3) Dealing with Disillusionment
Kirschman describes officers in this phase as no longer "idealistic supercop(s) out to solve crime and make this a better world." Now he or she is intent on just doing their best to "maintain order and hold the line". Stress due to internal and external situations beyond their control becomes an increased part of the officer's professional life and this seeps into their personal life as well. Cynicism is rampant at this stage as well as feelings of helplessness and frustration.
My colleagues indicated several categories of disillusionment:
3a) Sheer Volume of Work
"Quite often now, especially in urban areas, being able to help people takes a backseat to call response," says the veteran Maryland officer. "The crime rates in certain urban areas is so bad that officers go into their shift with a list of calls on hold, waiting for their attention. I could only answer calls as fast as I could and hope I'd get a chance to eat dinner."
3b) Human Nature
"People want law enforcement's help but on their terms and they often become angry or contemptuous when our realities confront their expectations," explains the Illinois veteran. He was grateful he came into law enforcement a little older (30 years old) and from a social service background. "That had already tempered any unrealistic romantic notions about human nature," he explains. "You have to realistically know that most civilians hate you (unless you save their lives)," adds the Texas veteran.
Much of the disillusionment of law enforcement comes from within. "I'm not intuitively political and don't know if knowing this early on would have made a difference in my career, but I came to see how politics can poison the morale of a department," says the Illinois veteran. He added how he wished he had known that "internal politics infect everything" and how "self-serving some people are."
4) Coming to a Crossroad
The final phase, officers who weather the disillusionment stage often find themselves at a crossroads where they need to find a way to renew their interests at work and at home. Without this renewal, they will fall into indifference and apathy. Focusing on retirement becomes a theme as well. An essential part of this phase is consideration of his or her legacy.
How to Maintain the Fire
Although maintaining the idealism of youth is often impossible, law enforcement officers and their families are not doomed to continually having their dreams and initial motivations crushed by life. Several steps can be taken to tether the optimism of youth with the forged reality of life on the streets.
Staying positive is important. "Recognize what is the arcane BS of the job and refuse to get caught up too much in it," advises the Illinois veteran. He also adds staying focused on what you can do is helpful. "It is a matter of looking for the good that can be done each day I show up to work, noticing what good I do, trying to actually HELP people and make them see me and my profession in a positive light, and not dwelling on the downsides that kill morale," he states.
Awareness is also key. "The only thing I wish knew before I began working in law enforcement was the extraordinarily long hours and moving around the country, losing the family support system each time we moved," explains a veteran FBI agent. "I most likely would have still chosen the career but I would have been better prepared for the challenge."
A final way is to make sure you continue to find other ways to satisfy personal goals. Don't allow yourself or your spouse to define themselves solely on the job they perform. Continue to pursue personal interests, participate in hobbies and have friends away from the police department. Time adds realism to the idealistic motivations most young officers have and most cause conflict. Without an understanding of how doing the work affects an officer's worldview, these changes can make doing the job unbearable and the officer can become extremely jaded, unhappy and unpleasant at work and at home. Try to hold on to a positive view of your work and you can leave a legacy that makes you proud whatever the phase of your career.