As my wife and I prepare to celebrate my youngest child’s upcoming graduation from the police academy, I find myself musing about what insights this retired, second-generation police officer can offer to him.
I pass right over the positives of the job, such as a good salary and benefits, the distinctive symbols and tools of authority – the badge, uniform and gun – or the ability to exercise authority and control over others, even physically when necessary. And I need not address the obvious negatives such as working holidays, poor sleep and eating habits, and dangerous encounters and circumstances. He is already aware of such things.
No, I find myself reflecting upon something far more subtle, and much more significant. How will becoming a police officer impact him as a person? And what, in this new career, will afford him the greatest sense of satisfaction and success?
The moment you are sworn in as a police officer, you are placed into a unique relationship with your community and its citizens. From that point forward, they will depend upon and place their trust in your honesty, reliability, justice and care for their well-being. Their dependence and trust means that they will also hold you to a higher standard than they hold others to.
The uniform and badge you wear will function as symbols declaring to all that you can be depended upon and that you willingly accept that higher standard. As one who has sworn to care for those in need, you will be called upon to serve people in every way you can imagine, from changing a flat tire, to putting your life on the line to protect them.
You will experience moments of great excitement as well as monotony, periods of elation and despair, and times when you will be esteemed or disparaged. You will most certainly be subjected to every psychological state of mind and emotion a person can be subjected to, often during a single shift. But you will keep it all in. Why? Because you need to maintain control of yourself so that you can help those in your community in their moment of need.
They will not see you go home and hug your spouse and children because your life had been put in danger, or because you had to break bad news to a family, or because you had to intervene in a domestic in which a wife had been physically abused and terror-filled children were crying. So you hug them to sooth the intense fear and hurt and rage you are feeling but cannot tell them about. As a police officer, you will bury these emotions for the good of everyone else, especially your own family.
Is it any wonder, consequently, that police officers have one of the highest rates of stress, alcoholism and divorce of all careers, and, typically, a much shorter life span than average? Should we be surprised that the habitual need to bury their emotions causes so many officers to become cynical, stoic and dissatisfied with their vocations?
So if being a police officer has such pain and risks, why become one? Because I have found that being a police officer can also make you a more caring person and provide you with the kind of deep and abiding satisfaction that few careers can – that of knowing that you protect, seek justice for and otherwise do what you can to look after those who are vulnerable and in need. “To Serve and Protect” – it can be an ennobling vocation; that’s why.