A job like no other
I remember like it was yesterday.
I was in field training working evening shift. It was busy as all get out when it happened.
My first foot pursuit.
I don’t remember why we were chasing him. I’m sure my young change-the-world-rookie-conquers-all mindset convinced me it was the crime of the century.
We chased the bad guy for what seemed like an eternity, through backyards, over fences. I thought for sure the SWAT team and Police Helicopter (we don’t actually have one) would swoop in any minute and help us catch him.
I didn’t know it then but chasing someone on foot was as regular an occurrence as putting gas in your patrol car.
It’s what cops do.
We chase bad people. We put them in jail.
We save the day.
I eventually caught the guy and was able to put him in handcuffs. We both were exhausted and out of breath. In reality it was at best anti-climactic if not mundane.
But it didn’t matter.
I had drank from the cop adrenaline fountain and was immediately addicted.
A drug like no other. A roller coaster that they actually pay you to ride on.
I was hooked.
I was a Cop.
Sadly, as I have gotten older, the drug just doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
A surprising success
A few months ago I wrote, what I thought at the time, was just another article about the perception of cops through the eyes of your average citizen.
“Why Cops Retire at 50″ was written on a Friday afternoon and posted to a couple of sites that I write for.
The article almost immediately blew up.
The tiny little article had touched a nerve and triggered an emotional response that I was not quite prepared for. Within a few days it had gone viral!
I was floored. Overwhelmed.
Not by the numbers but the comments that came flooding in.
Most were supportive of the article and said that they agreed with the points expressed.
The final point made in the article talked about the “unspeakable” suffering that cops witness over their careers. I even went as far as using the example of a rookie seeing their first dead baby.
This illustration set off a wave of comments that were both revealing and shocking.
Here is just one of the almost 200 comments that came pouring in;
“I recently retired with 26 years of service. I still remember the first death of an infant. Early in my career a two year old drowned in a fish pond and when I arrived the mom was attempting CPR. I took over until fire rescue arrived but the child could not be saved. At the time my daughter was the same age and all I could think of in my mind was that was her dying in my arms. I know it sounds stupid but that was what my mind was trying to tell me. I cried for days, felt like killing myself, but got help from the department for treatment. It took a long time to get over. I don’t share this story often but want to thank all of you who shared in this blog because it helps me reading the stories and knowing I’m not alone.”
This comment, like many of the others from the article, revealed what I and other cops already knew.
Another surprising observation was made while reading the comments. A lot of the cops who commented on the article had been cops far too longer than they should have.
Some of them noted a career lasting 30 or sometimes even 40 years.
This struck me as absurd.
As I read some of the comments aloud to my wife, I would ask out loud “Why in the f%ck would someone do this job for that long?”
I was stumped.
A time to reflect
In the past few months I have pondered why an article so short and relatively strait forward would have such a powerful effect on people.
I even had family members respond on behalf of their police father, husband, or sons and daughters.
My sister-in-law, a former psychologist with the Australian Federal Police, told me that the article may have triggered and allowed traumatic events to creep up in the memories of those cops effected by their experiences.
Some of the comments may have even sounded hard to believe to your casual reader but I knew them to be true.
A common thread that I have taken from all of the comments, to include private messages and emails, has led me to one conclusion.
Cops need help.
Especially once they have left the job. I guess it took one cop expressing these thoughts in a blog article that allowed a lot of them to open up.
The majority of the responses came from retired cops or those who are near retirement like me.
Why letting go is hard
Other than the outpouring of emotion (cops just don’t do this, ever), the thing that struck me was how long a good majority had served. Was it just about the money or putting a kid through college?
A lot of salty cops, the ones that have been on when MTV still played music videos, will use the same old crutch. They will say something like, “only two more years and my house will be paid for, my truck paid off and the last of my credit cards.”
When I hear one of these responses I just shake my head. I know that some have legitimate financial concerns but the majority of the ones who are hanging on are motivated mostly by fear and not money.
A fear of losing their identity as a cop.
A fear of not doing something they have been good at (most) for most of their life.
A fear of losing power.
A fear of losing respect.
A fear of change.
A fear of being weird.
A fear of letting go.
It’s okay. We all go through this change. I’m already feeling it and it’s awkward. Although not retired I have definitely rounded third base in my career. But knowing me and my salty ways, I will most likely be a fool and dive into home plate head-first.
Hopefully I won’t break anything.