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The pros and cons of being a police officer

Despite the negative impacts of law enforcement, the love for the job is abundant

By Kathryn Loving

Law enforcement is ever-evolving, and so is the person occupying the uniform.

Some exposures to police work change us for the better and others for the worse. What are five negative and five positive personality adaptations cops undergo after experience on the job?

Con #1: Most police officers are cynical

What makes us this way? We have come to an age where the public thinks the system and the police have a solution for their every problem. America has created its own monster. Our ethics and morals have been tossed out the window and replaced with disconnected and desensitized human shells. Cops are not immune to the changes in the divisiveness of society and the emotional drama associated with it. It’s dreadful, really. So daily we are exposed to human misery and conflict which gives us a very narrow version of society.

Con #2: Many of us try to combat the daily toll of societal decay with humor

Cop humor is often misunderstood, brash, or downright disgusting. It is awkward at times, but we think we are funny. It becomes a part of us we share in small circles. Many officers would say humor buffers the shroud of reality we face in societal problems. Many citizens are shielded from the horrors we encounter. They do not find comic relief in a tragedy. Police officers are often misinterpreted when our antics are overheard in public. It’s the nature of the beast.

Con #3: For a cop, the rose-colored glasses are always off

Denying reality gets you killed. It is a curse and a blessing. We can no longer look at the world we live in the same way. We constantly scan our surroundings, look for exits, and keep alert. In any establishment, we choose the seat with our backs to the wall and a view of the entire place. We are selective of where we dine. We would be lost without our firearms and badged clipped to our waistbands. Everyone and everything is suspicious until proven otherwise.

Con #4: Pandora’s box is closed

Inside our minds are images, voices, screams, visions, smells, and dreams which have been influenced by our careers. These are held in a “tiny little space” inside our heads often referred to as “Pandora’s box” which complicates our moods and influences. There are occasions when our friends or family want us to share our darkest moments, but we usually leave them contained.

Con #5: The trio: Impatience, intolerance, and paranoia

Police work is rife with circumstantial stressors. Our fuses and energy become short with sleep deprivation, long shift hours, societal isolation, and continued exposure to negative human elements. Because police officers are in constant danger, we are also overly suspicious of everything and everyone.

Despite the negative impacts of law enforcement, the love for the job is abundant.

By far, the residual payoffs outweigh the bad. Police work can affect or sway our behavior to a greater degree of positivity, too. Those attributes we contract from experience tend to become permanent character traits.

Pro #1: We are active

We can’t sit still nor do we seem to have the mindset at times to settle down at home. Most cops have hobbies, outdoor pursuits, or activities to keep their minds active and positive. Many of these are advantages for wellness and creativity. Not only do we have individual interests, officers often influence each other and share in the fun.

Being fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not only wise, but it is crucial for an officer’s physical and mental state. These changes often come with company benefits. Many organizations allow workouts on duty and participate in dietetic and nutritional training for their employees. Free gym memberships are also sometimes a perk of the job. We often compete with our peers and families in outdoor games and sporting events. In the long run, officers are becoming physically and mentally stronger, which helps to ward off depression and disease. It resonates at home with spouses and children. Speaking of competition...

Pro #2: Competition

If someone was not competitive as a rookie, they probably will become so in time. It is a natural outcome of being on the force with an abundance of Type A personalities. Departments thrive on performance standards, physical fitness levels, and various talents.

Specialty assignments hone in on someone’s individual talents whether they are born or made. Each specialized duty boasts about its place in the organization and those assigned sometimes try to outshine the others in performance while respecting the independent functions. With all these ambitious peers and competitive factors pressuring us, who wants to be at the bottom?

Pro #3: The blue bond is impermeable

Fraternal relationships in law enforcement are very strong. Whether it is a call to action in the line of duty or a personal crisis, the blue family will be there for one another come hell or high water.

Pro #4: Community pride

Officers genuinely care about making a positive impact in their community. Those who truly love the work will go to extra lengths for others. Police work affords the opportunity for giving back both on duty and off. It is unique devotion to people which comes along with the territory. You will see many men and women of uniform volunteering within their community to make a difference. These charities bridge community partnerships and sometimes close the gap of societal isolation plaguing officers who disassociate.

Pro #5: Job satisfaction.

Police work is particularly dynamic and no day is the same. Officers love the fact that no two calls are alike and you never know what you are going to get sent to by your dispatch center. It is often very exciting and spotted with adrenaline dumps. Add to that the ability to help people on a daily basis and this line of work can be very fulfilling. Comraderies among peers also deflect negative work thoughts. Officers get to work on an individual basis as well as in a team environment. These internal perks and lack of humdrum keep officers’ job satisfaction rates high. You will often see them proud of their line of work.

It is all a balancing act. Along with the good, we get hit with the bad. Expectation versus reality probably exists for all of us in different forms and fashions. Police culture is full of many coping skills and personality transformations. I’d like to think it made me a better person. And damn, it’s a great job!

While it is not an easy time to be a police officer in America, there are many reasons why you stay in law enforcement

This article, originally published October 14, 2016, has been updated.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.