I went to my first police academy in 1998. I loved the job. I never felt more alive than in patrol, or when rolling with my guys on some of the specialty teams I have been blessed to serve on. I joined the job to deal with bad guys — to stand up to those who prey on society, to go after those who believe they are untouchable, to step into the breach against those who would victimize other civilians throughout the various communities that I served. If the bad guy fought, I would fight back. If the bad guy ran, I would chase them down. If the job required me to work and “miss stuff,” I would work. That continues with my current assignment. If I had to miss birthdays, holidays, vacations or days off, or work weird or long shifts, so be it. That still comes with the job, but make sure you are keeping it all in perspective.
As a rookie cop, there are times when you can’t believe they pay you to do the job. When you train, prepare and then deliver on a call, there is nothing quite like it. The adrenaline rush eventually goes away, or you don’t feel it after a while. The job is boring at times. At other times, it is the greatest show on earth, and you have a front row seat! No matter how good or bad it is, we come back again and again, and the job takes a toll on us personally and professionally. As the years go on, we begin to see the cost of the job, and with experience and maturity we realize all of this “awesome” comes with a great cost.
One thing that lets you know the cost of the job is how the Department treats members at times. There have been several articles written on this, and I will not be focusing on that aspect of the job here. The truth is that Metro is not unique here. The Department is a machine, and the machine only loves you when it serves the machine. Metro is a business, not a family. The Department will put its full resources and weight into firing you if the machine believes you are bad for the machine. It is this way at all major departments and, for that matter, most major businesses. Learning this truth, however, helps temper any misunderstandings you may have from what you read in a brochure or learned in some rah-rah session. Just be aware you could sacrifice, give, miss time or even neglect your family, put your health and safety on the line, do a great job including being recognized for awards, and have it all change and the machine turn on you. A perfect illustration of this is Executive Board member Greg Stinnett’s article on how six seconds cost a member of the Metro “family” his spot in the family. We are not a family. We are a business. Be careful of believing your “spot” here is more than it is.
The job takes so much from us, and for some of us it takes it all.
The other very real cost is to our health and safety. This includes physical health on calls, mental health, emotional health, possible suicidal tendencies, poor health in general and possible addiction issues. Life is short, and we don’t know the day or hour our short time on this earth will end. I mentioned earlier in the article that I started as a police officer in 1998. Since that time, I have had over 30 friends pass away. Many were murdered, some died in accidents, some took their own lives and many have died from health complications. How common do you believe it is in other professions to have 30-plus co-workers pass for various reasons, including multiple homicides and suicides?
This topic changed my article after I had already written an article. On Easter Sunday, I received the news that Sergeant Tim Stovall had passed due to a potential heart attack. Timmy was my friend. We served in the Gang Unit together and shared the same religious faith. My heart dropped as I read updates on Tim, and my heart went out to officers from Moapa who responded to that call for service. The job takes so much from us, and for some of us it takes it all. There are certainly costs to anything worthwhile, but don’t be seduced by the job. Never forget what is truly important. Your family, your health, your relationships outside the job all have more meaning than any call or aspect of the job. Police work takes much from all of us who stay in the job. When you watch your co-workers fall prey to aspects of the job, the “benefits” lose some of their luster. Never forget, one day you will not be here. Don’t give it all to the job. Take care of yourself, and take care of the ones who love you.
Remember … your true family is what matters. Make sure you focus on your family throughout your career. One day, if God smiles on you, you will leave the job and return to your family. Do not wait until then to take care of them, to be responsive to them, to make sure you prioritize them. Being a police officer is not “normal” by any means. Take pride in the job; it is OK to love the job, and to reach retirement healthy and happy with your family is certainly the goal. That does not happen by accident. Focus on what is most important — that is, your family outside of Metro. Life is too short, and too many of us return to our Heavenly Father before we leave our LEO service. Be safe, guys, and may God bless us as we serve other families until we return to our own.