Do you really want to become a cop?
This job takes all kinds of people, but it really takes a special kind of person to be able to stick it out
By Jeremy Wakeman, PoliceOne Special Contributor
Part of my job as a police officer is to try to recruit and train new officers. I am also an advisor to our Explorer program and I also work closely with our reserve officer program. As such, I have many speeches I give teens and adults interested in law enforcement. This is the first one I’ve felt compelled to address to a wider audience.
A lot of my interactions are with teenagers or young adults in their 20s that are just getting out of school and trying to decide what to do with themselves. They often have an interest in police work, but obviously don’t have a lot of experience. One of the first things I tell them is to keep an open mind about the career and how it will relate to their life goal. This job isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to be able to do this job well for 30+ years.
There are many factors about this job most people don’t consider when they start applying. The job takes its toll on people and you have to be able to cope with the high chronic stress that follows you day to day. You also have to be able to keep a level head and control your emotions during a dynamic critical incident. There is a reason the average life expectancy for a cop after they retire is only 10 years.
Knowing this ahead of time might dissuade some people that would otherwise try this out as a career. I’m here to say that’s okay. This job takes all kinds of people, but it really takes a special kind of person to be able to stick it out.
I like to say that most cops aren’t wired the same way as your typical person. Ask a cop who’s been around for a decade or so why they do it. Their answers will vary, but I bet most will answer with cite all of the following reasons.
They really believe with all their heart they can make a difference to some people. They want to help those that, for whatever reason, can’t help themselves in a given situation. Most do enjoy the recognition they get when they drive around their beat and wave at the neighborhood children who still like and respect the police (for now, until they get older and flip us off instead).
Also, if we’re being honest, we’ve received a lot of training in emergency vehicle operations and there is certainly an element of fun when you get to put those skills to use.
You really have to be able to look for enjoyment in this job — this isn’t the type of job that will automatically make you feel satisfied and happy. In fact, it’s the opposite. This job will get to you if you let it, and it does for a lot of people. However, if you possess the mindset and the internal drive necessary to do the work than you can find it to be a very rewarding career.
So what does all this mean? If you think you can do this work as a career, and make it to retirement age with your sanity, go for it. This job is awesome. It’s the most fun and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done and I don’t think I would do very well anywhere else. However, if you aren’t sure and you hope you’ll just “get used to it,” then you should look at other options. There are plenty of fields where you can meet your personal goals and be completely satisfied with your life.
You could also volunteer with your local department. You can work as a reserve and still get small doses of the excitement and good work in the community you think you’re missing. You might also be able to work in one of the support divisions. You could work a normal shift, but still kind of be in the middle of what’s going on.
When it comes to working as a law enforcement officer make sure you choose carefully and for the right reasons. If this job is for you, then I look forward to seeing you on the road. If not, I truly wish you the best of luck and happiness in all your future endeavors.