New Kid on the Block
By Anthony Mikatarian
Hiring a new officer can be exciting and complicated. On the one hand, it is exciting to get someone new, usually younger and full of vigor. However, the initial unknowns of this recruit’s character, coping skills, knowledge, trustworthiness, stamina and reliability can sometimes overshadow this excitement. Just because someone is wearing a shiny new uniform, badge and gear does not automatically demand respect, trust and friendship from veteran peers.
There are a few qualities that veterans first look to see in a rookie. They are trustworthiness, social skills and the likelihood of possessing life and death situational capabilities. The appropriate socialization of a rookie is necessary for their success and the organization’s effectiveness, as well as public safety.
Over time, relationships develop. The rookie should always demonstrate he or she is willing to learn a strong work ethic, pacification ability and solid decision-making ability. In the law enforcement culture, these skills are necessities, yet are not direct roads to gain the full respect of veteran peers. Within every agency, there do exist social cultures that usually dictate when that culture indeed accepts the rookie.
Commonly associated with new officers are the thrills—the unrealistic cockiness and enthusiasm he or she feels during the early years on the job. They usually crave the nonstop action, constant work productivity and receive immense job satisfaction. Their gusto usually surpasses veteran officers in these categories, which sometimes results in teasing by the veterans. Also, during this time rookies may think that they are more knowledgeable than the seasoned veterans or may believe that the experienced officer is salty. This is where things get complicated. Moreover, if mutual understandings are not formed, relationships can sour quickly.
Veterans can sometimes be unpleasant to rookies when they feel the rookie’s behavior is not socially recognized in the police culture or when they feel the rookie has crossed the line professionally or socially. As long as the veteran officer’s intentions are authentic, constructive criticism about the rookie officer’s temperaments and attitude are beneficial. The rookie needs tough skin to endure a reasonable amount of grumbling veterans while proving themselves to their peers. As you can see, all officers—rookies and veterans—experience a unique and complex internal social culture in our profession.
Acceptable social norms usually don’t apply in the police culture because of the apparent nature of our profession. Rookies at first don’t understand that this profession tends to develop people into desensitizing experts, which to a degree is necessary to help navigate this profession on a daily basis. However, many times this desensitization can be perceived as harsh criticism and/or bullying toward the rookie from veterans. Many cops, because of the nature of our work and dangers our job entails, tend to be more direct toward each other when we have a concern or an educational offer. Also, veterans utilize light-hearted humor to balance our desensitization and to help alleviate the everyday patrol grind. These kinds of interactions at first may be confusing or taken as a negative by rookies with little experience in this area. Rookies shouldn’t take these as negative undertones but utilize them as a motivational drive to silence the naysayers and as a tool to prove that they can do it. However, please don’t misconstrue my commentary that it is permissible to tolerate a mean-spirited bullying veteran officer. Unfortunately, there are a few of these bad apples representing the blue, and there are ways to deal with them. However, that’s a different article.
As rookie officers develop over the years, there is a significant transition, as they inevitably become veterans. They mature with an educated disposition that experiences on the job had taught them, successfully navigating all the types of situations during a patrol day. They develop a keen intelligence, situational sense, confidence, steady calmness, disciplined wisdom, pre-game preparedness and leadership skills. It’s a beautiful transition that can make that now-veteran officer highly effective on many levels.
Once a rookie transitions into an experienced officer, the peer pressure typically fades. There will always be humor or criticism at anyone’s expense during a police career, but the need to continually prove oneself will dissipate. Over time, we all gain some level of trust, brotherhood, friendship and respect with our peers, even from those who won’t publicly or personally admit that.
Some rookies may face dissonant socialization from veterans and peers. Each agency has unique written and unwritten rules when it comes to their agency’s social culture. Should a rookie stick it out and power through this socialization process, the payoff is invaluable by having the privilege and honor to serve and protect their community. In the end, the community benefits when the police culture’s various skillsets positively complement each other. God Bless and stay safe. Anthony Mikatarian has been a police officer for over 17 years. He is currently assigned to patrol in a northern NJ municipality. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I., and another degree in Mortuary Science from the American Academy McAllister Institute in New York City.
New Kid on the Block