Who Wants to be a Cop?

There’s never been a better time to be a criminal in America than right now.

There’s never been a more challenging time to be a police officer in America than right now.

Police departments around the country are facing a crisis like they’ve never before faced in their history. An existential crisis in some ways. For most of the recorded history of policing, the enemy of the profession has been those who pursue harm upon the innocent. Today, that has all changed. The greatest enemy to police today is the vocal, bombastic, often good-intentioned, mostly naïve and simplistic, ordinary citizen. This is a terrible statement, and it pains me to write it, but it’s true, more now than ever before. And while police departments are fantastic at addressing their traditional adversary, the lawbreaker, they are terrible at addressing this new, perilously slippery enemy who shouts from the pulpits, rouses the masses through histrionics and illusory ethereal information, and then fades into the shadows to watch the seeds of their discontent blossom.

Ask somebody if they think it would be a good idea for you to pursue a profession in police work right now and the most likely answer you’ll receive is, “You’d have to be a complete idiot to want to be a cop right now.” Ask a police officer if you should join their ranks, and the most likely answer you’ll receive is a hearty laugh before they turn back to their calculations of the earliest possible time they can retire and still afford to feed their families.

Despite this, police departments need new officers in record numbers, and they have no end to the number of candidates lining up for a chance to spend a few hundred hours at a rigid, demanding, stringent academy, followed by months of on-the-job training where they’ll be baptized in the fire of a brutally grim society filled with heinous actors who will force them into split-second life or death decisions while their own departmental representatives criticize every error, the community they’re trying to protect attacks them verbally, physically, and emotionally at every opportunity, and an honest, good-intentioned mistake can lead to civil lawsuits and prison time. And they’ll put themselves willingly into this hellscape for about the same starting salary as an apprentice plumber makes. 

Take a look at this body camera video released recently by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR-Q_qvNiTg

This woman is a teacher, and her child was in the car. Let that sink in for a moment.

What does this type of video, along with all the others showing the citizenry bombarding police officers with physical and verbal abuse tell you about the quality of the candidates who must be lining up in the hopes of earning a coveted spot on the firing line for this masochistic wretchedness?

And if physical, verbal, and emotional abuse from the citizenry they’re sworn to protect wasn’t bad enough, those responsible for their oversite and well-being seem to be continuously attacking them as well. Diana Morales is a candidate for mayor of New York, and she’s running and campaigning on a platform of “defund the police.” Cities across the nation, from Minneapolis, to Oak Park, Illinois, to San Francisco are either seriously considering massive cuts to their police departments, or they’ve already begun them. And the problem keeps growing.

An article last month in Cosmopolitan by Paige Fernandez, the ACLU’s policing policy adviser called, “Defunding the Police isn’t Punishment—It Will Actually Make Us Safer,” in which she pushes for a reallocation of funds from police departments to social programs has gone mainstream, her dangerous and naïve ideas reaching millions. Two months ago, and then again just a week ago, the New York City Council passed sweeping police reforms, some of which were okay, but some of which were horribly ignorant. One of those reforms criminalizes—actually criminalizes—a police officer from putting pressure on a suspect’s chest or back in a way that restricts their airflow. Since many of the grappling techniques police officers learn for controlling a combative subject when the fight moves to the ground rely on exactly these types of control methods, this is a really big problem and has the effect of being completely counter to its intent, that being fewer injuries to suspects. This law not only incentives police to use more violent, more dangerous tools and tactics, it actually mandates it under criminal penalty! Police officers need more training in hand-to-hand combat control techniques, not having these tools removed and criminalized by legislators. Take a look at this video from the Gracie brothers where they do a good job of breaking down exactly why this is so awful and why it will almost certainly result in more suspect and officer injuries and deaths, along with an even greater torrent of resignations from officers who’ve just had enough of the nonsense.

The actions of the NYC council are being echoed around the country, and police officers have had enough. In Minneapolis, since the murder of George Floyd, more than 200 officers have quit or have taken extended leaves of absence. Take a read of this article where a former MPD officer describes why he decided to leave after just four years on the job. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2021/05/16/former-minneapolis-police-officer-talks-about-his-decision-to-leave/

What happens when good officers like the one in the article above decide to leave a department? They get replaced, often by officers who are not as good. As the pool of quality candidates declines, the quality of the police department declines, more officers decide to leave, and the cycle goes on and on. How do we stop it?

