By January 18, 2007

Picking up the shield

I like it when people put their money where their mouth is. If you have a problem in your life, fix it; don’t complain about it. If you want to do something, do it; don’t wish that you did. My friend Donut is about to put self-doubt, hesitation, and anxiety aside and do something he’s wanted to do for six years: become a police officer.

Donut has held down a variety of jobs in his life. He’s been a big box retail worker, hospital orderly, student, gun salesman, pizza deliveryman, and a handful of other things. He’s soft-spoken, extremely polite, and loves to learn. I have always been interested in talking to people who choose to become law enforcement officers before they become indoctrinated or jaded by the experience. I was particularly interested in talking with Donut, because he has such a gentle personality that I couldn’t imagine him chasing down a perp and slamming them down to the street top. Thankfully the new recruit was willing to meet me for an interview.

The thing that impressed me the most — although I shouldn’t have been surprised — was how measured and researched Donut was about being a cop. He had spent the last few years talking to every law enforcement officer that would listen, asking them questions about the job and the effect of their careers on their personal life.

DrFaulken: What led you to become a police officer?

Donut: A couple of times I almost applied. But then I winded up not, and taking a more subdued route for a career, such as medical imaging. Finally, I got to the point where things started happening. School wasn’t working out, and I had a year to go back to finish the program. I said to myself, ‘you know, I have a year to go back and finish, and you only live once.’ [becoming a police officer] has always been something I wanted to do.

DrFaulken: So there wasn’t one catalyst moment where you decided to join?

Donut: No, aside from the defining moment that I realized you only live once. I don’t want to be 55 years old and say, “I wonder if I would have liked that.”

DrFaulken: Are you the first person in your family in law enforcement?

Donut: No, I have some family members in law enforcement.

DrFaulken: Has there ever been any pressure to get into law enforcement from them?

Donut: No pressure whatsoever. Just me thinking it was cool. I always asked questions or wanted to hear stories.

DrFaulken: You’re just starting the program. You’re about to enter the Academy.

Donut: That’s right, I’ll be starting the Academy next week. The process takes approximately six months just to get to the Academy, and that’s if they’re hiring. If they are hiring, you turn in an initial application, which is not much more than a regular job application. There are a few things that will kick you off the list right off the bat, like DUI. If you make it past that initial application, you have to take a written exam. If you pass the written exam, then they schedule you for a physical agility test. You also have to fill out a twenty-one page personal history document. The personal history document gets submitted for your background investigation. After passing the agility test, you take an MMPI, a psychological evaluation. It’s a 560 question true or false personality test.

At some point in the background investigation they call you in for a polygraph exam. If you get through all of those steps, then you are scheduled for a panel interview. The Chief of Police, a psychiatrist, and higher up background investigators sit with you.

DrFaulken: So what kinds of questions do they ask you? Do they verify what you wrote, or are there different questions, like roleplaying? Do they put you in certain situations, like you come home from work one day and find a guy in bed with your wife. What do you do?

Donut: (chuckles) It’s a gamut, all of the above. Everything from “why does this interest you” to asking about hobbies, to scenarios. One thing they ask you is what you think warrants the use of deadly force. Could you kill someone, and how using deadly force would affect your life. Another question was a police officer has a best friend who’s a wanted felon. You know that he [the police officer] is hanging out with this felon. Do you think that’s wrong, and serious enough to report it.

DrFaulken: what was your answer?

Donut: I thought it was serious. If there was a wanted felon and someone wasn’t saying anything about, that’s a big deal. I would report it. A lot of my canned answers were to pass the information up to a superior who had experience in dealing with that kind of thing before. Also, they were trying to get at the subject of bribes. Such as, one of your buddies on the force is working a certain area, and a restaurant owner offers him a Christmas present of some alcohol and food, as a thank-you for coming by. Would this be a violation, and would you report it? They ask you about downfalls in your application or background investigation. For me, when I started college, I didn’t do so well. My grades weren’t so great at first, but then I did better. They asked me about that, and that was the only question that really put me on the defensive. At this point, they know a lot about you, and they want to put a face to the name on the application. They want to see how you interact with people, and how you deal with stress.

DrFaulken: Before you applied, did you go on any ridealongs? Did you already know what you were getting into?

