A perspective on law enforcement from a Southern California officer. Meet Sean, who was sworn in with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department in 1981.
I knew I wanted to be a cop when I was in grade school. In 1968, an LAPD officer came in and I swear you could see your reflection in his shoes. It sounds a little lame, but seeing that uniformed man talk about being a policeman inspired me. But this work isn’t for everyone. Police work is a tough job, and it takes a lot out of you, especially when you consider the changing public perception of cops.
Take firemen for example: Everyone loves firemen, all the time. But they only love cops when they really need them. The rest of the time, people might be afraid of you. People might try to harm you. Maybe I should have followed my mother’s advice and been a fireman.
I remember this one time me and my training officer tried to pull over this one guy we tracked down who’d threatened his family earlier that morning. He pulled a shotgun and took off in his hatchback. We were in pursuit and calling in backup. Now, forget what you’ve seen in the movies. Cops aren’t supposed to shoot at moving vehicles—at least I was trained not to—mostly because cops aren’t historically the best shots. Forget about shooting the tires or anything like that. So we followed this guy, and he ended up cornered in a house. It turned into this huge SWAT standoff, which lasted for about nine hours. A deputy finally got a good shot at him, hit him right in the ass with a 12-gauge. I always considered that a positive outcome, considering there were several opportunities to kill the guy. I’m glad we didn’t kill him.
But there are other cases and moments that don’t turn out so positively. Once my partner and I discovered a dead man, killed by a small caliber weapon. Probably by a prostitute. That was a homicide that never got solved. You really can’t win them all.
So, you rely on your fellow officers. You participate in the bad jokes. You work out a lot. You watch football. Back in my glory days, I stayed away from alcohol as much as I could, I ran marathons, climbed mountains … and I boxed. Boxing let me vent a lot of the rage. Or I’d go to the range and fire off a few rounds.
Some guys coped with the work, and some guys didn’t. I’ve seen a lot of guys get divorced, and I’m very sad to say I’ve known guys who have taken their own lives. It’s a challenging job, and if you don’t rely on your fellow officers to help you deal with it, it just might eat you up.
When you spend sometimes 20-hour days with another person on the job, you’re going to get to know him or her. You’ll know about their spouse, about their kids, about their politics, and opinions and insights into the world. You form a partnership; the kind of partnership that will likely never change, even if law enforcement itself evolves and adapts to the times, as things like body cameras and additional scrutiny become regular parts of the job.
If I could offer some real perspective to anyone interested in law enforcement, it would be this: This job will test you. It’s not for everybody. And you certainly don’t do it to get rich. If that sounds like something you can handle, then go ahead and sign up (before you do, get a bachelor’s degree, and probably start working on a master’s). I’m certainly glad I signed up, because despite some of the hard days, I always went home at the end of my watch feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Sean currently works as a contract detention officer, providing services for the United States Marshal Service.