruct on some courses had me reflecting on what it’s like to get started in this field, it really is an experience like no other.

For a lot of police officers, get hired is a dream come true.  Watching young children playing cops and robbers, waving at passing emergency vehicles or pointing at Police officers as they walk by on the street you know the curiosity and passion starts at a very young age.

Once you finish school and land on your feet as an adult, there’s a lot of work to be done in order to apply.  You must be an upstanding citizen, have some life experience, volunteer your time and then compete with hundreds of other applicants for one position.  If your resume is accepted you get put through a lengthy hiring process which does a fairly good job of pointing out everything you’ve ever done wrong.  The process makes you explain yourself, feeling like you’re being judged for every decision you’ve made. For a lot of people the process includes a deferral and the applicant is told to work on some facet of their life and come back in 1-3 years.

Then, one day, you get the phone call.  THE phone call.  Your dream job is about to be a reality.  The crisp pressed uniforms, the police cars, the lights and sirens, the foot chases, the glamour and the glory are about to be yours.  You get hustled around to get your badge, uniforms, duty belts and boots before your first day at the academy.

You show up to your first day at the academy early, nervous and excited, meet your classmates in the same state of mind.  Then you go through 13 weeks of theory and practical instruction (Block I), you learn from current and retired police officers and the realization that this job isn’t like the movies becomes clearer.  At the end of Block I, you’re itching to start the Block II phase and get out on the road with a field trainer.  You meet your field trainer for a coffee some time before the first shift and they go over expectations and talk a little about the job and the people you’re about to meet.

Day 1 comes.  You’re about to appear in public in a uniform, about to actually do the job you’ve thought about for years.  You’re about to walk into the briefing room and meet a dozen people that were once in your shoes.  The Sergeant or Staff Sergeant welcome you to the shift and you introduce yourself.  You get out on the road and your field trainer was at the wheel and took the lead, you followed along.

The first block finished.  It’s 6am and you’ve just worked four 12 hour shifts in a row and your platoon is going out for breakfast, you’re exhausted, wide eyed, a little shell shocked from the block but you tagged along.  You think to yourself “What just happened?”.  Well, allow me to explain…

4 days ago you put on a uniform that you’d likely thought about wearing since that one day as a young child, you looked up and pointed at the police officer walking by.  You walked into a briefing room and met a dozen or so police officers that are competitive, driven individuals who share a common bond and you, right then and there, had to start trusting them with your life.  They are your platoon mates for Block II.

Your platoon mates came from all walks of life and have vastly different experience.  You sat amongst a dozen people who have between 1 and 25 years experience.  Your platoon mates all have their own unique way to do their jobs and very unique personalities.  You will learn from each and every one of them.

You are the rookie, the recruit, the boot, the fresh meat, junior, kid.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve just completed a criminology degree and only recently moved out on your own or if this is your second career and you bring a wealth of life experience.  This is your place in the food chain.  You’ll earn new nicknames along the way, usually for a mistake you’ve made.

It was your first block, your field trainer took the lead.  You watched as they dealt with complainants, made traffic stops, arrested someone.  You showed up with your field trainer to a random call covering some one else, perhaps heading there without even being dispatched.  Maybe you missed the text message that a platoon mate sent to your field trainer “Hey, the rookie should come check this out”.

You and your field trainer showed up to cover at a call and you watched your platoon mate handle the same call you went to the day before but had a completely different approach.

A platoon mate asked if your call sign was free and had you stop by a traffic stop so you could search a car and find some drugs.  You watched different platoon mates arrest people, talk to people, point force options at people, negotiate with people and solve problems.  Each with their own personal style, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  You will develop your own style and it will consist of a little bit of each of your platoon mates.

You wrote everything down in your notebook because you learned that even the police have to establish credibility and then remember what happened years later in court.  You realized that “because I’m the police” isn’t going to be an acceptable phrase, ever.

It doesn’t matter what kind of experience you had before you started, you’ll see something new and unexpected on this job.  You will, over your career, see; terrible things, heroic actions, senseless tragedy, selfless charity, hilarious people, inspiring people, careless people.  You will meet majesty and monsters, sometimes in the same day.

You saw a newspaper article or a news clip about a Police officer that did something wrong (or may have done something wrong).  During the block you watched your platoon mates negotiating with an armed man that had just threatened them and screamed at them to kill him.  You watched them point pistols, tasers, and a bean bag shotgun at him, then convince him not to get hurt and handcuff him safely.  You realized that the neighbours wouldn’t even know the job your platoon mates did, much less the media.  It was just another call handled well.  You will be one of the thousands of police officers that does their job well and few will ever really know.

At breakfast you listen to your platoon mates making jokes and poking fun at each other.  They talked of things you’ve yet to see.  You realize these are the people that are going to be there for you.  You may have only heard the terms Critical Incident Stress Management and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you probably don’t realize yet that these people are your immediate support.  You will learn as much from your platoon mates through osmosis as you will from sitting in the same car as your field trainer.

You just realized the crisp pressed uniforms, the police cars, the lights and sirens, the foot chases, the glamour and the glory that were about to be yours after that phone call aren’t what they were 4 months ago.  The uniforms get wet, muddy and bloody.  There are few pursuits as a matter of public safety. The foot chases end in charges being dropped by the courts for a lack of evidence.  The glamour and glory have been replaced by questions and doubt.

Breakfast is done, go home and get some sleep.  We’re going to do it all over again in 4 days.  You’ll learn more than you can imagine from your platoon mates over the next 13 weeks.  You’ll go back to the academy for your Block III and after you graduate, you’ll continue learning every day.  Before you know it, you’ll be part of the platoon guiding another new recruit through one of the most unique work places around.

Class 140 Graduation Ceremony
Class 140 Graduation Ceremony

One thought on “It takes a platoon to raise a recruit”

  1. I became interested at the age of 13, while I was making some serious evaluations of my life up to that point, and the future. I came to Canada when I was six. Back in Belarus, police officers are feared, not admired. If they are admired, it is for the wrong reasons. They take away children from their parents to teach them a lesson. They act like prison guards in the community. I hallucinated, at five years of age, a police officer all dressed in black, hiding in the wardrobe with a rifle. Don’t worry, my mother used to say. He’s there to protect you. Maybe. I even remember encountering a police officer, as I was waiting for a train to take me to an airport, where I would leave for my new country. The officer noticed that I was very upset, and asked my mother if she would like him to take me away. It took years of living here for my perception to move away from the intense fear I used to feel. I don’t know why I feel a calling to be a police officer, after all that I’ve seen. Except that I know real fear of the police, and what people say about police in Canada just doesn’t measure up. They are so, so different. I’m not afraid anymore.

    I’m almost done term one of the Algonquin College Police Foundations Program. Even if I don’t make it, it will be worth the journey.

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