Donut: I did go on a ridealong. I kind of knew what I was getting into, because I know quite a few officers and asked them tons of questions. I used to manage a coffee shop at a local mall and a lot of cops would come in, and I got to know them. Plus I had family members in law enforcement. It was always a natural interest of mine, and I would ask them things they’d done, and things they’d been involved with. I always found that interesting. I knew a lot about what goes on just from talking to them. I did a ridealong, and I wish I’d done more. It gave me more perspective on a more mundane sort of day.

DrFaulken: That’s a good segue to one of my not so friendly questions. Some police departments have been criticized for excluding candidates who do really well on their standardized tests. The implication is that people who are fast learners or very bright may get bored with regular police work. There’s a lot of paperwork in law enforcement that most people don’t recognize. If they leave, they take away a significant investment of time and training. How do you feel about that? Do you feel like the department selects people with diverse interests who are intelligent?

Donut: I have no idea, because I haven’t been involved on the other side [of the application] process. From my experience and the people I’ve met, I wouldn’t think that’s the case. This particular department has a stellar reputation, one of the top in the country. They are looking for the best. Not too toot my own horn here, but I was excited to make it this far. Out of 470 applications, they narrowed it down to twenty two of us. That doesn’t automatically make them a good person, it doesn’t automatically make them good at what they do, but they’ve passed some criteria.

Plus there are a lot of things you can do in the department. After a few years, you can train dogs, ride motorcycles, train recruits, undercover, paperwork in the office if you don’t want to be on the road anymore, etc. From what I know, I would think it wouldn’t be the case.

DrFaulken: So how does everyone start out? Is it on the street, or can you specialize right away?

Donut: As far as I know, everyone starts out on the street. You are assigned an area. You can request a shift, but you’re not guaranteed to get it. They’ll put you where they need you. But everyone has to start out for, I think it’s two years, but after that you can apply for a position if it’s open. I know people who have been officers for many years, and they want to stay on the road.

DrFaulken: During the application process, do you think your different civilian jobs helped you, versus a candidate who went right into the military from high school and then applied after their service? It seems like there is a lot of public relations in law enforcement.

Donut: Very much so. That’s one of the things that my recruiter told me. He said it was great to be in the military or have a college degree, but they also like to see people who have waited tables, who did customer service jobs, because 90% of what you do is work with the public, and 90% of that time is when those people are upset. It also helps to be a little older, because they tend to think you won’t turn everything into an altercation and you’ll be a little more level-headed.

DrFaulken: Now that you’re in it, how do you think a career in law enforcement will change your personality?

Donut: I’ve given this a honest assessment to myself. My personality does not lend itself to become a callous asshole that believes everyone is mean in the world. I am not ignorant to the point to say there’s no possibility of it happening. One thing I’ve told myself, my wife and my friends is that if it does happen to me, if it really starts to weigh on me and make me a bitter person, I’m going to quit. You only live once. You have to be a happy person. I hear all these statistics, or people getting divorced, or this and that, and I would like to know what these people were like before they went in. I know a lot of officers, and they all seem to be fun, joke-around types who like what they do. They definitely talk about unfortunate situations, but they seem to be regular people who enjoy what they are doing.

One of my family members is the type of guy who appears to be jovial, go-get-em fun guy. I’ve asked him how it’s affected him. It’s like working in a hospital. People get a perception that a huge number of people around them are sick and dying. He said it will surprise me what goes on in my neighborhood, and what my neighbors do. Even if you’re not working your neighborhood, you’ll still hear about it. I told him that I know bad stuff goes on, and I know that I live in a glass bubble where ignorance is bliss. He said it may not make me a horrible, callous jerk, but it will change my view on things.

My wife and I are very open communicators. She’s willing to talk to me, and that’s a catalyst for being successful with a marriage in this career. But still, with my family member, sometimes he doesn’t want to tell his wife everything. She’s happy, the kids are happy, he doesn’t want to tell her everything and ruin her day. On the other hand, you can focus on different things. You can dwell on that [the bad things], or you can focus on other things. I talked to an officer who belongs to my church. I asked him about the spiritual aspect: how does this job affect you as a spiritual person? He was very positive. He said you see things about people that others don’t see, for good and bad. He told me how some of the officers on their own time helped a lady repair her house. Along with the horrible things you see, you have the opportunity to see the good. You can focus on the good opportunity. On the way to jail, he has talked to people he’s arrested and asked them why they did what they did. If they say, “money’s tight” or whatever he has information to give them on adult education. He tries to get at the root of the problem; to be someone who really helps. You don’t have to do that, you can just do your job and go home at the end of the day, or you can invest a little bit more and try to help people on another level.

