Why I Became a Cop

Over the last three years, I’ve told you countless stories about my job.  To date, 2011 has seen line of duty deaths increase by 6% at 75 compared to the same period in time as 2010.  That is a disturbing statistic.  When I interviewed Gordon Graham a few weeks ago, he ended our interview thanking paramedics.  Why?  Because line of duty deaths were staggering when he started his career and have steadily declined since, thanks in large part to the emergence of paramedicine.  The scary thing is deaths are on the rise once again.  If we’re not able to be saved, why do we risk it?  Who in their right mind would do this often thankless and possibly deadly job?

Every now and again, I need to remember why.  I figured I’d share.

Fifteen years ago, I was a dispatcher with a Southern California agency.  It was a small department on a college campus.  Dispatching back then involved a lot of different hats.  At any given time, there was only one of us.  There were times when I would be dispatching an officer, running out a subject, answering 911, and handling the front counter.  All at the same time.  When I was asked during the interview process for my current gig, I was asked how I was at multi-tasking.  I was able to answer without laughing.  Barely.  If you’re an officer and have any sense, you will treat your dispatchers with the deference and respect they deserve.

At any rate, I was working graveyard one night when 911 rang.  As any dispatcher will tell you, nine times out of ten, 911 is some idiot asking about the weather or what time it is.  At least that’s what it felt like to me.  This time was different:

Pre-MC: 911, what is your emergency?

Lady: Garble, garble, garble…he…garble…tried to rape me…garble garble.

Adrenaline surged and focus became laser-like.  When you call 911 from a land line, your location appears on a screen in front of the dispatcher.  I already had units en route to her before I asked:

Pre-MC: Where are you?

Lady: Near the beach in front of some building.

Pre-MC: Where is he.

Lady: Up the road.

Pre-MC: Which direction?  Is he in a car?

Lady: Away from the water.  He’s in a white Toyota truck.  I took the keys.  He’s passed out.

Pre-MC (to units): Be advised, suspect is in a white Toyota pickup east of vic’s location.

I went on to get more info that I won’t bore you with; however, I had my units with her inside of 60 seconds of receiving the call and other units pulling the suspect (wearing nothing but his socks, by the way) out of his car.  I presume it was by his hair and they were none to polite.

I stayed on to burn a copy of the dispatch tapes and help out where I could.  A dispatcher never (or at least seldom) has the opportunity to interact with victims.  Our little PD, however, offered me a rare look into the face of gratitude.  I was walking down the hall when the investigating officer came out of the interview room.  She asked me if I could sit with the victim for a minute while she made some copies.  I quickly agreed.

The officer walked me into the room and introduced me as the dispatcher she had spoken with at the outset of the call.

Lady (beside herself): Thank you so much!

Pre-MC: Ma’am, I didn’t do anything.  You were the one that picked up the phone.  You did a great job.

When I am asked why I became a police officer, I have two honest, but equally valid, answers.  First, I truly love being able to help people.  When that lady called?  At that particular moment in time?  I felt like I was the only one on the planet that could have helped her.  And I did.  I wanted to do that for more than simply one person.  I wanted to do more than answer the phone.  I wanted to be the one doing the cuffing.  Second, the rush was sick.  Truly.  It wasn’t just the adrenaline (although that was a huge part), it was the focused intensity.  All the extraneous bullshit of the rest of my night went away with an audible *crack*.  I have seldom felt so intensely driven and focused.  I wanted more.

So, I have both a selfish and self-less answer for why I became a cop.  Most days in law enforcement are boring, but they all have the potential to explode in a moment’s notice.  Hell, if you get notice, you’re lucky.

I started this post with some scary statistics and the question of why anyone would put up with the rather large amount of crap that police put up with.  Perhaps I just needed to remind myself why I do it.  It’s a surprisingly cliché answer.

“To Protect and Serve”.  Seems there’s a reason you find that phrase on so many patrol cars.

What about you?  Why do you do what you do?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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17 thoughts on “Why I Became a Cop

  1. Great post MC. I think if we all remember why we started our career we can reignite the passion for our career. We all get stuck in ruts once and a while. I have written three times about my journey in emergency services.

