10 signs you definitely have cop brain

Once you have it, it’s almost impossible to shake.


By Donut County Cop, PoliceOne Contributor 

It develops pretty quickly in some of us, and others take quite a bit of time to acquire it. Some can’t get it no matter how hard they try and eventually filter out to do other things.

You may think I’m referencing common sense, but you can’t really claim to have common sense when you regularly head in the direction of shots fired calls, violent disturbances and traffic crashes on a busy interstate. Common sense would dictate that you head in the opposite direction of those things. If your job requires you to wear something ballistic and carry a firearm to protect yourself, you hopefully have it – it’s called “cop brain.”

Police officer with her arms crossed. (photo/Pixabay)
Police officer with her arms crossed. (photo/Pixabay)

It can keep us alive and drives our friends and family insane. Cop brain can be a great thing while you’re on duty, but it can make you look pretty silly while you’re not at work. 

Check out the list of 10 symptoms and see if you have the condition:

Symptom 1: The phantom of the radio
After wearing a lapel microphone attached to a portable radio for hours on end while on duty, it becomes second nature to lean your head in the direction of the mic in order to hear what is being said. It’s a totally normal behavior while you are in uniform and actually have the lapel mic on, but if you’ve ever done it while you weren’t in uniform and the mic was nowhere around you, welcome to the club. I’m not only a member, I’m the president.

Symptom 2: The cop license plate game
Like a lot of others who patrol the beat in between calls for service as a police officer, I pay attention to the license plates near me just in case there’s one that is expired and begging to be stopped for a simple equipment violation. Sometimes I may even say the license plate number out loud to make it easier to remember as I type it into the computer to check the plate’s status. If you have cop brain it’s hard to shut this off, and you’ll likely drive your family crazy on long trips as you consistently point out all of the expired plates around while sometimes muttering them aloud.

Symptom 3: Sharing the cop-fu wealth
Since we deal with folks who don’t necessarily want to comply with us from time to time, we have mandated cop-fu training that consists of refreshers on pressure points, arm bar takedowns, and other similar tactics. If your 5-year-old can drive a bony little thumb into the mandibular angle of his classmates because you’ve shared this wealth of information with him, you probably have cop brain. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but just remember, it’s all fun and games until the kindergarten teacher wants a special meeting with you to discuss little Johnny’s technique.

Symptom 4: The critical eye
As a whole, Americans love movies. And many of those loved movies have some sort of gun fight in the plot. If before you were a cop you enjoyed these without any sort of analysis but now you find yourself counting the rounds fired and calling bull when a magazine change would be needed but the Hollywood firearms seem to have an infinite capacity, welcome aboard. You get extra bonus points if you insist on pointing out the inaccuracies with those around you in the theater during the movie. 

Symptom 5: Been there, heard that
If someone starts a story with “you’ll never believe what happened at/when” and you secretly think “nothing you say will surprise me,” it’s your cop brain at work. We see it all. Humans are unpredictable creatures. We get paid to wade into the shallow end of the gene pool on a regular basis, so we have to keep ourselves open to the possibility that something ridiculous is possible. So yeah, try me, I’ve surely heard it before.

Symptom 6: I swear, by the moon and the stars it’s a lie
It doesn’t take long to develop this one, but if you hear any combination of “I swear (to God), (on my mother’s grave), (on my kids),” etc. and immediately know that what comes next will be an outright lie, you have cop brain. I’m not absolutely positive, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it on the street and later found out it was true except for the occasional drunk drivers that say “I swear to God I had no idea you were a cop when you were behind me.” 

Symptom 7: The occasional creeper
If you are so used to getting special attention from little kids while you are in uniform that you’ve ever creeped out some parents while you were off duty in civvies by waving or talking to their child, that’s cop brain. In the middle of a shift it’s always nice to get a smile from a little one, and it’s a good practice to make them feel comfortable around a cop. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the other people around you don’t actually know you are a cop when you aren’t in the uniform. Then you feel compelled to clarify things for the parents so they know you aren’t driving a panel van with “free candy” signs posted in the windows.

Symptom 8: First-time caller
When you make a telephone call to a business to speak with their customer service folks or to just order a pizza and you deliver the required information by rattling off the individual letters with the phonetic alphabet just so you don’t have to repeat yourself again, it’s the cop brain coming to your aid. If you’re like me, you don’t talk on the phone too often while you’re off duty, so you get a gold star if you have to consciously keep yourself from starting the conversation by introducing yourself with name, rank, and agency. 

Symptom 9: The cop knock
I haven’t kept track of it, but at this point, I’m sure I’ve knocked on a few thousand closed doors while on duty. It’s always the same—four quick, loud raps on the door and some big steps out of the doorway toward the knob side so I can get a quick view of whoever answers the door and avoid the peephole. The thought process makes a lot of sense when there’s a chance that the person on the other side of the door may want to shoot you. It doesn’t seem so logical when you’re picking your daughter up after a sleepover at a friend’s house, but it’s a door and a habit. 

Symptom 10: Road trippin’
I spend a majority of my shift driving a police car, either to a call for service or to patrol. I am alone in the car most of the time, and it typically handles pretty well. I brake in the straightaways and stay off of the brakes while in a curve. I’ll serpentine through speed bumps in parking lots, especially after businesses are closed. My car is built for these things. My wife’s minivan is not. Sometimes that’s hard to remember until after sippy cups fall out of cup holders and displaced Cheerios reappear from the cracks in the seats and floor boards. 

Before I laid these out I compared notes with one of my firefighter friends to see if there was any crossover that I could add to be all-inclusive. Apparently, firefighter brain can be summed up in a much shorter piece:

Firefighter brain symptom 1: Water good, fire bad.
Firefighter brain symptom 2: Shiny good, dirty bad. This apparently applies to trucks and dishes.
Firefighter brain symptom 3: Fire Union Maltese Cross stickers and t-shirts good, no stickers or t-shirts bad, very bad.

Of course, I’m only kidding.

About the author

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.

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