First and foremost, understand these few things that could be called the downside of the job.
Many people will not like you. Actually, I think it is less than three percent of the population, but it is this three percent that you will be in contact with 90 percent of the time, so it will seem like a lot. Be okay with that.
Shift work. They say it will shorten your life, so it is important to stay fit and healthy and, most importantly, learn to like the good and interesting and different things that each shift has to offer.
Wage. If you want to be a cop for the money, that is absolutely the wrong reason and this is the wrong job for you. It is an adequate wage but that’s it. You’re not going to get rich
Job Stress. Much has been said about “the stress of being a police officer.” The truth is that the greatest source of stress is not having to fight bad guys that want to kill you; it is fighting the frustrations of an inept Justice System and the bureaucracies one is subjected to when one is at the bottom of the food chain in a paramilitary organization.
Choose your attitude. Many times in life—in fact most times in life—you don’t have a lot of choice in things. You have to work to survive, you have to live in a place you may not like, and abide by rules you didn’t make, under a leader you didn’t choose, etc. However, However, you can choose the important things in life, and there are few: your beliefs, your mate, and your attitude. Yes, whether you realize it or not, you choose your attitude every day—no one chooses it for you.
There are many negative things a cop will encounter. That is your job. After all, folks don’t call 911 when everything is going well. So a positive, “yes I can,” type attitude or a positive, “the glass is half full, not half empty,” attitude will enable you to accomplish great things and maintain a necessary sense of humor throughout your career.
Policing is paramilitary in nature and you will take orders and may, at some time, give orders. The phrase “you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it,” will come to make sense, unlike some of the orders you will receive. So, in this regard, this calling is much like a well-paid soldier. You will often be given a mission or a task; your opinion, or whether or not you feel like doing it, is not up for discussion and, quite frankly, doesn’t matter.
Mistakes. They are going to happen. Most times, they ain’t the end of the world and we learn from them and move on, better for it.
Risks. There will be some. (If there wasn’t you wouldn’t be signing up—see point 5 above). Fear. There will definitely be some. There better be or you’re in the wrong line of work for you. Fearless people generally end up needing rescuing…or burying. I know—I’ve seen both. Fear is just your butt saying, “Hey dude—wake up. Things could go really bad here. You need to be sharp, so switch on.”
Take your skills and talents in stride. You are not special, not better than the next guy who doesn’t have that set of skills; you are just different and have a skill. Good for you.
You are obligated to use it for good, to help others, to show others how to conduct themselves. Be an example.
The ability to do something well should come with an equal measure of humility, responsibility, and obligation to do what you do for the good of other policemen and people in society.
Life on Earth is precious and fragile—and short. Even when we live a full life, it is still short compared to time itself. I have seen death up-close and often, just as you are going to. It does not respect age, place, occasion, or reason. You will focus on the mission and do your job in the midst of some overwhelming and sometimes horrific visual and mental stimuli. It is therapeutic to talk to friends and loved ones about what you saw and did and felt.
A person never knows when their time (or a loved one’s) is up so enjoy life, enjoy every day, and enjoy every minute you have with loved ones.
Finally it will be the end of the innocence for you. The learning curve as a cop was steep for me as far as humanity’s problems go. Two big lessons: First, humans are capable of the most wonderful, tender, caring, compassion, the most incredible brilliance of invention and problem solving, and the most horrific, despicable, unspeakable evil against their own kind.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” This is as true today of police officers as it has ever been.
Keep your head down and keep the faith.