Quora Question: What Should I Consider Before Becoming a Police Officer?

What to think about before you become a cop
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Answer from Christopher Hawk, 20-year police patrol veteran.

You should consider everything before becoming a police officer. Some of those issues might include, in no particular order:

  • Why are you considering a career as a police officer? The stock answer, of course, is "to help people," but how do you think you'll be helping people as a police officer?
  • Do you think you can use lethal force, if necessary? It's not a common dilemna—only a small percentage of officers ever shoot someone—but it's a very real possibility in this field.
  • Are you willing to enforce laws, even if it means minor inconvenience or life-changing consequences for the offender? Enforcing laws typically ends with the offender paying a fine or even going to jail for decades.
  • Are you willing to talk with people who are different from you? You always see the exciting videos of cops chasing and tackling people, but can you simply talk to people and try to relate to what they are experiencing? Most police/citizen interactions don't end up being COPS-worthy, but they're important to that person you're interacting with at the moment.
  • Speaking of what other people are experiencing, can you handle (almost) always having to see people at their worst? You're going to see bad, hard things. You're going to find out that there are people in this world who enjoy preying on other people. You'll find out that not all children have happy childhoods, and some children don't make it to adulthood.
  • Can you control yourself? Police work is not for impulse-control-impaired people. You'll face temptations and you have to be able to control your responses to them. Some cops enjoy the badge bunnies (people who just want to have sex with someone in uniform), but they are a dangerous temptation. The bigger, far more dangeous, temptations are the ones you could easily justify—"So I gave him an extra thump or two, but so what? He's a child molester! Nobody cares about him!" That "extra thump or two" (or 10) could end up on someone's cell phone video, and then you will be the one in the news. And that child molester nobody cares about? He'll skate on the charges and then be in hog heaven on the six-figure settlement your department gives him for being the victim of excessive force.
  • Do you have enough self-confidence to be a symbol of the general public's worst situations? Face it—cops simply aren't popular. If you want to be liked, be a firefighter. There are many reasons, some rightfully deserved, but the simple fact is that a cop means bad news to most of the people you will encounter during your career. No one calls 911 and says, "It's a wonderful day! Send an officer over to share some cookies!" You'll be dealing with people who are having bad days, oftentimes because you caught them doing something wrong. It might be a traffic stop for gliding through a stop intersection at 5 mph, or it might be murdering someone. Either way, that person's not going to be happy to see you.
  • Can you handle the discrimination you're going to face? This goes along with the point above, but no one cares whether you're a nice person or how much you tithe at church or how many Little League teams you coach. You are the uniform, and you will be judged and condemned on the actions of someone thousands of miles away from you and years in the past. Although there are hundreds of thousands of honest, caring, honorable police officers just in the U.S., there are people who will claim that you—YOU—are a racist, bigoted, jack-booted thug because a cop in East Nowhere made a controversial decision (and maybe even did something wrong). Not only that, but those people will base their decisions on 10-second video bites and will refuse to acknowledge that there is more to the story than what is shown on Fox News or CNN. That's discrimination, and you're going to have to deal with it.
  • Can you (and your family) accept you working nights, weekends, holidays, or in crappy weather? Most officers end up on evening or overnight shifts for at least a few years (and sometimes a decade or more) before getting a coveted day-shift slot. That might mean missing some of Junior's soccer games or Little Janie's music recital. It sucks, but it happens. You will be part of the essential services, which means you may have to put The Job ahead of your family at times. You're also expected to perform when you're needed, no matter what it's like outside. You don't get to say, "I'm going to wait a few minutes to see if the rain lets up," when you're dispatched to a traffic crash with injuries.
  • Do you have a good work ethic? Police officers typically don't have a supervisor watching their every move or pushing them to work harder every day. It's important to be able to do more than just respond to calls for service. You'll need initiative to do more than the minimum accepted standards for your agency.
  • In a similar vein, can you work alone? Most officers work in smaller agencies with just a few other officers, so there's not always someone to chat with. If you always have to have someone else around to interact with, you'll need to be picky about where you apply.
  • Do you communicate well? This is different from the point above. Can you "paint a picture" of a situation or event verbally and in writing? You're going to spend a whole lot more time writing your report on a foot chase than you ever will actually running in the foot chase. It's also important to be able to explain a situation to jurors or judges. I've seen some otherwise good cops get torn apart on the witness stand because they didn't know how to articulate what they were experiencing during a situation.
  • Can you live on middle-class wages? You won't get rich solely by being a cop.

So...there are a few things you might want to consider. Day-to-day police work is nothing like you see on TV, but it is still very rewarding. You have the chance to make a real difference in the world. I have been blessed to have people come up to me years afterwards and say, "Officer Hawk! You helped me when that guy stole my TV and I really appreciate it!" I know I've saved a life or two during my career, and I also hope I was, at least, a caring, compassionate voice for the few people who died in my presence.

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Quora Question: What Should I Consider Before Becoming a Police Officer? | Opinion