The 10 Worst Things About Being a Police Officer

Why working in law enforcement isn't always all it's cracked up to be

We often talk about all of the great reasons to be a police officer and let there be no doubt: it really is a great career.  But in truth, that decent salary and the great health and retirement benefits come with a price. First of all, between a lengthy hiring process and the rigorous academy training, it's a hard job to get. Besides all that, though, once you get the job, you'll quickly find work in law enforcement isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Just so you can't say we never warned you, here are the 10 worst things about being a police officer.

The Excuses

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Every officer has heard them a hundred times, if not a thousand.  People constantly want to make excuses for their actions and blame other people for the problems they create. 

Whether they say they were speeding because they had to go to the bathroom, or they crashed because the sun was in their eyes, far too many cops deal with people who don't want to be held accountable for their actions which, as you can imagine, can be quite frustrating for police. After all, it can seem difficult to educate people and enforce the law when they refuse to believe they did anything wrong, to begin with.

The Attitudes

It's one thing to make excuses; it's another thing entirely to be rude.  Police officers do put their lives on the line every day, and the vast majority truly believe they are working to save lives. That's why it can be hard to take when an otherwise law-abiding member of the public begins yelling and cussing at the cop who's giving him a ticket or, worse yet, just a warning. 

Granted, police are taught to stand there and take it for the most part, but it doesn't make the job any easier when you're getting screamed at every other day.

The Hours

Law enforcement is a 24-7 operation, so somebody's got to be patrolling the streets at all times, and that means shift work. Whether on rotating or permanent shifts, the long and irregular hours can put a crimp in an officer's lifestyle, especially if he's got a family. 

Some shifts may mean you go days without seeing your family; when they're at school or work you're home, and when they're home, you're at work. There can be an upside to shift work, but it often takes a lot of getting used to.

The Stereotypes

There are so many stereotypes about police officers out there, and television and movies often do more harm than good. All too often, cops are portrayed as big, dumb knuckle draggers or gung-ho head thumpers, but in truth so many are smart, compassionate and caring people who really do want to help others and make a difference in their communities. Unfortunately, those stereotypes lead to a lot of misperceptions and misunderstanding about police officers.

The Myths

To a lot of police officers, it often seems like anyone who's seen an episode of Cops or taken a class in criminology is suddenly an expert on all things related to law enforcement. Because of that fact, a lot of myths are floating around out there that, frankly, make their jobs that much harder. 

For instance, people will insist that they can't be arrested unless they're read their rights. In fact, police don't have to read you your rights unless they are questioning you. Nonetheless, the myth persists, and people will scream, yell, and even try to fight if what they think should be happening doesn't go down the way they saw it happen on TV.

The Perception of Cop Culture

Along with the myths and the stereotypes, there's a perception that "cop culture" is one of corruption when it comes to taking care of each other and the "thin blue line" or the "brotherhood." 

It leads to a lot of distrust from the public and, while a few bad apples have earned that stigma for the rest of the hard-working, law-abiding officers, it's a largely unfair characterization inasmuch as officers very often want to weed out the dirty cops even more than the public does. 

The majority of officers are very well aware of the high ethical standard they are held to and want very much to uphold the public trust.  While they do stick together in many ways, only a select filthy few fail to understand that bad cops make all officers appear unethical.

The Misunderstanding

Like most jobs, no one who has never been an officer can truly understand what it's like to be an officer. Thanks to Hollywood, though, so many people seem to think they do. The fact is, once you become a police officer, you change in a lot of ways others will never truly get. You walk differently, you look at things and people differently, and you even look different. 

Ask any officer, and they'll no doubt tell you that they can easily pick other officers out of a crowd, even when out of uniform. Those changes make some things cops think, do or say easily misunderstood, which can be frustrating, to say the least.

The Scrutiny

Police officers are scrutinized by the public perhaps more than any other profession, with the notable exceptions of politicians and celebrities.

Think about it: if a civil engineer gets into an argument with her neighbor, do you think that neighbor is going to call her employer and complain that she was rude and discourteous? 

If she was an officer, though, everything she does, whether on or off duty, can be fair game for citizen complaints and even internal investigations. That's a level of scrutiny you won't find in most any other job.

The Politics

It's a sad truth that law enforcement agencies, like any other public entity, are subject to both internal and external politics.  Some officers find it frustrating, if not difficult, to deal with the apparent pressures that come from the politically motivated. 

Whether it's a disputed use of control case or a high-profile arrest, officers can sometimes feel as though their jobs are driven as much by members of the media and special interest groups as they are by the law and the principles they stand for.  Sometimes, they perceive a conflict in those driving forces, which can lead to low morale and bad feelings about the job. 

Fortunately, those instances are relatively rare and are often far more perception than reality. Nonetheless, it can become a source of aggravation.

The Pain

A large part of any police officer's job involves dealing with pain, both physical and psychological. Even in making an arrest, most officers do not take lightly the fact that it's a life-changing event for the subject in question. 

They see people hurting from violence and abuse. They see people become victims and see the hurt they feel because of it. And they see people dying and dead, and the loved ones they leave behind. They have to tell husbands, wives, and parents that their children or spouse won't ever be coming home again, and they have to stay calm and strong in the face of it all. 

All of this brings its own pain, a pain that never really goes away. They can bury it, and even ignore it from time to time, but it will always be there, and it's without a doubt the worst part of being a police officer.

It's Not All Bad

Don't let this list scare you. After all, becoming a police officer is largely about sacrifice. No one should enter into the job with selfish motivations, because they will most likely be quickly and sorely disappointed. Of course, there are downsides to the job, as there are with any career. But the benefits far outweigh the detriments, and despite the tough times, a career as a police officer is quite possibly one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever find.