An open letter
The career of a police officer is measured differently than most other careers. A cops career typically lasts between 20-25 years (some of you freaks stay much longer than that).
This journey can be broken down into what I believe are 3 distinct phases.
- The rookie years (otherwise known as the “good times”).
- The middle years (aka “the grind”).
- The golden years (or “how much will my retirement be after taxes?”).
Every cop experiences the 3 phases differently.
I could lie to you and say my career has been sunshine and rainbows but that would be a lie. Towards the end of the rookie phase is when a lot of cops decide if they can stick out until the end.
Many choose to cut their losses and pursue other, more safe and better paying careers.
Others, like me, decide to enter the grind and see where it leads.
In 2003, I was very close to turning in my badge. I was going through a very rough patch in my personal life.
To say it was falling apart would be an understatement.
(Disclaimer: No one escapes pain or heartache during their lives or professional career. I am certain that my story may seem trivial to those who have suffered far worse.)
Several months ago, I read an article in a sports magazine that didn’t fit the typical writing style for this genre. This particular athlete had defied all of the odds and had become a professional athlete despite many obstacles he would have to overcome.
The article, written by the athlete, was an open letter to his 18 year old younger self. The letter was very effective in telling his personal journey through adversity in his attempt to make it into pro sports.
We all look back at different periods in our life that were exceptionally difficult. As we get older we look back at these events and wished we knew then what we know now.
They say your worst enemy is yourself. There is a lot of truth in that statement.
This article will be an attempt to reconcile the two.
This is your future self. I know, weird as fuck huh. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to let you know how you are going to fare through the 3 phases of your career (even though you are still in the academy).
And no, you don’t transfer over to the Fire Department. More on that stupid thought some other time.
Now we both know that sugar coating and touchy feelings are not who we are so this will be a brief letter.
Also, I’m not going to tell you everything so please don’t do anything stupid and cause a weird paradox where this article will disappear while my followers are reading it. (I know, yes, followers)
Okay, let’s get on with it.
The rookie years – All I have to say is slow your roll. I know that making that first arrest or chasing your first bad guy will literally give you a hard on but it won’t last long. You see, being a cowboy or sheepdog, you will quickly discover, is not what society wants.
And I know that just getting out of the Marines will make this transition even more difficult.
Respect and honor, yes sir and yes ma’am, expecting people to follow orders and your commands, will be a fairy tale that you must let go of.
Please pay closer attention during any use of force or defensive tactics training you get during this phase.
All I will tell you is this, when you’re in the middle of it, you will think back to this training and be a little hard on yourself for not taking it more serious.
The bad guys don’t give a flying eff who you are or your background. They will hurt you, punch you, kick you, stab you, shoot you, spit on you, and call your mother bad names.
They will even tell you that the pants they are wearing are not theirs.
Listen to the seasoned officers and take your time learning the job in the rookie phase.
It will pay off later.
The middle years – this is where most officers fuck up. Either from cutting corners with the brass or forgetting about officer safety. Also, this is when you will need to make the decision if you will gut it out until the end or look for some other job.
During this phase you will see many of your peers and friends leave the profession and move onto different career fields. You will be tempted greatly by the promise of brighter options and more lucrative compensation.
You will start to reflect on the past 10 to 12 years and wonder if your choices were the right ones. Like getting married again or holding off even longer to get your college degree.
This is also when you are going to find your personal life in the toilet.
I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be rough. All cops go through this. Don’t try to escape it either.
It will only make it worse.
The golden years – Well if you are still reading this you are well into the back nine of your career.
For most police officers, by the time they get to this stage of the job, have made significant rank and are working at “The Mothership” aka Police Headquarters, enjoying their staff positions and working, at most, 3 days a week.
This will not be the case for you.
We both know that climbing the executive police leadership ladder was never really in the cards for you.
And that’s okay. Your remaining years as a cop will be one of mentoring and nostalgia. You and the other salts will tell your tired, worn out stories to any rookie nice enough to oblige them.
You will count down the months until you will be free of all the carnage and human misery that most humans get a pass on.
The day will come and it will all be over.
You’re back to being like everyone else again, a civilian, a father, a husband, a friend.
A normal, everyday nobody without a clue and without a care.
And it will be okay.