Surviving the Job--Are YOU Going To Make It?

As you are reading this you are probably saying, "Oh no, she wants to talk about her 'emotions' again; must be that time of the month." But really, persevere, this one's important, not only to your emotional wellbeing but to your family and your job.

Have you ever read Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement by Kevin Gilmartin? Brilliant book! If you have anywhere from eight to 25 years or more of service at your police department, it is a must read. You will see yourself or one of your colleagues on each and every page. One officer was quoted as saying "If you want to make it through to retirement, wear your vest, wait for your backup, and read Gilmartin's book."

Look around your organization. Can you spot the officers who not coping well with the emotional side of their career? Let me give you some hints.

  • Feels the service has injured them through lack of fairness
  • Can recite all the wrongful acts that "admin" has done over the past 15-20 years
  • Distrusts everyone in a management role
  • Perceives victimization from public and the media --feels they are being persecuted
  • Life dominated by negativity

Or have you heard comments such as these from some of your colleagues? (These are good ones from Gilmartin's book)

"I usta bust my ass for these people, but not anymore. I discovered a long time ago the more you do, the more they screw with you. I pulled my horns in long ago."

"The door ain't going to hit me in the ass. I mean it, you just watch, fifteen more years and I'm the hell out of here."

This negativity looks way worse on a female than it does on a male. Emotionally we tolerate and almost expect more negativity from the male species. Traditionally females are more cooperative, willing and helpful, and some would get walked over like a doormat before they'd say anything. So this emotional transformation that occurs in some of our officers is even more obvious in a female because it is simply unexpected.

So what happens during the time when a young, idealistic, energetic officer comes into our organizations and leaves an angry, cynical, unhealthy old man/woman? Well, dealing with the five percent of the world that commits crimes, beats each other, and rapes women and children on a daily basis tends to wear you down a bit. In fact, you tend not to trust anyone anymore. After awhile we tend to lose the compassion that attracted us to this career. We become dissatisfied with work, minor things become major things, and we feel a lack of control because we can't "fix" the problems in society.

We've all seen them, the eight- to ten- year officer with a chip on their shoulder, caught in endless conflict both internally and externally at work, and maybe even at home. Given time, everything in their life starts to break down, including their marriage. This type of negative attitude can work its way through your organization like a cancer. Gilmartin explains that officers who are not dealing well emotionally may start getting into trouble and find themselves in front of internal investigations. He goes on to say that these officers are actually good people and they don't go out and purposefully do something wrong. They go out and stop doing something right. It's more of an act of omission rather than the commission of an offense. They even start to rationalize behavior they would not have previously accepted in themselves.

  • "If they don't care, why should I?"
  • "I answer my calls. That's all I get paid to do."
  • "You never get in trouble for a traffic stop you didn't make."

It may be as simple as breaking an administrative rule to something as serious as committing a crime. And this is all preventable, if we just pay attention and do something about it.

So, if you see some of this happening in your life, or someone close to you, what can you do about it? First of all buy or borrow Gilmartin's book and read it. Next, keep physically fit to assist in dealing with the stress related to policing. Maintain good financial wellbeing. Many of us get "stress related consumerism" and go out and spend money like crazy to make up for your perceived lack of control in the workplace. And finally, make time for the multiple roles in your life. You are not just a cop. You are someone's child, sibling, friend, parent, or spouse. Each of these is as important as the other. Don't make being a police officer who you are. If your sense of self is invested to heavily into your police work, you will feel the stress much more than the coworker who walks away from the job at the end of the shift.

Finally take a leadership role in your organization to deal with this. I created a PowerPoint presentation and was delivering it to middle management during a time when this was prevalent in our police service. We also have a number of copies of this book in our police library and send our members to see Dr. Gilmartin speak. If you do nothing to address this issue, you will have the five year members counting down the days until their retirement.