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by Peter Moskos

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?"
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.

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.
[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!]

1 comment:

Jackk168 said...

As a retired police sergeant I have been a police recruit myself and I have had the pleasure of supervising numerous new police officers. The vast majority choose the profession because they want to make a difference. They want to be the hero who saves the day. They accept the strange hours and the risk to life and limb. Depending on where they work, the pay and benefits may be excellent or terrible or more likely somewhere in between. After a year or two they transition from idealism to realism. They are still trying to make a difference but in a smaller way. They realize they are playing a very small part in a big battle. Then after 10 or 15 or 20 years they realize that trying to 'serve and protect' is not really in their own personal self interest. So then they start doing whatever they have to do to succeed in their department, or they coast, or they leave. So we start off with the police we claim we want and we make them into the police we claim we don't want.