DrFaulken: How do you feel about civilians having a concealed carry handgun permit, and do you think that will change throughout your career?

Donut: I love that civilians have carry permits. I don’t see that changing. I think it’s awesome. I actually wish more qualified people would get their permits, more responsible people interested in doing it, with more rights to do what they want and carry where they want. The people who are obeying the laws are not the people I’m worried about.

DrFaulken: Have you talked to other officers on how they feel about it?

Donut: I have talked to a lot of officers about this, even before I decided to go into law enforcement, because of my own interest in concealed carry. I never had one bad response. They were either a big fan about it, or indifferent. One officer point blank said to me, “you’re not the guy we’re looking for.” The person they’re looking for is illegally carrying a stolen firearm.

DrFaulken: So after the Academy, are you assigned a partner? Do you get your own cruiser?

Donut: Yeah, so after the Academy you are a sworn officer, and you are paired with a field training officer. I don’t know if you switch off, or you get the same one the whole time. But there is a requirement that you have to ride so many hours and shifts with a field training officer. You also have to show proficiency with certain things before they cut you loose on your own. After that, you are on a probationary period with the department, and only after that are you issued your own car.

DrFaulken: Right now, do you have any aspirations, like K-9, or SWAT?

Donut: There are some things that are interesting to me, like detective work. I’ve met some of the guys who specialize in robbery and auto theft. Some of the training roles might be kind of neat. Those are the two I’ve thought about. But like anything, once I’ll get in and see what people do, I might find some things that interest me that I previously wasn’t interested in, and vice-versa.

DrFaulken: Here are some guest questions. “Do you like donuts?”

Donut: I do [laughs], I do like donuts. I’m a little bit saddened, because I don’t know if I can go to get donuts in uniform. I may have to call some people up to get donuts for me. On the other hand, I like humorous things, so it might be awesome to go get donuts in uniform.

DrFaulken: There’s always the question about traffic violation quotas, or if there’s an incentive program to write more tickets. If there is such a thing, would you tell a civilian about it?

Donut: There is no such thing. When I went on my ridealong, the officer explained it like this: there is no requirement. But you are expected to do certain things in between calls, like look for expired tags and other things. So if you show up at the end of the month, and you have a lot less tickets than the other officers, your superiors will ask why you’re not doing your job. You see a lot of cops around here at the end of the month because they haven’t been doing their job consistently. Instead of spreading it out throughout the month, they wait until the end of the month and go “crap, my sergeant is going to see this” and then they go out and write a bunch of tickets.

DrFaulken: Guest question number three: does your wife like the uniform?

Donut: I have been fitted for my uniform, but don’t have it yet. I have a few pieces of my training uniform and actual dress uniform. Yes, she is very excited about the uniform [laughs].

DrFaulken: Any other concerns with becoming a cop?

Donut: I’ve never been into sports, or in a fight. I’ve gotten my ass kicked before.

DrFaulken: Well, the good news is you’re now in the biggest gang in the city.

Donut: [Laughs.] So I have some anxieties about that. I’ve lead a peaceful life, and now I have to chase someone down and attack them.

Donut starts his Academy training next week. Big thanks to him for this interview, and for his service. I just hope he doesn’t pull me over some day near the end of the month. 😉

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1 Comment on "Picking up the shield"

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  1. Stomper says:

    I’ve read this article a couple times now. First kudos to Doc for writing such an intimate portrait of his friend! I can only assume that it was difficult to write because you wanted to portray him and his decision accurately and in a positive light. I think you succeeded.

    And a big thanks to you, Donut, for being willing to share so much with Doc and his readers. I think it’s great that you’re going after the career in law enforcement that you’ve wanted for a long time. It’s hard to find the energy and momentum to make such big changes in one’s life, especially when you have more than just yourself to consider. I wish you all the best as you embark on this new journey.

    I think it’s great that someone who is as gentle as you (Donut) sound, is going into law enforcement. I hope that the indoctrination and exposure to unsavory individuals doesn’t affect your sense of self and personality in undesirable ways. And that you’re able to help people make positive changes in their lives with the gentleness and compassion you bring to the police department.

