Book Trek: A Review of “400 Things Cops Know – Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman”

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Book Trek:  A Review of “400 Things Cops Know – Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman”

The Author
Adam Plantinga

Background: A career police officer with a B.A. in English and a second major in Criminology/Law Studies from Marquette University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude in 1995.

He has been on the job since 2001, first with the Milwaukee Police Department, and now with the San Francisco Police Department. He currently holds the rank of Sergeant, and his LinkedIn profile shows numerous endorsements for “Interrogation”, “Evidence” and “Private Investigations”.

Length and Readability
189 pages of text, plus a short forward and introduction

The content delivers on the promise of the title. There are 400 short entries categorized by topics such as “27 Things Cops Know about Shots Fired” and “21 Things Cops Know about Thugs and Liars”. The items range in length from one sentence to 2 paragraphs.

This book is a genuine page-turner. It feels like a seasoned beat cop telling a rookie “Take out your notebook, kid. I am going to share a few things you need to know.”

Highly recommended, because although this is not an investment book, it has a lot to teach about professional development in any field.

What Is the “Big Idea” In This Book?
Policing is a much harder and more important job than working in finance, but there are similarities between the two vocations.

  • For example, no two days are the same in either profession. There are stretches where the work is routine, but those are randomly punctuated with unanticipated and novel challenges that you need to get right.
  • Experience gives you a notable advantage since there is simply no way to learn either job without time on the clock. Over time you develop “Tricks of the trade” that help, but those have to be put into a flexible framework because every situation is different.
  • Also, a large part of both jobs involves rapidly unpacking the true motivations of new people you meet. Is the guy talk to me carrying a gun, or just a bottle of booze in his windbreaker? Did that CFO just lie to me?
  • A seasoned police officer has had thousands of interactions with individuals in stressful situations. Finance professionals can learn a lot from them.

The author collects his knowledge into 19 chapters around a common theme. Examples of “Things cops know about” include the following:

  • “Working with the public”. Item #1 in the chapter: “If the public screams at you, don’t scream back. Because if they piss you off, they own you.”
  • “The use of force”. Item #4:” If someone fights you, you can’t afford to lose. Assume they will try to take your gun and use it against you and your partner.”
  • “Thugs and liars”. A surprising Item #19 from that chapter: “Victims may lie as well… They may have been involved in the very criminal activity they are now claiming to be a victim of.”
  • “Being on the job”. Item #1: “They say it takes about five or six years on the street before a police officer reaches an acceptable level of proficiency. Before that, you’re just treading water.”

My suggestion is to use this book as inspiration for creating your own “400 Things I Know About Doing My Job”. Chapters might include

  • “Quickly knowing when management is hiding something” if you are a securities analyst or portfolio manager.
  • “Training my staff” if you manage a team.
  • “Knowing when I have made an investment mistake” if you run money.
  • “Making sure I achieve a work/life balance” regardless of your job function.

“400 Things Cops Know” is a great example of such how to codify career knowledge that takes years to acquire and is all too easy to forget.

Anything Wrong With It?
There are several very public controversies about policing at the moment, which intersect with American race relations, social justice and income inequality. The author addresses these issues head-on, but also reminds the reader that cops are humans too, charged with a dangerous but necessary job.

Plantinga hits the right notes through the book: the need for police men and women to be honest, compassionate, and thoughtful in their daily work. But if your worldview doesn’t allow for police to share the same human frailties (fear, faulty judgment, etc.) as the rest of us, this book is most certainly not for you.

The Author’s LinkedIn Profile:

Link to purchase on Amazon:

Other Reviews Of This Book:

+4.0 stars from Goodreads:

From the New York Journal of Books:

And The Wall Street Journal: