Roundtable: Should you stay or should you go?

During these turbulent times for law enforcement, some officers are questioning whether they should remain in the profession


The past few weeks have been incredibly challenging for law enforcement as calls mount for reform, defunding and even dismantling of police agencies. While there are changes that could prove positive for police, such as requests for increased training funds, it is understandable that both new and veteran officers may be questioning whether to stay in the profession.

In this Police1 roundtable, we asked our columnists – including Dave “Buck Savage” Smith, Lindsey Bertomen, Betsy Smith and Policing Matters host Jim Dudley – to answer the following reader question: “I have been in policing for five years and, given the possible unknowns around police reform, what advice would you give to a new officer who may be questioning whether to stay in the profession?” Read on for their advice. 

still one of the best ways to earn a living

If you’re a young cop, I’m guessing that the song by The Clash is constantly playing in your head these days; you know, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” But before you hang up that gun belt and turn in your badge, here are a few things to consider:

  • It’s an election year, and with each election cycle, law enforcement often gets caught in the middle. Don’t make a life-altering decision in the middle of the political fray.
  • Don’t believe that “everyone hates the police.” Last week’s Monmouth University poll found that 71% of people are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their police departments. Only 5% of those polled said they were “very dissatisfied” with the police. In a new survey by the National Sheriff’s Association, 53% of respondents called for INCREASED funding for law enforcement, 26% want funding to stay the same. Only 11%, a tiny minority, really want to “defund the police.” 
  • Pay attention to politics. When we’re on duty, we MUST stay apolitical. But off duty, you’re a voter and a citizen, pay attention to what’s happening where you work and where you live. If you’re working for a department where the political leadership is calling to defund and dismantle your agency or slandering you and your coworkers with words like “racist,” killers” and other despicable terms, it’s probably time to stop supporting that political party. 
  • Hold yourself accountable. We’ve seen a few police officers do some terrible things lately, we’ve seen others do some stupid things that have had career-ending consequences. Don’t allow your exhaustion and your frustration lead you to do or say something regrettable. 
  • Be willing to relocate. If you love being a cop, as I did, but you don’t love where you work, be willing to move. There are plenty of police departments around the county that need good cops. Find an agency in a community that appreciates their law enforcement officers and apply.

Law enforcement is an honorable and necessary profession, and it’s still one of the best ways to earn a good living and serve your community and your country. Don’t give up, we need you.  

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb.  

Change is a constant in law enforcement

I began my career three decades ago while America was still reeling from the Rodney King trials and, again, a few years later with the OJ Simpson trial. If you have been on the job for five or so years, then you should be familiar with the events of Ferguson, Missouri. I think that there is little doubt surrounding the prospect that change is in store for U.S. policing. Things are already starting to take shape on our horizon. Exactly what those changes will look like and how significantly they will impact our profession is something that can only be answered over time. 

Fortunately for us, change in our profession is not a new concept. Police practices are constantly influenced and impacted by change. The U.S. Constitution is a living document, adapting as our Supreme Court changes the way it views and interprets the meaning of our laws. Our state and local laws are constantly changing as existing laws are repealed and new legislation is passed. I’ve personally witnessed many of these changes during my career.

Crime reduction strategies such as community policing, problem-oriented policing and data-driven policing are all products of the civil protests and riots of the 1960s and 1970s that led to sweeping criminal justice, corrections and mental health reforms. Scientists, criminologists and sociologists were asked to lead scientific approaches to study and reduce crime in much the same manner as doctors and researchers seek to cure a disease and not merely treat its symptoms. Perhaps it is time to revisit this approach. 

If you’ve been on the job for five years, then you know whether or not it’s for you and what you have invested. Change can be intimidating, but I believe officers are up to the challenge. 

Lt. Mike Walker is a 27-year veteran of local and federal law enforcement. He has served in a variety of assignments with a concentration in investigative work. 

Remember you make a difference

Stay! Our communities need leaders. If you are a law enforcement officer, you are a leader. Every day, you respond to calls for service where dysfunction and violence rule the day. You make these scenes safe, professionally investigate them and restore peace. We need you. Our communities need you.

Is it going to be tough? Hell yeah! Are you going to want to quit? All of us are! However, the measure of us as a society is on the line. The entire great experiment of democracy hangs in the balance. 

Brave women and men who are willing to answer the call will make the difference. Those same brave women and men are constantly willing to answer the call, lean into difficult conversations, build and repair relationships, and persevere, as they never give up hope.

Sergeant Christopher Littrell has been a law enforcement officer in Washington State for 14 years.

Patrol will continue 

Despite all the saber-rattling about de-funding police agencies, once again, the devil will be in the details. Basic police services will always be needed to include addressing violent crime, responding to calls for service and in documenting crime. 

