By Bruce Robert Coffin
A couple of weeks ago, as happens frequently, someone asked me if the twenty-eight years I spent as a cop was worth it. I can’t remember exactly how I answered this particular time, but I’m sure it was something to the effect of, “of course it was.” The question has been posed to me so many times that perhaps I’m a bit numb to it. But for whatever reason I’ve been thinking about my answer and what it means.
I became a cop, joining what ended up becoming a family business, basically because it seemed that I would never realize my dream of becoming a published novelist. And when I say family business, I mean it. In addition to me, the list of family members who either currently do, or at one time did, carry a badge and gun consists of: two cousins, an uncle, three brothers-in-law, and one nephew. Even my dad considered it for a time.
The question of whether or not it was worth it isn’t as simple and straightforward as it might seem. Let’s consider the negatives that accompany the job. There were more missed nights, weekends, holidays, weddings, parties, birthdays, and reunions than I care to recall. Add to that the cancelled plans and the countless times my wife had to fend for herself at an event so I could respond to some police crisis. Then there were the long hours, low pay, bad food, constant stress, politics, and outright disdain of the profession by many. In fact, the cop-hate was sometimes so prevalent that on more than one occasion, while accompanying my wife to an event where I knew nobody, when casual conversation inevitably turned to occupations I would say I worked in sanitation. Hey, it’s kind of true—I was tasked with keeping the city clean. Besides it beat listening to three hours of intoxicated party goers denigrate my chosen profession. How many times is a guy supposed to smile and nod at stories that begin with: “Oh man, I remember this one time when I ran into this asshole cop.” Of course I had to learn the value of telling this fib. When I was younger I used to attempt the other option of defending the officer, and the profession, by stating that there might be more to the story than they were aware. This tactic more often than not ended in our early and awkward departure from said event. In the company of a less than pleased spouse. Ahh youth.
Most of the time the job was about trying to prevent people from being victimized by another or, all too often, even themselves. Death was a constant. Fatal motor vehicle crashes, murders, suicides, the elderly, infants, fires, industrial accidents, the list is unending. And with most deaths came notification to next of kin, arguably the least desirable aspect of law enforcement.
And people lie to cops. It’s just what they do. Law enforcement might be the one profession that fields more BS on a daily basis than the tax auditors at the IRS. And when they’re not lying, they’re often punching, kicking, spitting, or trying to kill us with bare hands or weapons. We are routinely threatened, and sometime those threats are even directed at our loved ones. We break up fights and respond to domestic assaults, too often in the presence of scared and confused children. It’s no mystery why domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous calls for police officers to respond to. I can’t tell you how many times, while trying to take custody of the aggressor, the victim would turn on me or my fellow officers.
Police work is hours of extreme boredom followed by adrenaline-dumping, life-altering incidents, leaving the involved officers unable to sleep for days or even weeks afterward. We second guess ourselves all the time, but it’s okay because everyone else will too. We are routinely sued and investigated internally, more often than not for simply doing our jobs. And police work by its very nature is often newsworthy. The problems come when we aren’t afforded the opportunity to comment because of an ongoing investigation. Unfortunately, there’s never a shortage of those who will comment, some freely embellishing if it serves their purpose. I can’t tell you how many times I was part of, or even supervising, an incident only to later see news coverage barely resembling what I had been a part of.
But please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want you to think that all aspects of the job were negative. There was so much more to policing than that. The overall sense of pride in being a part of something much larger than you, is indescribable. It still warms my heart to know that despite the growing difficulties of the job there remain hundreds of thousands of my brothers and sisters lacing up their boots and heading out to serve and protect their communities every single day. In good weather and bad, appreciated or not, they will always be out there working for all of us.
So now that I’ve given you a glimpse into what the job really entailed you might still be wondering, was it worth it?
Of course it was.