Several years ago, former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, reportedly said that police officers should work for ten years and then get a real job. This comment sent shock waves throughout the Atlanta Police Department for years. Many officers felt that the comment demeaned a profession that they loved. Imagine the CEO of a company that you work for tells you that your job is insignificant? However, over the years I have come to agree with this statement. It is no so much that policing is an insignificant profession, but it can be debilitating if you spend your most productive years doing it. Policing exacerbates what you are.
If you are spiritual, it often heightens your spirituality. Conversely, if you have criminal or abusive tendencies, these too will be elevated. Policing mirrors or reflects who you are unlike any other profession. The myriad of issues that an officer faces alters his perspective about reality. Unlike many jobs, you are a police officer around the clock. Your training and viewpoint of the world becomes such a part of you that you don't know that your perspective is skewed. The experiences that officers have through the interaction with the public brings about a change in their philosophy of life. You may begin to distrust the opposite sex, because frequent domestic disputes seem to deal with infidelity.
Consequently, you think that if all these women are cheating on their men, why would not my spouse cheat on me? It is only when an officer steps back and takes himself out of the picture of others that he can see the big picture. The reason that policing exacerbates what an officer may be is because he generally does not look at his own shortcomings and fallacies. He plays the role of God so much that he does not stop to view his own personal challenges. Some officers are intuitive enough to transfer to other assignments that allow them to be more reflective of who they are. The majority tends to remain in the clutches of their own demons, some ending up abusing alcohol, drugs, or their wives. When all is lost they end their own life all together.
The majority of officers learn to cope in their own way without becoming self-destructive. Why would people put themselves through this torture? As I outlined in a previous book, "A Badge Without Blemish: Avoiding Police Corruption"(Morris Publishing, 1997), policing is a profession that you earn. Unlike the corporate hiring process that may take a month or less, it takes an investment of nearly two years to become a police officer. The process entails 2-3 months of the initial application and background check (including an assessment by a police psychologist), 2-3 months of waiting to enter the police academy as a recruit, 6 months of training within the academy, and 6 months on probation before becoming a permanent officer. The reason officers do not leave the department is because he/she has expended nearly two years of their life entering the profession. It is challenging to leave with that amount of time and energy invested. Couple that with personal challenges and fears of being unemployed (which most people have) and what you have is a person who will leave kicking and screaming if you tried to get rid of them.
But another reason officers stay on the job is because they feel this is the only place they can be someone. One day you can be bagging groceries at the local supermarket, two years later you are carrying a badge with a gun and experiencing more power than the president of the United States. The U.S. President does not have the power to take the life and liberty of a citizen like a police officer. Officers feel the power and the double standards that apply to them. They eat free or discounted fast food, attract women who like power and uniforms, and enjoy a small-scale celebrity status. As long as they do their job and do not make any mistakes that will look unfavorable on the department, no one will question what they are doing. Every new movie and television series is about the police profession and police officers do for "real" what actors do for "fake". This is why some officers carry a "big and bad" attitude.
The legendary artist, Andy Warhol once noted that everyone experiences at least fifteen minutes of fame. In a cosmetic and media generated society, the limelight can be an intoxicating vice. Officers who have not developed themselves throughout life experience the same things as civilians who have not cultivated themselves. How many times have you heard an actor or musician who have spent their lives trying to get their "big break"? Once they begin paying the price of fame; i.e., groupies, lack of privacy, paparazzi, etc., then all of a sudden, the price of fame is too high of a price to pay. Of course this does not apply to the majority of celebrities, but we hear it too much for it to go unnoticed.
The same power and acclaim that intoxicates celebrities and sometimes cause downfalls is the same intoxication that plagues some police officers. Ultimately, it's an issue that the individual officer has to wrestle with. Society is not responsible for an obnoxious police officer. What this officer manifest is an extension of who he is at that time. He has the responsibility like all humans to check his behavior before someone else checks it. We all have to answer to someone. If we think we have escaped man's laws, we still have to contend with the universal laws. Just as criminals are finally caught for their dastardly deeds, so are police officers nabbed for theirs.