Two Sides to the Mentor Coin

Having a mentor is invaluable to any career – including law enforcement. But there are differing opinions concerning what exactly a mentor is and what he or she should or shouldn’t be doing on behalf of their charge. Unfortunately, not all of the confusion is being held by the newbies; there are plenty of senior officers who fail to understand the modern definition of a mentor.

Mentor- (noun) an experienced and trusted advisor; (verb) advise or train someone, usually a junior colleague.

The definition seems simple enough, but somehow it gets mistranslated to mean “providing undue influence on behalf or another” or “someone who greases the rails for a junior colleague” or so it so often seems. Too many junior officers believe that being an advisor equals doing their own job plus yours while still allowing them to garner credit when necessary while an equally disturbing number or potential mentors feel this is a legitimate part of the process. Nothing could be further from the truth.

mentorDon’t get me wrong, there are certainly those who for one reason or another take it upon themselves to use their own influence and experience to assist a younger member in advancing or even staying out of trouble. This extra attention may or may not be deserved but it is part of the culture and honestly it does not differ too much from one profession to another. Depending on what department you find yourself your “rabbi”, “hook” or “uncle” may or may not also act as a mentor but the two are mutually exclusive. More often than not, a mentor will be just what the definition suggests – a senior more experienced officer who is advising or training you in your new role.

So, how can you make the most of this mentor relationship? First, do not expect the mentor to do two jobs. Sure, training you will involve extra duty and probably extra time, but that does not mean a mentor will do their work and yours. A top notch mentor will offer advice, tips and experience-based lessons in an effort to allow you to make the correct decision, prepare a better report or seek out additional information. Second, use your mentor as training wheels and not a crutch. What I mean is learn from your mentor and put that knowledge to use rather than constantly relying on the mentor for the answer. While you may still run cases by them from time to time, the mentor relationship should reach the point where they are simply confirming what you have already decided is right. Third, don’t shift the blame either. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced your mentor may be, they are bound to make a mistake now and again. If this happens involving one of your cases and they point you in the wrong direction, remember it’s not the mentor’s fault; ultimately you made the final call and the blame rests with you.

Mentors can be a great source of information and knowledge not learned in books or at the academy. But a positive mentoring relationship requires realistic expectations by BOTH parties, not one built on watching old reruns of 1980’s cop dramas.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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