If you are a regular follower of my blog, you may already know this. But, if you are new, or just a casual reader, I am a full time Patrol Officer. If you would have told me 4 or 5 years ago that I would be employed full time as a cop, I would have told you that you were full of crap. I never even considered going into law enforcement when I was researching careers and colleges. Honestly, as soon as I learned that there was such a thing as an "Exercise and Sports Science" degree, I stopped searching and just knew that was what I wanted to pursue. As I was attending UW - La Crosse, I think I considered about a half dozen (if not more) different careers either at UWL or another university or tech school. I debated becoming an electrician apprentice, electrical engineer, fire fighter, physical therapist, and various other engineer and electrical type fields. I even officially changed my major from fitness, to physical education, and then finally to sports management which I ultimately graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in. It's not that I was ever not interested in health and fitness, but more that I was just never 100% sold that it was what I wanted to do for a career. After graduation, I was hired as the Health and Fitness Coordinator for the Neenah-Menasha YMCA. I was thrilled to actually find a full time job in the health and fitness field so close to home. After about a year or so of working there, I had a feeling that I could do more, that I was unfulfilled, if you will. I once again, started looking else where for possible employment, both in the health and fitness field and in anything else I felt was qualified for. Then, in 2009, Sarah was told that her hours were going to be cut in half. She would be going from 80 hours on a pay check to 40. Ouch, that one hurt. We had just started a family and Maya wasn't even a year old. We tried cutting expenses anyway we could. We gave up cable, put loans on hold, and tried finding short cuts financially anywhere we could. That was when Sarah and I decided that I should consider looking for a new job, to help our family financially.
Sarah found a job opening at Fox Valley Metro Police Department and their major requirement was just 60 college credits. I applied on a whim, thinking what's the worst that could happen. I then applied for the City of Appleton Police Department a week or two later. If you have never gone through a hiring process for a police department, let me enlighten you. They are long....very long, and often times include 6 or more steps along the way, and they eliminate candidates along the way after each and every step. Some of the typical steps include a written test, physical agility tests, a panel interview, an interview with the Chief, an interview with the community's Police and Fire Commission, a psychology evaluation, and sometimes even a polygraph test. Often times a single hiring process can take up to 6 months or more. So, as you can see, saying they're stressful is an understatement. While I was in the middle of both processes, I chose to participate in each agency's "Ride-Along" program to see exactly what I was considering getting myself into. Turns out, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a cop. I would get to help people, protect others, serve my community, be outside, and interact with people each and every day. I did a total of 3 ride-alongs, 2 with Appleton PD, and one with FV Metro PD. After each and every ride-along, I was convinced I would be happy working as a law enforcement officer. As each of the processes went on, I made it to the final step for Metro, the Police and Fire Commission Interview. I was in the final four, but ultimately was not selected. For Appleton, I made it through the first 3 stages and again ultimately was not selected. I met with the Chief of Fox Valley Metro to discuss why I was not selected and what I could have done differently. Turns out, what held me back in both processes was that I was not already certified - I was not certified by the State of Wisconsin as a Law Enforcement Officer. Basically, I did not have a degree in criminal justice and I had not attended a Police Academy. It was at this point where Sarah and I had many long conversations discussing my future.
Sarah and I agreed that I would take a leap of faith and put myself through the Academy at a local Technical College. Just as the general hiring processes for individual agencies is competitive, so too is the application process for the Law Enforcement Academy. The local college hosts 4 individual Academy classes a year, each with about 25-30 students. About 20 or so of those spots are already spoken for by area agencies wishing to send new hires or current employees through, leaving just 5-10 spots for the general public, which is why they have a separate application process. Luckily I was selected on my first attempt at going through the Academy and just like that I was "all in." I quit as the Health and Fitness Coordinator at the YMCA and I cashed out my entire retirement account, which wasn't a lot of money, but literally just enough to pay for the Academy. There was no turning back.
It was a huge risk, who knew if I would find a job, let alone a job close to our house that we had just purchased a couple years prior to quitting my job....all with a 8 month old. I applied to any and every job opening within a 60 mile radius of our home. I was involved in about 3-5 or more hiring processes at any one given time. I was hired as a part-time officer for the City of Omro Police Department while I was still attending the Academy, but continued to seek full time employment. I continued to study and attend classes every day from 8-4pm and during that period I learned all about the constitution, criminal law, report writing, driving emergency vehicles, and was even pepper sprayed and tasered. In August I graduated from the Academy, and began the training process with the Omro Police Department. A short while later I was hired full time with the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office and officially started on November 1st, 2010.
Granted, that scenario may not truly be an everyday occurrence, but by no stretch of the imagination is that out of the ordinary. Hell, it could even have been worse. This kind of stuff happens literally every single day, in every single state, and in just about every single community. Rarely do you hear of this stuff. Why? Honestly, because 99% of the time this stuff ends peacefully, without incident. But sometimes it doesn't. That's just the way it is. Sometimes the subject is hurt, injured, and sometimes even killed. Sometimes the police officer is hurt, injured, and sometimes killed. It's part of the job, it's what we all signed up for. Unfortunately, when these incidents don't go as planned, the media reports them. That's when suddenly people are experts and know exactly what should have been done. It's done everywhere, everyday. The media and general public are suddenly arm chair quarterbacks. They say things like, "If that where me, I would have _____." Or, "The officers should have just ___________." Or even, "There was no reason for that to happen like that, they could have __________."
Being a police officer is a thankless job. I'm not complaining, I love what I do. I know each and every day that I did what was right at the time in the situation that I was in. It's not hard to see why most veteran cops are jaded. They have been scrutinized, ridiculed, challenged nearly every day for 20 or 30 years, sometimes even more. I'm not here saying that every single police officer is perfect, we aren't, hell, I'm not. And don't even for a second try to tell me that you have never made a mistake while at work. I also realize that there are some police officers out there that are rude, mean, and have poor priorities. I know those cops exist, I've met them, I've seen them at trainings, I've been on calls with them. I'm not saying every cop is the nicest person out there. Fact is, there are jerks out there everywhere, I'm sure you have people at your work that are not nice people.
So the next you have police contact, no matter the situation, say "thank you." We are doing our best, I can guarantee it. A simple thank you goes a long way - more then you can imagine. All to often we are looked at as "bad." How often do you hear (especially from parents), "if you don't behave, I'll have the police bring you jail." Or something similar. All this does is instill a perception that cops are bad, they take people away. We are here to help. We are here to protect. We are here to serve you, the community. Almost 100% of the time we are viewed as the bad guy until we are needed, then we are your everything, just to be forgotten immediately following the situation. So, next time you see a cop on the side of the highway with their lights on, move over, slow down. And the next time you see an officer walking their patrol area, or at a special event, say thank you, sure, they are there as their job, but they are also there for you, willing to do whatever it takes, even if that means sacrificing their own life so you can go home safely with your kids and family.
I'll wrap up this post with an excerpt from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman who is an internationally recognized scholar, author, soldier, and speaker who is one of the world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime. Col. Grossman is a West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and an Army Ranger. About a year or two ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman speak. During his presentation, which is geared toward soldiers and law enforcement personnel in the topic of the possibility of using deadly force. During his presentation he compared the role of a police officer to that of a sheepdog. Below is an excerpt from one of his books, On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs:
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” Or, as a sign in one California law enforcement agency put it, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath--a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.