I’m a lifelong learner; I enjoy learning about new things. I also find it fascinating to explore why some things continue to be done a certain way despite new technologies or improved methods. In medicine, for example, tradition often wins out over new research, such as having medical residents work long hours despite the fact that sleep deprivation leads to an increase in medical errors.
Tradition or accepted process is no excuse for failing to educate yourself on newer methods. Worse yet, refusing to change when you have the knowledge and information to improve is both illogical and stubborn. Yet in law enforcement, we often fall victim to getting into a comfort zone, better termed complacency. We become comfortable doing the routine, doing just enough, checking the boxes and not making any waves.
“We have always done it this way” invokes the status quo, which to me is akin to stagnant water. This mentality fails to look for options and new ways of doing things. Officers and command staff content with a status quo mentality embrace the norm. They are content with stagnation, professionally and personally.
The problem is that if you’re in command and you’re failing to grow, you are simply managing—not leading—your officers. If you are content where you are at, don’t assume your people are content. They may move on to more challenging and growth-oriented pastures. Leadership requires continual personal and professional growth for both yourself and your people. So how are you growing—in your training as well as physically and mentally?
Growth in Your Training Mindset
Oftentimes training is about options. Training requires thinking outside of the box and a willingness to try something different, even if you failed the first time. Every situation is different; a response or action that worked in one situation may not work in another. That is also the beauty of learning new skills and honing existing skills—you build both yourself and your people. Knowledge inspires confidence, confidence inspires growth and growth inspires stability in your workplace.
While you should be dealing with your stress daily, not many officers do, because they are stuck doing things the same way.
Send your officers to trainings when you have the opportunity. Emergency vehicle operations, Crisis Intervention Training, Drug Recognition Expert and other specialized training will reinvigorate them, challenge them and provide them with new insights to help grow themselves and the department. Training and learning help foster self-esteem and confidence. It can help by getting them away from the daily grind and be a welcome respite from the street and the department itself.
And if budget is a problem, remember there are great free training options out there, such as webinars that can be done on your own time and your own schedule.
With any training, you must keep an open mind and be willing to learn. You need to also be willing to take what you learn and share with your fellow brothers and sisters. Learning is to be shared, not siloed.
Growth in Your Physical Health
How many of you are taking care of your physical health? How much weight have you put on since the academy? What bad habits did you pick up? If you are 20 pounds or more overweight, now is the time to think about reducing your intake of sugary sodas, doughnuts, candies and junk food.
Start out by cutting back on sodas and replacing with flavored seltzers or waters. Switch out fried foods for vegetables or a side salad and have a doughnut occasionally, not every day. If you are hooked on those energy drinks, remember to increase your water consumption as energy drinks are quite depleting. Consider packing your meals and avoiding fast food entirely.
Get moving by walking on a treadmill or walking outside regularly. If you like to lift weights, get back at it. If you have been sedentary and simply going back and forth to work, now is the time to break that cycle and become more active. Don’t settle for what you’ve always done—set a goal for improving your physical health and challenge yourself to grow.
Growth in Your Mental Health
Are you an officer 24/7, unable to separate work and home life? Do you remain focused on the job, even while off duty? Are you stuck in a vicious cycle where you have no outside life and little enjoyment in activities outside of work? Do you feel stuck in a rut?
Now is the time to think about what you enjoy doing off duty and who you were before you were a cop. What things have you given up over the years that you would like to get back to doing? Consider the hobbies, sports and even some friendships that you would like to rekindle.
How are you dealing with the daily stress of the job and the stress of your personal life? Are you dealing with it at all? Depending on how long you have been a law enforcement officer, your highlight reel may be considerable. Add in personal stressors and your cup is likely overflowing. Without stress relievers such as hobbies, outside interests and setting limits for yourself, you are setting yourself up for burnout and are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
While you should be dealing with your stress daily, not many officers do, because they are stuck doing things the same way. Consider trying some simple stress relievers like journaling, deep breathing exercises, using imagery and meditation, getting into yoga (check out Yoga for First Responders), and talking with a good friend, spouse or partner. You cannot continually handle stress and the things you see by yourself—we all need someone to bounce things off of.
When our cup is continually filling up every day and we find there is nothing helping to drain it, we need something more to help us through. There are law enforcement-friendly therapists out there; you don’t have to go at this alone. I’ve even included some resources at the end of this article.
Call to Action
Your personal and professional growth are critical to your overall satisfaction with both yourself and your career. And if you are in command, it’s even more critical. Your people will fail to thrive and grow if you are limiting their growth potential.
So, why not try something new? Why not lead rather than wait or manage? Why not look to change the status quo?
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Cop Line: 1-800-COPLINE or www.copline.org. This helpline is staffed by retired cops.
- Frontline Helpline: 1-866-676-7500. This service run by Frontline Responder Services. It offers 24/7 coverage with first responder call-takers.
- Crisis Text Line: A service that allows people in crisis to speak with a trained crisis counselor by texting “Start” or “Help” to 741-741.
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 & press 1, or text 838255. This crisis line is specifically for veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
- Fire/EMS Helpline (Share the Load): 1-888-731-3473 or https://www.nvfc.org/programs/share-the-load-program/
- Survivors of Blue Suicide: https://www.survivorsofbluesuicide.org/
- Protecting the Guardian: https://protectingtheguardian.com/
- Warrior’s Rest Foundation: https://www.warriorsrestfoundation.org/
- American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator service
- Psychology Today Find a Therapist
- Here for You Blue (law enforcement-dedicated online therapy)