The Every Day Struggle: Being a Police Officer
The Nightmare Begins When I Awake
Every morning is the same, no matter the mind set I suffer myself to... No matter the statistics I force myself to believe... No matter how much heart I've put into my prayers at night, every morning is the same.
I wake up every morning approximately 5 minutes before my alarm goes off. I don't even know why I even set it anymore. I sit up, and assess everything that's aching. My feet hurt, my joints crackle, my back is stiff... I don't want to get ready for work, but I know I have to. My undergarments are neatly folded next to my bed, stacked in the order I will put them on. Its been this way for years. Socks, briefs, under shirt, dry fit. I approach the rest room, stretching to coax my body into waking up. I brush my teeth and wash my face. The water is cold. It's always cold. I hate that, but it shocks me just enough to get moving. I look up in the mirror at myself, and the harsh reality of this process sinks in the same as it did yesterday. Is today the day? No its not. It can't be. Be real with yourself, no diluted thoughts. This is your chosen profession. Accept it. Get ready. No time for nonsense. The conversation with myself happens as I stare at my face in the mirror.
A brief moment of self confidence as I begin to put the uniform on. I check myself in the mirror again, making sure the Velcro straps on my vest are straight. No one will ever see them, but I know what they look like, so I adjust them. The shirt comes on, zipped and buttoned tight. It looks good. I adjust the pens in my breast pocket, there must be two. Always two pens. I lint roll my self, starting at the collar and working down until I reach the bottom of my inseams. I'm ready, washed up, uniform tight, lint free, badge shiny, name plate straight. Starting to feel good, check your pockets. Gloves, notebook, extra cuff keys must be there. Touch them, make sure. I complete the task I've ordered myself to do. I'm confident, it's show time.
"This is your chosen profession. Accept it. Get ready. No time for nonsense."
A confident smirk in the mirror and a last minute adjustment to my hair complete my morning check list. One thing left to do before I head to work. I hate that I have to do it. Takes me a minute to do even though it should take 3 seconds of my time. I look at my wife, still sleeping so peacefully. I kiss her forehead and tell her goodbye, kiss my infant son being careful not to wake him. I look at pictures of my twins on my drawer, kiss my fingers and place it on their faces... As if they could feel it from 6,000 miles away. This is my requirement. It must be done daily. The uneasy truth of what I am, means today very well may be, the last time I see them.
Of course I hope it's not, but hope doesn't stop bullets or bad guys. I do love them too much to leave them, but love doesn't shield me from the evils I will come running to throughout my day. Yes I'm confident in my skill set, my training, my experience, but good cops die every day. That's the truth. There is nothing, no reason why I should be any different than any of those guys. In fact, many of them were much better officers than I will ever be. I hate facing this every morning, but it never goes away.
"The uneasy truth of what I am, means today very well may be, the last time I see them."
Run, Duck, Hide! Nope. Not this guy.
It already feels like I have jumped so many hurdles before I get in the car to report for work. The news on the radio talks about car accidents, traffic, last nights home invasion, the officer involved shooting early this morning, the robbery at the liquor store, and the high speed chase that's ongoing in another state. I wonder what kind of dangerous crap am I getting myself into today. I'm reminded that I'm in uniform by stares in the car mirrors, the slowing of traffic around me, and the stares from drivers as I pass them. Never fails, it's the same every morning. Some drivers wave, mostly the older generation. People from a time when police officers was seen as helpers. Some literally look at me like I am the scum of the earth. Others ignore me all together. I remember when I first started, kids would often want to shake my hand and looked up at me in uniform in awe like I was a super hero. That was 15 years ago. Now days parents often tell children, " sit down nicely or I'll tell the policeman to get you." These poor kids are growing up thinking the police are who comes to get you when you don't listen. The reality is police are the ones who get put in the most unrealistic, compromising and dangerous situations, only to be judged for a less than super human reaction to those situations. For example, when gun fire erupts in a public place, an officer who hides is coward. Why? Because the public expects him to be brave and face the threat. Even though hiding would be the natural response of any human being who didn't want to get shot. If he is brave, and runs to the threat but fails, he's stupid and needs more training. Why? Because the public expects him to be tactically smarter than the criminals. If he is tactically smarter and takes down the threat, he is scrutinized. Why? Because the public expects him to do something different than what he did. The focus will be on his mistakes, and not the successful nature of his actions. When every normal person would run from a situation to save their own lives, the public crucifies the ones who do the opposite. The ones who willingly run into danger. The ones who don't have the option to run away. The ones who accept they may never see another day without thinking twice about it. The ones who don't get to choose like the general public. Who would want a job that you're always wrong in your performance, and even when you're right, you're still wrong?
The Not So Perfect People
As a career police officer, I often wonder where the perception of what I do for a living went south to the public. Yes I understand there are many bad apples who may have influenced the public opinion, but there is still way more good things that occur daily because of what officers do. Professional athletes have bad apples, but the public almost never shuns the entire organization or league because of one athletes actions. Every one makes mistakes. That is an agreeable point across the world. It just seems to be worse if police officers make the mistakes. Maybe its the media, or maybe its a trend to want to see people fail in general. I'm not sure what it is. What I do know is, cops are people. They are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, have parents, friends, were never perfect to begin with and will not leave the earth any more perfect than when they were born. To me, the same as everyone else.
What makes us different, is the things we willfully submit to every day. The acceptance that dying in the line of duty comes with the territory. The knowledge that we will be judged by everything we do or don't do. The feeling that no one respects what you do until they actually need you. The expectation that we should know better than every one else. To work in unreasonable circumstances and be the reasonable person to fix it. To hope every call you're assigned to won't be your last. On top of it all, to do it for a salary as if you work a regular job. To perform with perfection like risking your life daily is only worth about $50,000 a year on average. To face some of the most evil and dangerous people in the country, so others don't have to. That is what makes us different.
"What makes us different? What we submit ourselves to every day."
The Seldom Talked About Part
After being exposed to the most horrific sights you can imagine as a police officer; the rapes, murders, gruesome accidents, bodies of every age, the evil in the people who commit these acts, what happens to the officers at the end of shift? It's over right? We survived another day. It doesn't end. It replays itself in you're head endlessly as you wonder why? Did I do everything right? Could I have done it differently? What if the victims were my loved ones? It never ends, just pauses and waits for you to return.
I retire from being a police officer and public target at the end of each day, to become a husband and father again. Expected to be the best of both after a long treacherous day. The normal person exposed to such things would be expected to take a break, see a counselor or understandably crawl into a corner and breakdown. I return to repeat where I left this morning. I kiss my wife hello, pick up my infant son and hold him like its the first time, and call my twins to simply say daddy loves you both. I make sure I do not take these moments for granted, they are literally hours I have while being physically and mentally exhausted, to give whatever of myself I have left. This may be the last memories they have of me, because tomorrow, while they're asleep, I will get up in the darkness, and start the process all over again. These are the times we don't hear about on the radio, the things we don't see on the news. A sweet melancholy, a bright spot in the daily struggle of being a police officer.