Unlike large agencies that tend to hire in groups, small to mid-size agencies usually hire one or two officers at a time. This can tempt leadership to down play the new hire swearing-in ceremony also known as the Oath of Office ceremony or Badge Pinning ceremony. This mistake can have a long term impact on the new hire and his/her family. It may be a lost opportunity to establish a sense of loyalty in your newest employee.
In 1992, on the day I took the Oath of Office to become a police officer, I had no idea that was going to take place. The way things were explained to me on the phone, I thought I was actually going to a final interview with the chief. When it came time to meet the chief, he talked to me for less than five minutes, he reached into his desk, pulled out a gun and a badge. He told me to raise my right hand and repeat after him. He shook my hand and then handed me off to a sergeant who took me to get fitted for a bullet resistant vest and uniforms. Based on the information I was given prior to the meeting, I did not know I was going to take the Oath of Office right then and there.
In an era before cell phones, as soon as I could I broke away to use a pay phone (for the younger readers that's a phone located in a public place you put coins in, in order to make a call) and called my mother to tell her I had gotten the job. As you can imagine, when I called her she hit me with the rapid fire questions one would expect a mother to have “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come with you. Did you take any pictures? Is that it or is there a formal ceremony?” As you can guess, I didn’t have any of the right answers.
That experience, my first official law enforcement experience, is why when I became the training sergeant one of the first things I implemented was the "Orientation for New Hires’ Families". This orientation occurs after a formal swearing-in and badge pinning ceremony. In an attempt to make the occasion a big event, we invite all city employees to join the new officers’ families. We invite current officers, civilian staff, elected officials, the city manager and other department heads. Each ceremony is generally well attended. This helps set the tone for how significant an event the swearing-in is. Time is allotted for the families to take pictures and videos of their newly sworn-in officers.
After the family has taken their fill of pictures, we start the new hire family orientation. The orientation is about 45 minutes long and is partially based on the book I Love a Cop by Ellen Kirschman, Ph. D. The concept behind holding this class is in part to take the opportunity to thank the family for sharing their new officer with our law enforcement family and to explain to the family what life with a law enforcement is about.
In great detail we discuss with the family the grind of the field training program, the nature of police work, shift work and the benefit packages the officer receives. We don’t shy away from some of the stereotypes, myths, and pitfalls common in law enforcement. In the class we offer suggestions on how the family can play a role in helping their new officer avoid these issues. Tackling this conversation has to be carefully crafted to also highlight the all rewarding outcomes and sense of fulfillment an officers can find in their careers.
We found the best way to create balance is to put the officer on the spot right then and there in front of their family by giving them their first public speaking assignment. Without warning we ask the newly hired officer to stand and tell their family why they have chosen to become a police officer. The answers vary from feelings of service to others, family tradition, continuation of their military service, belonging to a team, and a host of other reasons. We use this as a foundation for the family. We tell the family that in times of hardship, when the officer is having negiative feelings about their job they should remind the officer of why they became an officer and give them an opportunity to refelect on those ideals.
We follow the class up with a station tour and allow the family to go to lunch with their officer (after the officer changes back into regular clothes). This program has been very well received and I can recall three occasion when family members have contacted me months later with questions or to secretly check in on the progress of their family member. How do you build a strong foundation with your new hires? Tell us about it at A Law Enforcement Journey.