The Straight Scoop on Law Enforcement Careers

Get the facts about the most common misperceptions in law enforcement

Cops cars and ice cream trucks
••• Scott McLeod/Creative Commons

Pop culture, entertainment, and news media are full of stories and images of police officers at work. Each has its own agenda, angle, and biases when trying to show what the job of a police officer is like. Some popular and common myths and misunderstandings about police work are far from the truth, but others are reasonably close to fact.

Divorce and Law Enforcement

It's a widely held belief that careers in law enforcement lead to divorce. In fact, recruiters and background investigators even sit down with the spouses of potential recruits to let them know about the higher-than-average divorce rate.

But the data doesn't pan out. Researchers in multiple studies have found that not only do police careers not lead to a higher potential for divorce but that officers actually have a lower than average divorce rate when compared to other professions.

Are Law Enforcement Careers Really Dangerous?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a list of the most dangerous jobs each year, including death and injury rates per capita. Police careers make the cut every year, but they're most often found in the middle or at the lower end of the list, not at the top as the most dangerous.

Inevitably, some intrepid journalist will pick up on this and conclude that public support for police is based on the myth that the profession is dangerous. Is this really a correct conclusion? Are police worthy of the public support and sympathy they currently garner?

Actually, yes. There's no arguing with statistics, but although other jobs might have a higher per capita risk, only one job in the U.S. involves other people actively try to hurt or kill you. That's law enforcement.

The Link Between Police Work and Poor Health

It's long been alleged by police unions and law enforcement professionals that policing can be dangerous to your health. There hasn't been any hard data on the subject one way or the other...until now.

New studies confirm that yes, law enforcement careers are bad for your health—that is, of course, unless you take steps to mitigate the threat. 

Some Other Common Myths

The answer to all these questions is a resounding "no."

  • Do undercover cops really have to tell you that they're cops if you ask? No!
  • Is your arrest invalidated if your Miranda warning isn't given? No!
  • Must traffic cops be readily visible? Do hidden radar units mean entrapment? No!

Police Stereotypes

What's the very first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "cop?" I'll bet it was a doughnut. But is it true that police find doughnuts irresistible? No. Actually, what they really love is coffee, and both can often be found in the same easily accessible locations.

Why are so many officers depicted as Irish in movies and television? Because so many police officers were of Irish descent when the profession began in the mid-1800s.

Police don't have quotas, either. In fact, quotas are against the law in many states.

Just the Facts

A day in the life of a police officer is tough and full of challenges. It's not an easy job, and it's not a perfect job. But for all the negative stereotypes, there are plenty of great reasons to become a police officer.

If you're interested in a career in law enforcement, it's probably a good idea to know what you're getting into. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of assumptions that are based on popular culture and urban legends. Learn the truth and make an informed decision, and you're sure to find the perfect criminology career for you.