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The Journey

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

A familiar life in the line of duty.

Young police officer, running with gun out.
Young and bullet proof! Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

One of the things we are trying to document in our writings is the incredible change that takes place in a young person who enters the field of law enforcement.

People go on the job at 21 years old, sometimes even younger, and there is really nothing that can fully prepare you for it. Maybe you took some criminal justice classes at the local junior college. Maybe you got a 4 year degree from a state college or university. Hell, maybe you got a master’s degree on the topic. Great! There is the police academy to get through with its weeks and weeks of police procedural courses. You know the Penal Code; you know the Vehicle Code, shoot, you even have a smattering of knowledge in the Welfare and Institutions Code (pertaining to nuts and children) and the Health and Safety Code (pertaining to drug violations). But honestly, you know nothing at this point.

Upon graduation from the police academy they assign you to a Field Training Officer for a period of weeks. The length depends on the agency. This is the phase of training where new law enforcement officers are most likely to wash out. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Can you put all of that recently acquired knowledge into practice? The job is really about your ability to deal with people under the most extreme circumstances. After a period of time one or more Field Training Officers sign off on you and you are ready for solo patrol duties.

For those of you reading this that were never cops, I want you to imagine your 21-year-old self responding to every type of call under the sun. Armed robberies, fatal traffic accidents, dead bodies of every type from the elderly naturals, to homicides, to dead infants. Disputes between couples decades older than you, and you are there to solve their problem. Barking dog complaints, a raped 16-year-old, a raped 75-year-old, loud music complaints. You are the 21-year-old man or woman to handle them all. The police radio in your cruiser keeps spitting a steady stream of human misery at your young self. You have to handle it.

Somewhere between 2 and 5 years hopefully it all snaps in for you. If not a master of your trade, you are at least competent by now. Your world has narrowed though. It is becoming hard to relate to people who haven’t experienced what you have. Your friends now all tend to be fellow cops. Your world has divided into cops and civilians if you are putting a nice spin on it. Cops and assholes if you aren’t beating around the bush.

Then come the middle years. Special assignments; maybe detectives, maybe narcotics, could be motors or SWAT. You’re good at what you do now. You’re on your “A” game. You are no longer awed by bosses, judges, prosecutors or criminal attorneys. Events continue to happen. The scary, the hairy, the gory, the frustrating , the miscarriages of justice. You and your cop buddies work hard and you play harder. Among yourselves.

Then one day you have 18 -20 years on the job, and your new boss, who it seems just started shaving, comes up with a brilliant idea. TAKE THAT HILL!! And you’re the old fart that says, “Excuse me sir, but that’s just silly.” This is the beginning of your decline into cynicism and bitterness. You are no longer a “team player”. Let’s face it, if you haven’t worked your way up the ladder at this point you are part of the problem.

If you have done everything right you are respected among your contemporaries. Judges, prosecutors, other agencies, even a few criminal defense attorneys respect you. In your own agency you are becoming a pariah. There is open warfare between you and the administration. They spend every day looking for ways to fire you, get you to retire, just get you to leave.

You are self-medicating now. Just enough to take the edge off. You are likely to cry just watching a Disney movie. Your cup of human suffering and misery is full now. You go to see Dr. Feelgood, a specialist in cop meltdowns. He tells you that all is normal for where you are on the continuum of misery, and your alcohol intake hasn’t reached actionable levels yet. Good to know. You are not dying. At least not today.

Dramatic and powerful black and white portrait of a senior man with pale eyes looking away great facial details
... all is normal for where you are on the continuum of misery.


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