I’ve received several requests to address the seeming growth of an entitlement mentality within law enforcement, which serves to the detriment of the profession as a whole. In fact, as one asserted, this sense of entitlement is almost diametrically opposed to the very definition of professionalism itself. Readers shared examples of what they perceive to be an “it’s-all-about-me” perspective on the part of some of our fellow officers. One cited the all too common expectation that after 2 or 3 years in patrol an officer is “entitled” to a specialty assignment … regardless of whether he or she has put any effort into preparing for it. Another cited the oft-stated belief: “if they expect me to train, they have to pay me for it.”
While it’s been longer ago than some of you have been alive, I vividly remember advice my FTO gave me many years ago. On our first night together in patrol he started the evening with orientation. After focusing on safety and equipment he said, “I have some advice for you, which you’re free to accept or reject.” His advice?
All the county owed me was basic safety equipment and a paycheck based upon the premise I worked 40 productive hours a week. Beyond that, what I did, the equipment I did it with, and what I would become over the course of my career was up to me. I could get by and likely “do my 30” in uniform, in patrol. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to understand it’s a choice each individual officer makes.
More on that in a moment.
You’re Owed Nothing
As examples of what he’d just said he pointed out the flashlight, holster and other issued equipment. They would “do the job,” but there were better, safer and more effective equipment out there I might consider buying myself. He said, “the county doesn’t have an obligation to provide you with everything you want. It’s your choice, and if my life depended on it I would upgrade at my own expense.” He had made that choice, as did I the very next day.
He went on to discuss several of our coworkers by name. Both had been in patrol for nearly 20 years. According to my FTO one of them chose patrol because he liked it. He was qualified for more than one specialty assignment and, in fact, had turned down transfers to detectives on multiple occasions. He was well respected and looked to as a mentor by many of us.
The other wasn’t a longtime patrol officer by choice and couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been selected for a specialty assignment long ago. The cold hard fact was he’d done absolutely nothing to prepare for such an assignment and was only mediocre, at best, at patrol. His point of view was based solely on “time in grade;” he was entitled to get out of patrol, and because he hadn’t he was disgruntled on his very best day.
What sets a profession apart from a job is the willingness of its practitioners to take personal responsibility for improving themselves. That can mean, at times, taking classes at personal expense, and devoting off-duty time to learning skill sets making you a serious contender for more glamorous assignments or for future promotion. Self-improvement and personal responsibility are qualities any sensible police manager or administrator will look for when selecting people for important assignments within the organization. If you believe you’re entitled to something simply based on time spent in the organization, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve your goal. In short, you just don’t get it.
While I’m not one to make excuses for the lazy or unmotivated, I do understand the causation of the entitlement mentality in our society today. It begins in childhood, is reinforced through much of our educational system, and is double reinforced by a political philosophy and government, which is determined to make people dependent at all costs. The “system” rewards those who feel entitled, often to the economic (and other) detriment of those who work hard to improve themselves.
It’s not just our profession that suffers from this malady; it’s almost epidemic in our nation today. The long-term costs of this orientation, however, are great. In the case of law enforcement, if entitlement becomes both the expectation and the reality, any thought of maintaining police work as a profession rather than simply a job will be lost. We’ll continue to address this topic next month.
Questions, comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Jerry at [email protected]
By Jerry Boyd