    This article also touched a little closer to home for me and made me think hard about my brother (and I’m just going to call him Toddles – “Toddles the Waddles” was his baby nickname). Parts of his path has been similar to yours. I can’t say that Toddles is as gentle and non-violent as you’re described to be. He has a quiet confidence about him and he’s big (6′ 3″ with broad shoulders – muscular but not fat — but a big boy). And I know that many people find his size and quiet demeanor intimidating. But when push comes to shove, he’s willing to use force.

    Toddles has been interested in law enforcement since he was in junior high. When he was in high school he participated in the Explorer’s program in our county. As part of that he rode along with deputies on the night patrol (weekends and summers). In our home town deputy positions are hard to come by and in the past, somewhat political. So just waiting around for one wasn’t an option. I think his interest was rooted more in serving his community than just in law enforcement. Either that or he’s just an adrenaline junky — probably some of both.

    He’s been on the volunteer fire department for over 15 years (since he was 18). [This really is a volunteer department – respondents to calls are paid a nominal fee that basically covers gas/milage and laundry bills. All of the volunteers have real jobs.And the number of respondents and who responds to any given call is dictated by who’s available and in the area. After the station has responded to a call (and it’s still in progress) it’s not uncommon for additional members to respond directly to the scene (on their way home from work).] Small community, small department.

    Toddles has a very strong sense that there is a right way to do things. Such as lead by example. There were problems with the reigning fire chief the first few years my brother was in the department. Many of the younger members didn’t have much respect for him as a chief, because the example he set wasn’t professional. He didn’t believe that firefighting certification was important. And in one instance he delayed the attempts to save a man in a burning home. The death that resulted from the chief’s indecision and lack of action damaged the morale of the department and shook the confidence of the small community in the department. My brother and another young man in the department made it their mission to get the chief to resign. Eventhough emotions were running high they allowed the chief to save face and resign with as much dignity as possible. Toddles has played several different roles in the department; chief, asst. chief and EMT. As chief he pushed to get all of the members of the department certified in basic firefighting and more advanced certs for individuals who were interested. He did this because it was the right thing to do, both for the individual firefighters (giving them more tools to stay save and do a better job) and for the community.

    Until a few years ago his real job was anything from tanker (gas) truck driver to security guard to furniture upholsterer to bank (auto) repossessor (I’m sure I’ve missed a couple other jobs). Toddles now has his paramedics license and works for the regional hospitals’ ambulance service. He seems to like it — definitely satisfies his adrenaline fix most of the time. 🙂 He’s kept his foot in the law enforcement door. He’s been a reserve deputy for the county for several years and rides patrol with the regular officers as frequently as possible. He’s taken all of the certification classes/requirements (pepper mace, all the shooting and number of ride along hours) that the county sherrif’s office requires before they will hire anyone and send them to school. He’s had to reset his goal from duputy to county corrections officer due to an injury to his knees on an EMT run. He’s in the best position he can be to get a CO position when one becomes available, now it’s just continue what he’s doing until a position becomes available.

    In all that he’s doing (the fire department, ambulance service/paramedic, and policy department) he sees a lot of people at their very worst (angry, hurt, hysterical, in pain, scared, suffering a major loss or just looped out of their minds) and most of the time he treats them with respect and compassion. He may bitch or joke about them later (without naming names), but in the moment that matters he handles them the way we would all want to be treated. I’ve thought about this for a couple days now. I don’t think his association with the police department has changed him for the worse. If anything I think it’s helped him grow up some (yes he needed it – OK big sister talking) and may even have made him a little more compassionate/understanding. I can’t say what the effect of only doing police work as “his” type of public service would have on his personality. But just like it’s not true that police officers only interact with aweful, mean, disrespectful people day in and day out; firefighters and paramedics are not always treated with warmth, appreciation and respect. So I think it’s equally possible for people in high pressure public service positions to become jaded/angry/distrustful/brooding…. I think it depends on your core personality, your support network and your sense of what’s right and wrong for you.

    I don’t think these kinds of jobs have to change you for the worse. And I think you can bring a lot to the table to make the experience better for everyone involved.

    Donut, I wish you all the best as you jump into your new career. I hope we get to hear updates as you progress! And seriously get pics when you go buy Crispy Cremes in your uniform!! 🙂