The Five Most Dangerous Mistakes at the Police Academy
1. Thinking study preparation for entrance exams is enough preparation for academy training.
This first mistake is probably the most common in terms of getting started. When I went through the police academy, I noticed it was not the smartest or brightest people who were keeping up with the immediate and shocking study load.
The people who were managing it (and actually enjoying the course) were those who had figured out the best way to learn and rapidly assimilate new information.
This is quite different to the entrance exams which are just about testing existing skills such as reasoning, writing and speaking. The fact is that none of these are as heavily used as the requirement to LEARN new things. Yet your ability to learn is often skipped in the selection testing. So if you don’t get your ability to learn sorted, you may be in for a rude surprise in just how ‘prepared’ you thought you were…
2. Relaxing on fitness standards after physical entrance tests
Even though my academy training stated that we would be assessed on the selection standards when we actually started, I was surprised at how many people in my squad could not even perform at the same standard as when they were tested.
I certainly understand that there is more pressure to perform in testing, as you only get ONE shot to prove yourself against hundreds of other applicants. So it is tempting to think that “the hard work is over now” once you’re given a place at the academy.
The reality is that fitness expectations at the academy are even higher than the selection tests. Plus there is not just one session to attend. There are frequent sessions every WEEK. This means that fitness recovery skills become a new requirement.
Your resilience to perform physically only a day or two after an arduous training session can only be improved by frequent training.
I remember one poor guy who made this mistake and was constantly running behind (literally) for the entire course. Plus on many afternoons when the rest of us were finished, he would be required to go through remedial fitness training. Sometimes with staff, sometimes with some of us fellow recruits, but often on his own. But the hidden cost of this was that he needed to work so much on his fitness throughout the course that he had little time OR ENERGY left to meet the heavy study load.
You can avoid this mistake by aiming to improve your standards in the lead up to academy training. An added benefit of a high fitness level is that you will have the energy to keep up with the real challenges, like remembering everything new that you’re learning. If you’re physically shattered all the time, then your brain will be like a sieve. Information will just be passing through and you won’t have a clue what law is what!
3. “I’m a police officer now…”
In some academies you will actually be sworn in as police officers on the first day of the training. This is a recent trend and is practical in terms of making sure you have all the authority mandated to participate in practical work experience throughout your training.
However, this is a dangerous change.
If you think that being a police recruit is the same as being a police officer, you open yourself up to making dangerous decisions whilst you’re still very green.
The more effective approach to take is to have confidence that you are now a police officer BUT also understand that you have zero experience. So take every opportunity to learn by watching on the street and only participating in training scenarios.
Avoid unnecessarily exposing yourself as a police officer early in your training. For example, whether you’re driving or taking some other mode of transportation to the academy each day, travel in civilian clothes only. Don’t wear half a uniform or even hang your shirt in the car window.
If you’re going anywhere but the academy, leave your badge at home. It is tempting to carry around your fancy police wallet. Yet if you don’t have it, then you remove the opportunity to make a bad decision to show someone inadvertently or inappropriately. The most common ‘idiot’ behaviour I’ve seen is recruits pulling out their police I.D. card as proof of identity at nightclubs and bars. DO NOT DO THIS. You won’t get any credibility and you certainly won’t get discounts or freebies. (The same goes for fast food chains!)
Police recruits have actually been removed from training for this sort of behaviour.
Enjoy the academy training as a ‘recruit’ and wait for your practical and supervised work experience before you start learning from real mistakes!
4. Looking at the academy as an isolated event
This mistake relates to the way that certain recruits interact with squad mates and instructors. Whilst the academy is a small part of the police organisation, it is a temporary posting for both recruits and staff. This means that you will very likely be working with your fellow squad mates AND your instructors once you graduate.
This means that the relationships you build or destroy in the academy will follow you around for the rest of your career. The other magnifying phenomenon within the police service is the ‘gossip’ effect. Even if you don’t directly work with those beside you at the academy, you will at the least work with their mates.
And police officers have a habit of talking about other police officers.
So when you’re posting in to a new station, the other officers will likely be asking around from other officers what sort of operator you are. Whether for better or worse, the reputation that precedes you often relates to whether or not people like you. If they like you, they forgive your weaknesses. If they don’t like you, your strengths are forgotten and your weaknesses amplified.
An example of how this can go wrong is two of the most skilful officers I’ve met who developed an intimate relationship whilst at the academy. They were in different squads, so had slightly different social circles. Shortly after the academy, they ended their relationship. Yet what struck me was how this event overshadowed their profiles in the eyes of their former squad mates. Each squad often referred to Officer A as the guy/girl who broke up with Officer B. No reference to skills. Just a definition of someone who couldn’t maintain a relationship.
I don’t tell you this so you avoid making friends and developing relationships. Rather just a cautionary of an extreme case. The take away point is to be aware that you are developing a reputation, good or bad, from your very first day at the academy. It is impossible that everyone will like you, but you can at least focus on maintaining solid character. Look after your mates as well as yourself and keep a long term view of your academy experience.
5. Data dumping
Continuing on from the mistake of viewing the academy as an isolated event is looking at the study material and exams as a series of tests to get past and forget. It may seem obvious that the examinations at the academy are not just for the sake of having assessments.
Yet there are recruits who make the mistake of trying to negotiate an assessment relative to the pass mark required. So if an exam requires a 70% pass mark then that is the standard they are shooting for.
Instead, look at the exams as just part of the course. Your ultimate purpose in study is to absorb the information that allows you to employ it when it matters. On the street as an operational police officer.
If you set this high standard, then the exams become a stepping stone, rather than the end objective. This has a couple of extra side benefits.
Firstly, you will relieve yourself of a lot of stress when you put the exam in the proper perspective (it is an exam and therefore not a real life and death situation).
Secondly, your ability to retain information is greatly enhanced when you are constantly putting the information into the context of real policing. Imagine the consequences of remembering and not remembering in real terms and your mind will subconsciously form stronger connections that embed the information in long term memory.
Incredibly, this doesn’t require much additional effort but rather a switch in focus on the REASON you are conducting your study.
If you’re interested in developing your preparation for police training as well as more stories from within the academy walls, keep an eye on your emails for the coming course ‘Police Academy Secrets’…