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Recognizing and Ignoring
Bad Advice
When you become a police officer, you’ll
probably be young.  Youth is
unquestionably an advantage for
beginning a police career for obvious
reasons.  Physical strength and agility will
serve you well in circumstances when
your ability to resist and overcome force
is required.

On the other hand, youth presents a
number of disadvantages.  A perception
of physical indestructibility is often a
common and natural phenomenon
associated with youth.  That perception
can cause a new police officer to hastily
act in incidents where a cautious
assessment of the circumstances would
be a better course of action.

The simple truth is that during your
police academy training, you’ll be
inundated with a lot of information to
prepare you for your new career.  The
simple truth continues that you’ll be
minimally prepared to do your job as a
police officer when you’re first thrown out
there on your own.  Because you’re
young, you probably won’t appreciate
your lack of preparedness.  From a
psychological perspective, that’s probably
a good thing to the extent that it won’t
unduly affect your self-confidence.

However, you need to realize that during
those first days, weeks and months of
your career, you’ll need to rely on
guidance and advice from others to
prevent mistakes and mitigate mistakes
you make… and you will make mistakes.  
Hopefully, you’ll be assigned to a
knowledgeable and experienced sergeant
who closely supervises you; until, the
sergeant determines that you’re capable
of performing your duties under minimal
supervision.  There will be plenty of times
when the sergeant is not available, and
you’ll turn to other members of your
squad for advice.  

Here’s where you have to use the
knowledge you have and simple common
sense to evaluate any advice you receive
from anyone.  You have to ask yourself,
does the advice sound reasonable?  
When defining reasonable, does the
advice conform to directives and policies
of your department.  Remember, bad
advice can sometimes sound reasonable
even when it contradicts your
department’s directives and policies.

Let’s use a scenario to demonstrate
some bad advice that could sound
reasonable:

In this scenario, your sergeant is not
exactly the knowledgeable and
experienced sergeant I described earlier.  
Your sergeant is an obviously intelligent
young man who was recently promoted
just after three years of service.  You’ve
only been on your own for a few weeks,
and the sergeant is closely supervising
you showing up frequently to observe
your activities.

In this instance, you’re assisting another
officer by towing two vehicles disabled in
a relatively serious traffic accident where
both operators have been hospitalized.  
You’ve conducted an inventory of both
vehicles to remove and submit any items
of value for safekeeping per your
department’s written directive.  

The only item you removed from one of
the vehicles is a cardboard box
containing six hard cover books.  The
books are old and worn and otherwise
unremarkable.  The box is setting on the
hood of your police car when your
sergeant arrives.  The sergeant inspects
the box, and he asks you about the
contents.  When you state your intention
to submit the books for safekeeping, he
authoritatively explains to you that items
of value would include things like
cameras, laptops and items of obvious
value.  The sergeant determines that the
books have no apparent value, and the
time it would take for you to submit the
property would needlessly keep you out
of service.
You follow your sergeant’s direction and
place the box back into the trunk of the
vehicle.  When you write your towed
vehicle report, you note the contents of
the box stating the books had no
apparent value.

When you report for work several days
later, your sergeant grabs you by the
arm, and he simply states, “Follow me.”  
He takes you into the shift commander’s
office where your lieutenant is sitting at
her desk.  Once you’re seated, the
lieutenant reads from your towed vehicle
report.  She asks you if the report is
accurate.  After you confirm the report,
she reads titles of books asking if the
titles read were contained in the box.  
Several of the titles sound familiar;
although, you had not gone to that detail
in describing the books.

Here’s where things begin to get
interesting.  Your sergeant is averting
eye contact with both you and the
lieutenant.  The lieutenant gives you the
bad news.  The vehicle owner reported
the books missing from the trunk of the
vehicle when he claimed his car from the
impound lot.  The lieutenant then gives
you the really bad news.  The books did
have value.  Five of the books totaled a
value of about $400.00.  The sixth book,
Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark
Twain, First Edition published in 1876,
comes in at $3,600.00.

The silence in that office starts to get
depressing as you wait for your sergeant
to speak up and take you off the hook.  
You look at the sergeant… he looks
away… the lieutenant looks at the
sergeant… he looks down.  The lieutenant
asks the sergeant, “Do you have
anything to say, Sergeant?”  The
sergeant shakes his head from side to
side.  The lieutenant looks back at you.

You’re processing a lot of information at
this point.  It’s obvious that your
sergeant is not a man you can trust.  
You’re learning a lot in a very short time.  
You quickly determine that your sergeant
will deny his direction to you regarding
the books.  You simply ask the
lieutenant, “What’s next?”  The
lieutenant explains that your action was
technically a violation of a departmental
directive since the items did have value.  
However, including the books in your
report clearly showed that you did an
inventory as required.  The fact that you
erred regarding the value of the books
was in no way negligent on your part
since assessing value of such items is not
in your job description.

The lieutenant tells you to consider this
meeting as a counselling session
regarding the incident and that she’ll be
recommending no further disciplinary
action.

Now, you might be asking, “Why
wouldn’t I tell the lieutenant exactly what
happened?”  Well, a number of things
must be considered.  If the sergeant
denies the direction you would have
alleged, that means either you or the
sergeant is lying.  When lying is
introduced, the incident rises to a whole
new and serious level.  You’re a brand
new police officer and still on probation.
Your police chief could summarily fire you
for any reason.  If the chief believes the
sergeant, you would be toast.  You have
yet to know the relationships within your
department.  For all you know, your
sergeant is well connected to any number
of people in power including the chief.

In the scenario, I actually put you in a no
win situation.  Your sergeant’s advice
was more than just advice, it was an
order.  Had you submitted the property
for safekeeping, your sergeant could
have conceivably charged you
administratively for insubordination.  As
the scenario demonstrated, this sergeant
will be predictably unpredictable.

You can be absolutely certain of one
thing.  At some point you will become a
victim of bad advice.  As long as you
apply reasonable standards, act in good
faith, and you know your department’s
policies and directives, you’ll ignore bad
advice whenever and wherever
possible.    

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