Police work can be exhausting. No, that's not really a complaint; it's just a statement of fact. I don't say that to garner sympathy from anyone nor in any effort to say that other jobs aren't exhausting. But law enforcement does come with its own set of unique stresses. It can be physically exhausting due to working in any number of harsh environments, the physical confrontations we may encounter, etc. It can be emotionally and spiritually draining because of how often we see people at their worst, deplorable circumstances or our brothers/sisters falling at the hands of an assailant or tragically, their own.
I have found the work of law enforcement to be much like the book/movie The Green Mile. In that story, character John Coffey touches those suffering and takes it upon himself. He experiences the pain with and for them so that they can find relief. In other words, time and time again I have found the quote that is most often attributed to George Orwell to be quite accurate:
"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf"
Given all this, if you haven't come to a point in your career where you ask "Why am I still doing this?" then just give it time, because if you're doing it right--you probably will. While cops do a lot of joking around (one of the only ways we can actually stay sane on this side of the thin blue line) and talk a lot about retirement countdowns and career changes, we need to seriously remember that when we begin to have our doubts, the reasons that will motivate us to stay in this job will be the very reasons we started. So here are a few reasons that many of us can relate to in some way
To help people: Yes, yes, it's the most cliché as well. This reason gets dogged a lot because it's generally over-idealized as though each officer had the ability of Batman to captivate and motivate an entire City. It's true that many rookies come in a little naive about what real change looks like. Still, wanting to make a difference by helping others isn't a bad thing when it's put in context. The world, or even your City/Town/Village won't be changed instantaneously by one selfless act. But you know what, if you encounter one person who needs help and you provide it, guess what---you helped that person, which just might mean the world to them.
It's also great to keep in mind, especially for non-cops reading this, that "help" in a community looks a lot more like an arrest of a drunk driver that was stopped before he hurt someone, or the stop and talk that was done with the drug addict eyeing your home for later to feed his habit, than it does to see a video of a cop playing basketball with some underprivileged children. They are not mutually exclusive, of course, but almost everything an officer may do in his career that truly helps keep a community safe goes relatively unseen. We aren't asking for that to change, but it can never hurt for people to understand.
Brotherhood: Being accepted is a universal human need and the world of law enforcement is no different. While most places take some time to really "earn your place", it makes it worth it when you find yourself surrounded by like minded individuals with whom you feel comfortable saying that you would take a bullet for them and knowing they'd do the same for you. Very few careers have this and it's very hard to articulate, as I am so weakly attempting to do here.
The "Fun Stuff": If you don't like to drive fast, shoot guns, jump fences and catch the "bad guy" then it may just be that social work in an office is a better fit for you (nothing wrong with that). Yeah, we get older and that comes with all the aches and pains, but years and years later, this is still a fun motivator to get up and get out there. We get to do some pretty cool stuff that would make adrenaline junkies jealous. Not only that, we get to laugh constantly at the utter nonsense (situation AND people) we get to see all the time!
It just fits: The very best of cops have the right mix of skill set and character. Sometimes, you see new cops come in that have the right character but just can't get the hang of the skills necessary to be effective. Other times, the people possessing some pretty impressive skills come along but they lack the character necessary to use those skills in a way that helps and doesn't hurt. The best is when you find your sweet spot in this line of work and your answer to why you're a cop becomes "It just fits." In this way, policing is a calling and is indeed more than a job. This is when you remember that nothing else would ever really work for you because you were born to do this.
To influence: It is one thing to help someone in need, it's another thing to actually come alongside them in a way that motivates them to do something great(er) with their life. Being a police officer puts us in a position of great authority that includes life or death decisions; the taking away of the very freedoms we are sworn to protect; and it's not easy. So anytime we have the chance to inspire others to a more significant sense of social responsibility, or safety, or character, we should seize that opportunity. This influence should go far beyond just inspiring a new generation of police officers, but a new generation of all sorts of law enforcement supporters who will partner with us in their community to make it a better place to live, work and play.
You see, The same things that contribute to making this job difficult are in the end the most rewarding. Each one of us has a choice in not only how we will start this race but whether or not we will finish well. When it seems like it's hard to push forward, take some time to step back and remind yourself of what brought you here in the first place.
If this article or circumstances in your life/career finds you struggling with stresses you don't understand or feel are getting out of control, please reach out. We are connected to resources like Under The Shield to assist you and your family free of charge.
(photo credit: The Abington Journal)