Being a cop doesn’t make someone more important than anyone else or any other profession but it does mean that cops are unique. There are similar occupations (military, firefighting, ems/paramedic first responders) but just as a cop can’t claim to fully understand any of those particular jobs (with the exception in some cases of public safety departments) the job of a police officer stands unique in its own right. The best men and women who take on the vocation of being a police officer understand that it truly is a “calling” and not just a job. A good cop must be committed to a clear concept of the purpose of law enforcement in a way that transcends the notion of punching a clock and getting a paycheck.
These same men and women will find in a matter of years, however, that the job will change them. It will change their outlook on the world, their interactions with others and in some cases their very ability to deal with others who are not in law enforcement. They will find that once close relationships with friends and family may fade. Sometimes, that’s a natural thing and other times there is simply a lack of understanding of what stresses a cop endures in their day-to-day routines. Here are 4 stresses that cops deal with that are good to share with non-cops for a little insight as to what has been causing those changes in you (or a cop you know):
DAILY PREPARATION FOR BATTLE
People die every day. Accidents happen every day. In rare instances, a dramatic tragedy unexpectedly takes the lives of one or thousands. However, in general, most occupations involve a generally safe assumption that you will go to work and come home at the end of the day. Being a police officer requires that you prepare daily for death. We put on bullet proof vests and carry guns for a reason: we are ready for the fight, and unfortunately not every warrior comes home. Taking just the last 5 years of line-of-duty deaths into account, a police officer is killed in action every 2-3 days. To put that in perspective, that is 727 lives lost of men and women who gave all to serve others. Cops are at war out there. The Norman Rockwell vision of a police officer cannot always apply. A heart that desires to help others is a pre-requisite for this job, but a mind sharp and ready to defend is of equal necessity.
In one sense, we must relegate this reality into a part of our mind that permits us to be effective in continuing to move on and do our job with professionalism and self-sacrifice. In another sense, in order to be ready for the fight, we must remind ourselves daily that we are in it. In doing so, we’re better able to love our spouses, hug our kids more and help our friends however we can in this life.
LIFE IN A FISHBOWL
Police officers are not often warned significantly enough of the change that will take place in them from the job. The “cop attitude” simply cannot just be left at the office. The incidents they experience and things they see will change them outside of work too. They will not sit with their backs to doors or people; they will often not carry on a conversation by looking someone in the eye because they are looking at every person coming and going; they are running a hundred scenarios of what could go potentially wrong wherever they are, etc. This is only further complicated by the behavior and attitude required of police officers – even when off duty.
When people know you’re a cop, the truth is that you’re going to be held to a higher standard. You can argue whether that’s fair or not but it’s still true. The oath taken by officers isn’t limited merely to when they are wearing a uniform during working hours. Most departments have a standard of conduct that governs even off duty conduct, and violations of that standard can result in significant disciplinary action. In short, there are constant eyes on you and it is often difficult to find ways to de-stress and to blow off steam. The list of restaurants you can eat at or places you can go with your family will become smaller and smaller over the years as you learn who you can trust and who is willing to trust you.
We need to look no further than the incidents in Ferguson, MO to show that when the media (social or mainstream) gets a hold of a story, it won’t matter that a human being is dragged through the mud or forced to live a walking nightmare because of the fact he or she did their job the best they could. Officers are constantly aware of such scrutiny waiting around every corner, yet must boldly continue to go places no one else is willing to go and do things no one else is willing to do. As the famous quote says:
“people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
FRONT ROW SEAT TO DESPAIR
It is very rare for people to call the police when everything is going well. Instead, the police arrive when dad hits mom, when mom burns her child with a cigarette, when a brother or friend has been found dead with heroin needles in their arms, when a rollover accident has taken the life of a young family, when someone’s privacy has been violated in a burglary or robbery, or when you’ve been the victim of a scam – and the list goes on.
Seeing these things day in and day out will take a toll on any officer. Often people wonder why an officer seemed angry when they saw them, or perhaps didn’t smile and wave. Perhaps that officer has just gone from doing CPR in a fast moving ambulance on a newborn infant to an hour later taking a report on damage to someone’s property. Perhaps that person making a damaged property report thought the officer was distant or cold; or perhaps that the officer didn’t care that their vehicle was scratched. However, it’s not that they don’t care; it’s just that people don’t often see what that officer sees or do what that officer does.
To be fair, police officers need to also understand that we must also consider the same for all those we are dealing with. People call the police when they are in need and under stresses. So, not everyone hates the police even though they may just seem that way in the moment because we too, haven’t just been through what they’ve been through, etc.
RIDING THE INCIDENT ROLLER COASTER
At any point in the tour of duty of an officer, you can move from trying to eat your lunch to driving at high speeds, running after a suspect, pointing your firearm at someone and be in a split second life or death decision. You can go from a parking complaint to a child hit by a car back to someone getting a ticket for shoplifting and then on to someone being chased with a knife…You get the idea.
These types of roller coaster scenarios can affect an officer both emotionally and physically. Cops should take note and find healthy ways to keep themselves balanced, and friends and family of cops should understand these stresses and how they may change their moods. Friends and family should be ready to help encourage officer they care about to find the right outlets to de-stress.
So…when you see your cop friend behaving a little distant–maybe these are some of the reasons why and stresses he’s enduring. If you are a cop finding yourself struggling with these stresses remember that your friends who are not in this field may not understand, and the only way they will is if you share some of this with them. Cut them some slack and also seek to understand them. If you are truly struggling and having a hard time overcoming the stresses of the job, please speak up to a trusted brother or sister in blue, or find another qualified resource for help.