It’s actually a bit shocking that the LASO released that video of the woman spewing venom at the deputy who pulled her over. Police have historically been extremely unwilling to publicly defend themselves from abuse and hate. Police departments have always adopted a stoic approach to the abuse they absorb on a daily basis, and I think this needs to change. When 100% of the police incidents where an officer looks bad or unprofessional are being disseminated on every public platform imaginable, and next to zero of the incidents where police absorb unrequited abuse and castigation like in the video above—a scene that has become depressingly common-place, then the story is incredibly one-sided and unfair. Public records disclosures don’t have to go in just one direction. The public needs to see what is really happening out there on the streets so that they can actually begin to get a grasp of the entire picture.

Police departments are finally beginning to understand that they’re going to have to take a more active role in their own defense. They also need to find a way to reverse the tidal wave of departures from departments around the country. This is not easily accomplished though. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the police executive research forum recently had this to say:

“The American policing profession may be facing the most fundamental questioning of its legitimacy in decades. The very essence of policing is being debated in many cities, often because of controversial video recordings of police officers’ actions…The country is facing a looming crisis in the hiring of police officers. Agencies continue to rely on hiring standards that were created decades ago, for a different philosophy of policing and a different generation of police officer candidates—even while many cities are having trouble finding enough suitable candidates to keep up with retirements and fill vacant positions…—and for many young people, especially in minority communities, policing is not seen as an appealing career choice in the current climate.”

A recent publication from the U.S. Department of Justice also suggests that police departments are facing a looming crisis with regard to their ability to recruit and hire quality candidates to fill the exploding number of available positions. Here’s a snip from this publication:

There was broad agreement among participants at the Hiring Forum that the process for hiring police officers in the United States is often plagued by inefficiency and a lack of urgency. Compared with most other professions, the police hiring process is slow, cumbersome, overly bureaucratic, and not very user friendly for the applicant. In some jurisdictions, it can be a year or more from the time an individual submits an application to when a successful candidate begins police academy training.

For decades, police agencies have used largely the same process, and there has been little incentive to change, because traditionally, there were more applicants than there were vacant officer positions. Many of the people entering the policing profession came from families of officers who went through the same process themselves, so there was little expectation that things would be done any differently. Agencies were able to fill their ranks using protocols that had served them well for years. Recently, however, those dynamics have shifted dramatically. Police officer vacancies have risen, with some large departments suddenly looking to fill several hundred positions. At the same time, the candidate pool has diversified beyond the core group of applicants who joined the profession over generations. Fewer candidates are coming from traditional “police families.” More are coming with college degrees that provide them with greater flexibility to consider other careers, especially if those professions can complete the hiring process more efficiently and get recent graduates on the payroll more quickly.

Perhaps the biggest change has been generational. Candidates entering the workforce today are largely Millennials and, now, members of Generation Z as well. These individuals grew up with technology that allows them to obtain information on almost any subject in seconds, or to purchase goods and obtain them overnight, rather than waiting days or weeks for delivery. Participants at the hiring forum said that these younger generations can be impatient, making them less likely to tolerate a police hiring process that can last months, is largely paper-driven, and can be frustratingly opaque to the applicant.

So, what do we need to reverse what is surely about to become a dramatic slide in the quality of police departments at a time when they need, more than ever, solid, intelligent, motivated, quality cops with pure motives and unimpeachable ethics? We need you to join the police force. Who? You. The reader. I’m speaking to you. If you would have to be an absolute idiot to want to go into the policing profession right now, that is precisely why the profession needs you. If you’ve read this far, you have either incredible patience, a high tolerance for suffering, or an insatiable thirst for growth and knowledge, and all of those things are critical virtues for a police officer to possess. If, like me, you’ve seen the dangers of a degrading candidate pool for a public position where the actions of one bad cop can taint the motives and accomplishments of thousands, then your local police department needs you. This is the time when you can give back to society. If you’re intelligent, successful, good under pressure, and have a solid moral compass, why not consider leaving whatever your current profession is and giving back to your community by joining the police force?

I know this may sound absolutely ridiculous, but the best way to help right the ship and contribute to the health of a critical piece of the infrastructure of a stable society is to bring in those who don’t really want to do the job. Those who are overqualified for the job. Those who think the job is probably beneath them. You can sit comfortably at home and criticize the mistakes and decisions of police officers. You can complain about their performance, their attitudes, their motives, their education, and their abilities, or you can get out of your easy chair and help make things better. There are, of course, many ways to help your society and to contribute your time to worthy causes. But anybody can go serve meals at the homeless shelter. It takes a truly dedicated, selfless hero to set aside their life and to serve their community as a police officer when they don’t actually want to do the job, and when taking the job means accepting a massive pay cut, putting themselves through a hellish year of training in high-pressure situations, and putting their lives on the line for the greater good. Can you be this person? Can you be one of the ones who decides that they want to be a part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem?

Police departments across the country are trying to hire quality candidates like you, and they’re struggling mightily at every turn. Will you consider joining them?