I speak to a lot of police officers, retired, on the job, and soon-to-be. Anybody who knows cops knows it's in their nature to complain (there's an old barb about there being just two things cops don't like: change and the status quo). But the idealism of my students can be lost with on-the-job realities: incompetent bosses, nasty working conditions, and any quota system (be it for revenue or arrests) that demeans their professionalism.[Special thanks to Sgt B and to A.D. for his comment on a previous post. I probably could have done it without you, but it certainly wouldn't have been as good!]
Police officers try to maintain their pride and idealism on the job, but it can be a tough battle when faced with a hostile political structure and a misunderstanding public too quick to blame police for society's ills. Blaming one officer for the misdeed of another is neither fair nor productive. To have the hashtag #blacklivesmatter held against you is both frustrating and absurd. The general public doesn't seem to care about black lives unless a cop is involved. Police see and help victims every day while most murders don't even make the evening news.
Police do become thin-skinned to criticism — too quick to take offense to even well intentioned criticism — because the job isn't just what you do for a living, it ends up defining who you are. The job damages you physically and, more worrisome, drains you emotionally.
Policing demands a level of hyper-alertness synonymous with post-traumatic stress disorder.
So as best they can, police officers make do with the job they have. Certainly police can and should play a role in rebuilding the public's trust. But the public should have more empathy for those who have no choice but to deal with society's problems — poverty, massive incarceration, racism, crime — that we, collectively and to our shame, cannot or will not fix.
March 16, 2015
"Why become a cop?"
My latest piece at CNN.com is up. They titled it: "Why would you want to be a cop?"