On any given day a tour of duty for a police officer will range from boring, mundane calls for assistance to a stressful life-or-death situation for a citizen, for an officer or both. In the span of an 8 or 12 hour shift, cops can have emotion swings from extreme grief to absolute hilarity.
The reason cops have these wide-ranging reactions is because they are human. No one wants a RoboCop patrolling their neighborhood or town. The personal traits we should look for in selecting our police are; common sense, integrity, intelligence and compassion. If an officer is well-educated, so much the better; but it is department stability and training that makes the officer – and the individual officers collectively that make the department.
The selection process for a police officer in an agency, local or distant, small or large, is arduous. The process includes written tests for intelligence, physical tests for strength and stamina, psychological interviews for suitability and in many instances a polygraph test for character flaws.
Once an officer is selected and employed, he or she will be dressed identical to all the others and issued a vehicle that matches the fleet. It is sometimes easy to forget these look-alike guardians of the peace are actually individuals with families, pets and bills to pay. On the job, these cops must have broad shoulders to carry everything we throw at them. They are expected to be marriage counselors, human lie-detectors, expert marksmen, skilled race drivers, veterinarians, babysitters and so much more. These men and women do all the tasks the populace demands to be done, but don’t dare do themselves. And, the citizenry expects it be done perfectly. To ensure perfection cops now wear body cameras and drive cars with GPS trackers.
A law officer can expect to miss holidays, children’s birthdays, dance recitals and much more. Because of shift-work and crazy work schedules they will be more prone to illness. Additionally studies show cops have shortened life spans because of their chosen occupation. A law enforcement officer invests a great deal of their existence into their career. Our politicians should probably invest more in them.
The morale of a police officer, and all government workers, is somewhat impacted by low pay and working conditions, but a bigger morale killer is the attitude of the politicians overseeing them. Nationally, our ICE officers’ morale is in a hole so deep they don’t see daylight because of elected officials calling them Nazis and terrorists while threatening to abolish the agency and their livelihood. For better or worse, words matter and should be used wisely.
If an individual officer’s morale slips down, the result is one of the most important behaviors of patrol officers also declines; their self-initiated activity. This is the patrol force bread and butter. It is that desire which compels a cop to go above and beyond when involved in a case, instead of taking a report and moving on. It is also that developed curiosity in cops to scrutinize everything they see around them or they can drive with blinders to the next call.
It takes a matter of 5 to 10 years to get an officer well-trained and experienced where little supervision is needed monitoring their work. That alone has value. After that time many officers will become front line supervisors or at least well trained in investigative specialties that further the mission of their agency. It is the new officers, lacking experience, that require the most supervision and also where an agency needs to invest time, effort and money training them in order to develop and keep them working. This is the stability portion for which a police agency is responsible. Residents and businesses deserve no less than this good use of their tax dollars.
Officers themselves also have responsibility once occupying a position of public trust. They must give a sincere daily effort for the pay they receive just as those in charge must offer a sincere salary for the work being done.
This column is not directed at any one agency or jurisdiction. These ideas have been rattling around in the thoughts of many officers for the past few months because of the recent national goings-on involving police officers. But, as long time Sheriff Joseph Benenati would say when giving advice to a large group of people; “if the shoe fits, wear it.”