The shift (or platoon) roll call briefing is a time-honored tradition. The entire shift of officers meets for it prior to hitting the street each day. The briefing may be as formal as a standing inspection or as informal as sitting behind rows of desks. The main purpose is the exchange of information. It's the supervisor's only opportunity to address all their officers at the same time. Most of the information will come from either the shift commander or platoon sergeant to the officers. However, constructive feedback and dialog are encouraged by many progressive agencies.
According to most departmental duty manuals, the purpose of daily roll call is to ensure an effective means of communication and exchange of operational, criminal and administrative information between officers and supervisors of the department on a consistent and perpetual basis. It is a forum to train and disseminate information to officers and a means of inspecting the officers' dress and equipment. In other words, officers are briefed, trained, assigned and inspected.
The first job for a new officer is to arrive early. How early? Before your field training officer (FTO) arrives and at least thirty minutes before the briefing. Allow extra time for everything. It will all be brand new, and every task will take a new officer longer. It may even take longer than anticipated to locate the briefing room.
A new officer will usually be inspected by their FTO before they ever enter the briefing room. The officer's uniform should be neatly pressed with sharp military creases, their shoes highly polished to a mirror finish and their duty belt should be set up correctly. The FTO will be verifying the answers to three questions:
Does the rookie have all of their gear?
Is their uniform squared away?
Is the new officer properly groomed?
Any screw up by the new officer reflects poorly on the FTO.
The field training officer program is essential to the future success of any new officer. Having graduated from the police academy, the rookie will have learned the basics of police work. However, they must now learn how these skills apply to the officer's department and the real world they will patrol. The FTO will usually spend several months with a new officer, teaching and guiding them on everything from vehicle stops to using police handcuffs. Most programs require daily reports documenting the progress, strengths and weaknesses of the new officer. The training will continue until one or more FTOs agree that the new officer is ready for a solo assignment. Once in the briefing room, the new officer will be standing or seated next to their FTO.
The sergeant or superior officer handling the briefing will have the day's agenda. The first order of business will be to determine that all officers are present. This may be followed by the assignment of sectors, cars and lunch times. A new officer riding with an FTO will usually have a nice, newer car. They shouldn't get used to it. As the junior officer, once they clear the FTO program, they'll be assigned one of the older cars in the fleet, sometimes referred to as the widow makers. No one wants to risk a new car on the untested driving skills of a rookie.
A normal briefing will include the sharing of many different types of information. A summary of important cases from the prior shifts may be given. This is important so the on-coming platoon is aware of continuing investigations and hot spots of criminal activity or disorderly conduct. Several types of flyers will be reviewed. Wanted person flyers, or in cop terms, BOLOs. BOLO is an acronym for Be On the Look Out.
Stolen vehicle reports will be covered in hopes that the vehicle will be located during the shift. The new officer should be sure to copy down vehicle descriptions and tag numbers of stolen cars. Missing persons will also be covered. If a flyer isn't given to each officer, it will be necessary for the new officer to write down a physical description of the missing person along with a clothing description. Any new orders, departmental directives or patrol memos will be read to the group, and, if necessary, discussed and clarified.
The new officer should have their interview notepad out to take detailed notes. The rule for rookies is that if a sergeant says it, it must be important, so write it down. If a sergeant sees a rookie failing to take down important information, it's not unusual for the sergeant to stop and quiz the rookie right on the spot. There's nowhere to hide, short of crawling under the desk, so remember to take good notes and pay attention.
At some point during the briefing, the sergeant will introduce new officers to the rest of the squad. Some sergeants like to see what the new officers are made of, and will put the rookie on the spot and ask them to stand, introduce themselves and tell the officers something about their past. Other sergeants may ask the rookie a question, such as, "Why do you want to be a cop?" Be forewarned: there are no right answers and whatever the reply, the other officers will enjoy a bit of lighthearted entertainment at the stammering rookie's expense. Don't take it to heart — it's all a part of being accepted into the group as a provisional member.
The next part of many briefings will include training. This is a short lesson or review of case law. Many questions come up during a shift and are directed to the sergeant to make the decision. If the sergeant believes the unit could benefit from the answer, it may be covered in the following day's briefing as a teachable moment. Other departments have a set agenda where the same lesson is taught department-wide, such as investigative skills or law enforcement de-escalation techniques.
Briefings are also an excellent time for the sergeant to commend a particular officer or officers on their handling of a case or situation. With a lot of sergeants, this almost never happens, so when it does, enjoy the moment. Don't expect it to happen often, though.
The new officer may have to stand for inspection either before or after the briefing. Expect the sergeant to find something wrong — even if everything is perfect, they will find something. A new officer will never get past their first inspection without some flaw, even if it's an imaginary one. It signifies that there is always room for improvement, especially for newbies. Either way, make sure your duty uniform and police footwear are up to par.
Be warned: if the rookie's first tour is on the day shift, there may be a surprise visit from the brass. Usually, a lieutenant or even the division commander will make their presence known. They may talk about crime statistics or neighborhood crime trends. Try to seem interested, take lots of notes, keep your head down and hope you're not called on. A good leader may even take the time to welcome the new officer to the department. Just in case, be ready with a quick response, such as, "Glad to be here, sir."
Some briefings can be sufficiently informal in that officers make wisecracks and everyone laughs. This is a behavior not to be emulated by any new officer. The things a twenty-year veteran gets away with are not something a new officer should even consider.
A new officer is expected to be seen, but not heard unless spoken to. They should be like a sponge, absorbing all the knowledge and experience of the officers around them.
The key to a rookie surviving their first briefing is to be early. Be well prepared. Be perfectly uniformed. Be confident yet respectful, and have a good sense of humor.
One of the all-time best portrayals of actual police briefings was the 1980s hit TV sitcom Hill Street Blues. Sergeant Phil Esterhaus ended every briefing with the same immortal words, "Hey, let's be careful out there."
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