I am writing this three-part series as an informational guide for those who have never served in law enforcement or are thinking about pursuing the career. It’s not meant to be an excuse for the actions of officers, nor is it meant to be a grandiose piece dedicated to the exaltation of the job; although I will admit that being a police officer was the best job I ever had the honor of performing. This is meant to demystify what people may deem secrets of police work.This three-part expose will detail what an officer really deals with on a day-to-day regiment. Just as with any profession there are pitfalls and benefits At the end of the day, it’s a human being underneath those polyester uniforms, something the media and social reform protestors forget more often then not.
The hours are long and mandatory
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Regardless of shift, the hours take their toll.[/caption]First and foremost, OSHA rules and regulations don’t apply to police officers. That “guaranteed” 40 minute meal-break or the concept of a safe workplace, does not exist in law enforcement. More often than not, you have to clear your meal break to handle an alert tone for a dangerous scenario. When you do get a chance to eat, it’s not going to be at a nice joint. If you are so lucky to sit down and eat, every other patron in the establishment glares at you. For some reason, the sign of a police officer is an appetite suppressant to the general public. They stare at you, snidely mumbling to their friends, “Why isn’t that cop working? Ohh, there’s our hard earned tax dollars at work.” Trust me, it’s an appetite suppressant for both sides of the aisle.Under emergency circumstances, whether it is environmental causes (i.e. hurricane season) or special events (i.e. protests), you will be forced to work. You don’t get a choice. There are no OSHA protections for first responders. 7 days a week, 14 plus hour days. When I would work my regular 10-hour shift, four days on and three days off, those first 2 days off I would be exhausted. You are drained emotionally and physically from the nonsense you deal with. I know people will say “oh but you’re getting paid overtime.” Yeah, trust me, I’d rather be fishing or sleeping on my time off.
Paperwork. Paperwork. Paperwork.
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Basically equates to one week of reports.[/caption]70% of police work is paperwork. 25% is dealing with people. 5% is handling the adrenaline dumping calls. With the popularity of cop drama’s on TV, one may think you’re handling an intriguing homicide or some sensational life-altering investigation every shift. This is not the case. More often than not, you’re handling nonsensical calls for assistance or processing burglary scenes for latent fingerprints – the black carbon dust getting all over you. Side note, latent fingerprint dust is the worst. It gets in your nostrils, your fingernails, all over your skin and clothes.
Not all cops are created equal
Just like in any job, there are slugs and there are sh*t magnets (the latter is an affectionate term in police work). Whether it’s due to laziness or saltiness from decades of exposure, the slugs are people who won’t answer up for calls. They will avoid handling paperwork at all costs, often throwing other officers under the bus. You can find them performing a traffic stop or citizen contact, while paper calls hold for other officers to handle. Everyone knows who the slugs are; no one likes them and they definitely don’t garner the respect of their fellow officers.On the opposite end of the spectrum, the affectionately termed sh*t magnets are people who have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. As soon as you hear their call sign on the radio, you start in their direction. These are the guys, or gals, that bring the excitement to the shift. Their proactive policing is the reason why bad guys aren’t flooding the streets. Unfortunately, these are the same officers that are targeted and misjudged by the public and media as being “gung-ho” or “zealous invaders of civil rights.” I’ll tell you what, without these types of officers on the streets – crime would skyrocket. No amount of community policing can replace the proactivity of seasoned and dedicated officers.The one call that is sure not to be missed, regardless of whether you’re a sh*t magnet or a slug, is the emergency assistance call from a fellow officer. When that alert tone goes out over the radio, you stop and focus all attention on the dispatcher’s voice. Hell, off-duty officers will ride with breakneck speed to come to a struggling officer’s aide.This is the camaraderie that is present in policing. White or black, male or female, when you put on that uniform, everyone hates or fears you alike. You’ve been in that knock down drag out fight, where the suspect is grabbing for your gun and the bystanders are either cheering them on or cowering in fear. You make split-second life and death decisions, each exposing you to some sort of liability – regardless of outcome. All officers show this mutual respect to each other, as they could be next on the other end of the emergency alert tone. Experience is the best teacher and when you have similar experiences, you bond.
The Dispatcher is the Boss
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If you take too long on a call, expect to get called out. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Stacy D. Laseter/Released)[/caption]Seems odd, doesn’t it? Typically dispatchers are paid less and have no supervisory standing over officers. I’ve had the honor of sitting in the dispatch center, observing them work. I would not want their job. They deal with people cursing and screaming for help, all the while trying to relay whatever information they can glean to responding officers. Plus, they have to triage the calls as well as check on the well being of every officer in the district. The dispatcher is a police officer’s lifeline. This is not an easy task. I always made sure to bring them coffee whenever I could.Dispatchers control the fate of the patrol officers. They decide who handles what calls and when. Remember this, rookies: don’t piss off the dispatcher, or you will be handling crap calls for the rest of your career.
They are a necessity. Any position of power requires a check and balance structure. Every complaint made, they investigate. Even though 99% of complaints are based on disgruntled arrests or citizens complaining about a ticket, they are all investigated. Bottom line, when people are angry they lie. If they feel mistreated, even if that treatment is justified, they exaggerate to make sure vengeance is dealt.This isn’t like a coworker complaining about you to HR for listening to your music too loud. In a corporate setting, you may be counseled or verbally reprimanded. In the case of law enforcement, your mistakes can wind you up on trial. Imagine a customer being able to put you in jail or take away your meal ticket, for inaccurate customer service. I’ll never forget what my FTO bluntly stated, “this job will put you in situations where you will end up on trial, there’s no way around it.”
This is only part one of the three-part series. Stay tuned to learn more about the true nature of police work and decide if it's a career for you.