Long before the Minneapolis incident, there have been calls to “de-militarize” the police. The Government 10-33 program to award military surplus to local law enforcement was first assailed during the Obama administration. The Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI) program to help identify and strengthen critical infrastructure has diminished budget awards over the years as well. The accompanying Urban Shield SWAT readiness training and exercises have been defunded. 

The impact on the patrol force was not significant. 

Although agency budgets will no doubt be trimmed, the actual trickle down to patrol operations can be expected to be minimal. 

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. 

Being a protector is one of the highest callings

Understand the history of policing. When the Miranda decision came down from the Supreme Court, there were those who said it was the end of law enforcement, that confessions would no longer be obtained. They were wrong. In the 1960s, with the riots and protests, some predicted the end of law and order and the beginning of anarchy. They were wrong. Step away from the profit-driven reports of the "news" media. Their goal is to get more views, clicks and shares because that is how they make their money.

Despite what you see in the news, the majority of Americans trust and respect the police. In high-crime areas, who is responding to the calls for help? Not the politicians, not our critics and not the media, but the police. The world will always need police officers, but the world needs good police officers. If you are a good police officer, stay. If you are a bad police officer, go. We do not need you. We have never wanted you.

It takes strength and courage to stand for what is right and place yourself between good and evil in the role of protector. Mankind has always needed protectors. Those who cannot fathom the mind of the protector, do not understand why you do what you do. Being the protector is among the highest callings. You answered that call for a reason. Our critics do not understand our calling, and we do not understand their minds, but we will still protect them. That is why we stand at protests protecting freedom of speech while having curses hurled at us. That is why we stand ready to save those in need, while bottles and rocks are hurled at us. That is what we do. 

Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer in 2014 after more than 25 years of service.

Understand the politics

Students ask me all the time, “Considering the current political climate, why would I want to go into law enforcement?” I have plenty of answers for them, but they all boil down to two things: The law enforcement profession is an honorable one, and I like helping people, which is why I became a police officer.

In my experience, the law enforcement field is more ethnically diverse, intellectually rich and professional than it has ever been.

There is direct, everyday evidence that demonstrates that law enforcement officers are predominantly upright and honest. Here is the evidence: The media operates on advertising. Despite their insistence on unbiased coverage, news that sells are topics like, “Homeowner does something stupid” or similar. What’s a windfall in the news industry? “Cop does something stupid.” They don’t produce news stories like, “Police officer volunteers at youth center” because no one is going to stop to buy that paper or watch that video.

Before COVID-19 and the recent riots, Chicago was analyzing why its murder rate was up 43% between 2019 and 2020. As few as three years ago, cities like Baltimore were blaming an uptick in violent crimes on a lower police presence.

It should be very clear that when crime rates are high, politicians blame poverty. This is intellectually dishonest, as are the solutions that arise from these election year theories. The public has bought these “theories” every time. We let politicians implement policies every time, they fail every time and the cycle continues.

Some regions have gone much further in blaming the police, creating restrictive controls on police conduct, theorizing that this will reduce crime. For example, Chicago filed a consent decree severely limiting police conduct. This practice is an agreement, usually initiated by the DOJ, that reform practices within a region, usually curtailing police practices. This did not get Chicago away from being one of the top 20 crime-ridden cities in the US. Some cities with consent decrees have seen double-digit increases in violent crime rates, demonstrating that it’s not the police, and it never was.

I always tell my students that as long as politicians cannot solve their problems, yet continue to fool the public, they will blame the police.  

If I could, I would jump back into a patrol car again, and stand shoulder to shoulder with the best co-workers I have ever had.

As long as law enforcement officers recognize that they are the honorable ones, holding the line and watching the six of their brothers and sisters in blue, we will be fine.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.

Our communities need you

There’s never been a more important time for young police officers to reflect on why they got into this profession in the first place. Think about what you believe your role is in maintaining the safety of your community. What’s your sense of “mission?” Has that mission changed, or is the chattering class just trying to convince you that your job is no longer of worth to society? 

The politicians, the activists and the keyboard warriors are not the majority of the people you help day in and day out. It’s incredibly important that you never lose sight of those citizens who desperately need you when the unthinkable occurs in their lives

Think about the rape victim, the abused child, the elderly woman whose home was burglarized, the domestic violence victim with nowhere else to turn. You help people get justice, regain their dignity, move forward and most especially, heal. 

We can’t let the current (and hopefully temporary) political climate make us lose sight of our mission. The majority of Americans recognize that the reason we can even have demonstrations and discussions about “police reform” is because the American law enforcement officer has helped create a society where it’s safe to have discourse. The largest percentage of the population we serve are good people, and they need protection from the small minority of individuals who prey upon them. People who aren’t safe are not free, and you, the American police officer, are essential to that freedom. 

Dave “Buck Savage” Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement speaker, trainer, video personality and author, and host of PoliceOne's Reality Training videos.

What are your career plans? Do you plan to stay in law enforcement or leave? Email your thoughts to editor@policeone.com and share in the comments below.

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