Are You Ready to Be a Police Officer?

Be sure you have what it takes

Policewoman and partner next to squad car
••• kali9 / Getty Images

According to data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, there are more than 900,000 people working as police officers in the United States. Even at nearly 1 million officers, police departments across the country report recruitment issues and keeping officers on the job. Why? Because the fact of the matter is, the job isn't for everyone.

Plenty of people apply to be cops, but only a very small percentage can actually get hired. Even fewer can stay on the job. It's hard: you see terrible things, you see people at their absolute worst, and your chosen profession is -- at least from a surface view -- increasingly derided by people for myriad reasons across all walks of life. Sounds like a load of fun, doesn't it?

Nonetheless, 1 million police officers can't be wrong. At the end of the day, it's a good job. The only question is, are you ready for everything it means to be a cop?

Are You Ever Really Prepared?

Years ago, when I first applied to become a police officer, I had all kinds of grand visions of what I thought the job would be like. While I never once thought it would be easy, the first day at the police academy very quickly proved to me that I had no idea what I was in for.

As tough as the academy was, once I graduated and began the field training officer program, I realized that the job of a police officer was about so much more than just making traffic stops and putting bad guys in jail.

What I learned was that the job meant long and irregular hours along with tough and dangerous situations. You deal with a lot of people who don't like you very much, most certainly don't appreciate getting speeding tickets or taking trips to jail, and who are all too happy to express their displeasure. I learned this a long time ago, before the explosion of the internet, YouTube, blogging and social media made police scrutiny deeper.

Public Scrutiny Is Getting Tougher

The public has always expected high ethical standards from their police officers. The digital age, however, has exposed police to a whole new level of scrutiny, with much attention paid to the small but harmful few officers whose actions damage public support for the police.

What does all that mean for new officers today? In short, it means that their job is only going to get harder. The world for police officers is becoming increasingly dangerous. It's not just the physical dangers that are inherent in a law enforcement career; applicants understand those. But many current officers feel increased concern about their own job security.

Real or perceived, law enforcement professionals report feeling that they're one bad YouTube video away from losing their job. Moreover, they report the concern that public perceptions restrict their ability to do their jobs.

The Job Is Only Getting Harder

The work environment for police officers has, in the eyes of many, become a pressure cooker. Officers have to make split-second decisions every day. Those decisions can mean their own life or death or that of another. For officers, those decisions can also mean the difference between having a job and being unemployed.

The bottom line, and what you really need to know if you're considering a career in law enforcement, is that the job of a police officer is only going to get harder. Without a plan to maintain both your mental and physical health, you'll have difficulty coping with the stresses of the job.

Do You Have What It Takes?

With that in mind, though, the simple fact is that the world needs good police officers -- people who can be tough but compassionate, who can handle the danger and the stress and the derision, and who have the desire and the ability to help and protect others, even at their own personal expense, on a daily basis

If you're willing to take all of that on, then maybe -- just maybe --you have what it takes to be a police officer.