Rookies to the rescue!

I read a most heartening piece in this morning’s Chicago Tribune.  Apparently the Chicago Police Department is using the newest officers to patrol the areas of high crime.  You can find that story at:

It’s about time that someone woke up and realized that police recruits are the most underutilized element of the Chicago Police Department!  I have no doubt that the recruits will quickly quell many of the irrational and irresponsible shootings that Chicago has been experiencing. It will literally be that the rookie cops will actually rescue the Chicago Police Department from one of the most demoralizing episodes of a great organization.

I spent 25 years as an officer for the Chicago Police Department.  Many of those years were as a Field Training Officer or “FTO" for short.   I loved that time as a Field Training Officer.  I got to meet the best and brightest that the city could recruit for the service and protection of this great city.  When ‘the kids’ come out of the Academy for field training with an experienced officer: they are bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  Each and every one of those recruits has had book learning, role playing and physical training.  They’ve seen films of the worst situations any officer has had to face.  They have been immersed into the legalities of what they can and cannot do.  They are eager to BE police officers in every sense of the word.

However, the usual situation for rookies is to have them trained by a FTO and then sent to a district where the old-timers really don’t want to work with the new kids.  There’s a good reason for that because the kids may have had all their training, including 12 weeks on the street with a FTO, but they are still green and still apt to make mistakes.  Usually there errors are minor but can be off-putting for officers with many years under their belts.

As an FTO I would consider myself as a ‘99’unit for at least two or three weeks into the field training.  In Chicago Police Department lingo an officer responds to the dispatcher with the words: “10-4” if there are 2 officers in the squad and “10-99” if an officer is alone.  The dispatchers knew why FTOs would say that.  They knew that going to specific kinds of calls could be hazardous with a green recruit and took that into consideration when giving out assignments.  But usually by the fifth or sixth week I’d step back and let the recruits take over more of the work.  I took great pride in watching them grow and learn how to read body language, take certain actions to stay safe and begin to really enjoy their work.

But getting stuck in a not-too-busy district with a bunch of old-timers who are trying to cruise to their retirement and very unwilling to work with recruits, can be disheartening.  However, being put into very dangerous and very exciting areas would please any good recruit.  In such situations they are being forced to assume the full role as a police officer.  They are also learning how to determine how to judge their fellow officers as well as citizens.  They aren’t going to be judged by an officer with many years of experience who is going to consider their inexperience as a major impediment.  They will be using all of their training and learning with other young officers with the same limited experience.

Will there be problems?  Of course! Some recruits will make mistakes, hopefully not serious ones that cause injury or worse to themselves or others.  Perhaps one or two of the ‘kids’ will get hurt or feel the terror of a gunshot aimed in their direction.  That’s when, especially at night,  they’ll realize that all those comic book depictions of a huge flame coming out of the barrel of a gun are accurate, not some made-up idea by an artist.  These recruits will meet people who really need and want help.  They’ll quickly learn how to tell a liar from a truth-teller.  They will be running and fighting and – dare I say it – having fun.

Yes…they want to have fun.

I once had an old-timer tell me, “Aren’t you lucky!  Someone pays you to go to a circus everyday!”  That man was right on target.

I was one of the first women trained for regular police duty on the streets of Chicago.  Most of the women I met back then (in the late ‘70s) had heard of, or seen, male officers being afflicted with the “John Wayne Syndrome”. We were determined not to be like that.  But it was hard not to acquire a “Joan Wayne Syndrome” when you find out that an adrenaline high is very addictive. Part of that high also comes from the humor an officer inadvertently comes across while working.

Chicago will be so much better off having these rookies come to the rescue! So I wish these young officers ‘Good Luck!” and, above all, “Have fun!”

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