    Life Less Ordinary Part 1 http://wp.me/pFgLq-7t
    Life Less Ordinary Part 2 http://wp.me/pFgLq-7w
    Why are you here? http://wp.me/pFgLq-4b

    I will never forget the first time I had to perform CPR on a live person. I was only 17 and it was my girlfriend at the time. I have not put that story down on paper and I cannot any time soon.

  2. It isn’t often that we hear our individual drives to do what we do put in terms of selfishness, but I totally relate. I like helping and being the one who can help almost as much as those being helped probably appreciate us showing up. Have to admit it isn’t totally pure and selfless…. we do it because we *want* to. Good outcomes are sometimes just a nice corollary result. It works.

  3. i always joke that whatever idiots and their crap we have to deal with, cops have to deal with with ten times more. to people who are quick to criticize cops, especially anonymously in online newspapers’ comments sections: f*** off.

  4. I got jumped by a gangster when I was in college. A Chippy pulled up just as I was about to go to blows one on two. Dudes got back in their truck and then got 95’d by the patrolman. One dude went for DUI and the shithead who started it went for 243 and for puking in the back of a deputies car. I never again said “where’s a cop when you need one.” Riding a motor is just gravy!

  5. Another great post MC! It seems like getting an adrenaline rush off of helping people in a time of great need is a win/win.

  6. I became a cop because I had a chance encounter one day (WAY too long ago) at 8 years old with a Police Officer. I had rode to the neighborhood store, and when I came out, my chariot had been pilfered. I called my dad, and he called the local PD. This cop was the biggest, NICEST person I had ever met (besides Dad, of course). He made me feel instantly comfortable and safe. He asked me some questions, wrote some stuff down and then took me home in his patrol car. He even let me play with the lights and siren on the way home! That one moment solidified my career path in life. Fortunately I had the opportunity to work with this man for a few years before he retired; I’ll never forget “Head”.

    As for becoming an EMT, I had a few events in my life when people VERY close to me, some Law Enforcement Officers, some family members, died in my arms and I was helpless to do anything about it. I decided I never wanted to feel that again, and went through EMT school. Will it bring them back? Hell no, nothing can. But that feeling might enable me to keep another Officer for family member around for a little longer.

  7. It really is about that focus. That’s my take too. It’s almost a Zen thing. I started with the “rush” and over time I hadn’t been able to quantify the change in feeling about calls.
    Thanks for putting in to words what I have been trying to figure out for almost 25 years.
    May that feeling never die.

  8. As a person who has been affected by violent crime (I absolutely hate the word victim) I will be forever grateful to both the dispatcher and officers I came into contact with. The dispatchers (one for taking me seriously even though I was unable talk directly to them, and to the other for keeping me calm when quite frankly I was terrified) and all police officers were absolutely fantastic.

    The incredible support and assistance two officers in particular displayed reaffirmed my trust in human nature and made the event as painless as it possibly could be. Their generosity is truly appreciated and I don’t think they will ever understand just how much it has meant to me.

    So from one person who unfortunately has had to use your services I would like to send out an extremely big THANKYOU to all involved in the emergency services – you make an incredible difference and I (and hopefully many others) are trully grateful for what you do.

  9. Dude, I know this post is from a few days ago, but man, it was good.
    Between you and my buddy James who is an officer on our local police force, I will always carry a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women who accept this calling.

    Now, go get ’em.

  10. I am surrounded by friends who are Paramedics, Police officers, and Soldiers, as a Soldier aspiring to be a Cop, I joined for the same reasons you did. The rush, and to be able to help…

    This story sums up my reasons..

    One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
    a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

    Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?

    The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
    The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.

    Son, the man said, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
    You can’t make a difference!

    After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
    and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
    I made a difference for that one.

  11. Thank you for a great post! I start school in August to get my Bachelors degree in criminal justice, then off to the police academy. I can’t wait to help people and I won’t lie I can’t wait for the adrenaline rush. Thanks again!