The question of why a person wants to be a cop is usually answered with the pat answer, “I want to help people” or “I want to protect and serve.” That is the answer you will probably hear from most cops who have a microphone in front of them or are having medals hung around their neck (not that there is anything inherently wrong about either situation). It is the answer you will most likely hear from those with their names printed on their sweat shirts as they are going through skills or academy. It is probably the answer you will hear from the probationer who has polished black boots, shiny brass and a stiff basket weave belt.
This answer isn’t wrong. It’s just deceiving. I can think of many other jobs that protect and serve the public’s good and pay far better, provide a more comfortable work attire, and don’t require frequent coffee breaks at 2AM at the local Holiday gas station on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Yes, we protect and serve, but what does that really mean. My answer as to why I got into this job is vastly different from my answer eight years later as to why I stay in this job.
My answer now is two fold. First, so others don’t have to and secondly, to protect the status quo.
Eight years in law enforcement came and went with out much thought a week ago. On May 31st, 2006 I took an oath to protect and serve the citizens of my county with little realization as to what I was getting myself into. I had no idea the toll it would take at times on my body, mind and spirit. One of the reason’s I do this job now is so that others don’t have too. I know many cops who try and talk their kids out of becoming cops because the job can be emotionally and physically demanding. The nights and weekends wear on a person especially as the years begin to pile on top of each other. The sights, the sounds and the clientele are all factors that cause cops to tell their children- don’t do it.
Motivational, is it not? Do it so others don’t. It goes beyond that for me. The best description I heard of what it means to be a cop is by Chief Kent Williams. He said that the essence of law enforcement is simply continuing to hold up the status quo of society. Sin in the form of criminals and stupid people are constantly trying to push it down and create chaos and cops are there every second of every day to try and hold it back up. We are the band-aids and tourniquets and sheepdog of a society that is constantly falling down and threatening to bleed out. We just try and prop it back up and pass it on to the next shift.
CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity said it well to further describe what it means to maintain the status quo for society.
The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.
I used to get frustrated about things in law enforcement that were not outside of my control. The revolving door of criminals made it feel like we are simply trying to punch water. We can hit it as much as we want but we will never make a dent. My perspective changed when I read this from CS Lewis. My job is to simply hold up the status quo so that each night, most of the people in my jurisdiction will never even think about me because they are enjoying a quiet evening in some way. And when that status quo comes crashing down via a domestic assault, DWI, robbery, burglary, or barricaded person; I’ll be there to try and push it back up for one more night.
I like that. That is why I am a cop.
“For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4