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What Being A Cop Has Taught Me

I spent thirty-three years in law enforcement working as a Chicago cop and FBI agent. During that time I was also a police trainer. I’ve worked with, and trained cops all over the world. Here are some things I’ve learned from my time on the job. Most of these truths withstand the test of time:

  • Working a busy beat on midnights is the greatest, until things slow down at five or six a.m. Then it becomes the worst, particularly if you have a morning court appearance.
  • More often than not on a domestic disturbance call, family members will attack the police as cops handcuff their loved one who has assaulted the family.
  • Bad guys don’t carry IDs—except those that don’t belong to them.
  • “Who me?” is the first response from a thug on the street when you ask him his name.
  • Any call that involves a nude woman will result in every sector car arriving on the scene in record time.
  • The smallest wiry-type guys are the most difficult to handcuff if they resist.
  • Whatever you do on the firing range, you’ll automatically do if you have to use your weapon on the street.
  • The day you’re well rested, prepared, and energized is not the day you’ll get in a foot chase.
  • Female officers are much stronger and more fearless than you think.
  • The day you feel most tired and can’t wait to go home and sleep, is the day you’ll toss and turn trying to fall asleep.
  • Working with the right partner is the best feeling in the world.
  • A supervisor who shows up on the scene, makes decisions, and isn’t afraid to put his hands on people instills confidence in leadership.
  • Being fit and wearing a clean, pressed uniform is another way to avoid confrontations. Your appearance commands respect.
  • Never trust anyone not to try to hurt you.
  • Never accept a prisoner from a colleague without searching the bad guy yourself.
  • Your paperwork is a direct reflection of who you are and how you do your job. Incomplete or sloppy reporting will haunt you years later.
  • Going through a door on a felony call into an unknown house or business will always be scary. It will also always help you to survive.
  • If a bad guy gives you a hard look and you look away, he owns you.
  • If you’re working UC and a bad guy gives you a hard look and you do not look away, he knows who you are.
  • A traffic stop in the last hour of your shift will often result in an arrest and cause you to work OT.
  • Be prepared for a major altercation when you hear the words, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” or, “You’re gonna have to shoot me.”
  • The first few years on the job you’re in a race to be first on the scene. The last few years are a challenge to be the last on the scene.
  • In a gang neighborhood, ten or more people may have witnessed a shooting but no one will talk to the police.
  • When you find a gun in a bad guy’s pants pocket, his first response will be, “These aren’t my pants.”
  • As soon as you pull over to enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack, you’ll get a felony in progress call.
  • Bad guys with no firearms training will fire a gun without aiming and hit you.
  • Often, when a traffic violator is completely cooperative they are hiding something.
  • After searching someone and finding one gun, never stop looking for another one.
  • Never put anyone in your car without cuffing them first.
  • It will rain or snow on range day.
  • Being at the scene of a fallen officer is life changing and emotionally crippling. The same is true at the scene of a colleague who has committed suicide.
  • Most cops will have dreams of being in a gunfight and their weapon malfunctioning.
  • Carry your cuffs off-duty—one day you will need them.
  • The toughest, strongest cops lose it at a death investigation involving a baby or child.