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Rookie Officers and Book Knowledge

In police work, book knowledge encompasses general orders, policy and procedure, traffic regulations, municipal regulations, criminal laws, court decisions, laws of search and seizure, and all other published departmental rules and regulations.

The job is more than a place of employment. It is a career and a huge part of a police officer’s life.

On graduation day at the police academy, all the cadets are anxious to start their first assignment. They have learned much and studied hard. They are physically fit, trained well in the use of their service weapons and can operate a vehicle in the most extreme circumstances. Their department’s orders, policies and procedures, manuals, rules, and regulations are in the forefront of their minds, and they’re confident they know them chapter and verse.

On their first day out, they are assigned to a Field Training Officer or perhaps a seasoned and experienced partner. Sometime during their first week in their new assignment, they may encounter someone less than enlightened who says, “Forget everything you learned in the academy.”

I hope it isn’t their training officer.

This is not sage advice and is likely coming from someone who doesn’t know or care what that rookie officer worked so hard to learn and has no interest in learning it. But what is taught in the law enforcement academies does actually work.

The information in departmental orders, policies and procedures, manuals, rules, and regulations is there for a reason. The most professional, highly effective, dedicated, committed, and ethical law enforcement officers know their books well and apply their knowledge every day on the job.

After a period, rookie officers are cut loose from their training partners, a significant achievement. Too often, rookies see this as a time to kick back. No more books for them—their studying days are over. All those books will now be dust catchers in the bottom of their locker.

Mistake! I can guarantee that over time, they’re going to lose much of what they learned. It may happen slowly, but it will happen.

So they forget some things over time. What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is this: the public they serve has a legitimate expectation that police officers know what they are doing and that what they are doing is lawful and in accordance with their department’s orders, rules, and regulations.

Whether they’re dealing with a domestic dispute, a missing five-year-old, a barricaded armed escapee, an industrial accident at a construction site with fatalities, or a multiple fatality traffic accident, police officers will be more effective as first responders or incident commanders if they know chapter and verse what their department’s procedures are for handling these events.

At best, failures at these events make an officer look like the proverbial “dumb cop.” But at worst, violent offenders go free, officers or citizens get hurt, delays in rescue or medical care cause deaths, or critical evidence is lost.

Ignorance is anything but bliss.

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About Ross Swope

In a career spanning more than four decades, I rose through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police Department in both uniform and investigative positions. I began as a uniform patrolman and retired 27 y


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