Your destiny should be to be a great police officer; think and speak like a true professional and you will be one
Words have power. They can make things worse or they can make things
better. When a police officer encounters a suspect hurling insults,
making verbal threats, or otherwise spouting off at the mouth, it may be
tempting for the officer to talk back. But what you say can come back
to haunt you. Here are five things you never want to hear yourself say
when on duty.
1. I am the law.
created by the legislature; you were created by your parents. You are
the authority by which some of the laws are enforced. Your actions are
guided by those laws. When you make that statement, you start down the
slippery slope of forgetting who and what you have taken oath to be and
the beginnings of what you took an oath to stand against.
2. This is my highway, city, county, road…
this is the jurisdiction you are sworn to protect and serve. It doesn’t
belong to you. Taking ownership of your actions, your choices and your
words is a good thing. You own your words and choices, not the city,
county or state. Only a medieval king owned all that he surveyed. When
you over invest in your job and start to think and act as if you are the
sole owner, you have lost sight and perspective of who you truly are.
When you lose that perspective, you replace it with a false reality.
Never forget who you are and what your authority truly is.
3. You don’t have any rights.
good ever happens after this statement. Whether it is anger, fear,
frustration, or a false perception (see above), if you ever hear this
phrase escape from your mouth – or even start to think it – you need to
immediately recant that concept and get in touch with reality. Everyone
we deal with has rights. We have the power and the authority to curtail
some of those rights during Terry detentions and arrest situations. But
even in those situations, your actions are guided by the Constitution,
state statute and Supreme Court rulings.
4. There is nothing I can do.
you get a call and it turns out to be a non-criminal matter, you are
the victim’s hope. You are the person who is supposed to have the
solution. Some times that solution is telling the victim what they need
to do – explaining the process for a civil suit, methods for obtaining
an eviction notice, how to get treatment for substance abuse, or call
social service. In order to do that, you need to know what public and
community resources are available and be able to assist and direct them
in their efforts.
5. If I have to come back, someone is going to jail.
There are a couple of problems with this statement.
if you don’t have cause to take any police action the first time, can
you guarantee you will on your return? If you get called back and you
still have no reason to arrest, you have lost credibility. Officers in
this self-created conundrum often feel forced into taking legal action,
despite the fact that they lack probable cause. When driving a suspect
to jail, you should know the reason for the arrest, you shouldn’t be
trying to create one.
The second reason is officer safety. By
telling the suspect(s) your intentions, you allow them an opportunity to
plan their escape or assault on the next responding officer – whether
it’s you or someone new. The next officer who answers the call may not
be aware of your statement and is now walking into a dangerous situation
that you created.
Why is what you think or say so important?
Consider the following quote commonly attributed to Frank Outlaw, “Watch
your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become
actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they
become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Your destiny should be to be a great police officer; think and speak like a true professional and you will be one.
This article, originally published 05/18/2015, has been updated.
About the author
In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a
Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning
in 1988). During his career he served as patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T.,
Use of Force and Firearms Instructor, and is currently employed by the
Parkers Prairie Police Department. He is also a full-time instructor in
the Law Enforcement Program at Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria,
Minnesota. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
from Bemidji State University, and a Masters Degree in Education from
Southwest State University.