The Inside Game

It is the stress generated from within the police agency that leaves officers feeling battered and betrayed. What are the root causes of this stress, and how can you live a healthy lifestyle in spite of it?


A lot of supervisors in LE have forgotten that the number one rule of leadership is to take care of the troops. More intent on taking care of themselves and ensuring their advancement through the ranks, they toe the party line and will not speak out for fear of reprisal and resultant deleterious effects on their chances for advancement. Hear my words, "if a supervisor shows a cop that they don't care, all respect will be lost." My favorite supervisors to work for were hard on me, expected a lot from me, but generally cared about and took care of me. Their commitment to me and other cops resulted in the feeling that we would produce and try our hardest to never betray their trust.

"You've got to have some kind of love for these guys. You can't lead them unless you have that."
--NYPD Chief of Detective's Al Seedman, as quoted in Robert Daley's Target Blue (Delacorte Press; 1971)

Other factors, such as lack of communication within an organization; public disdain for law enforcement, society's moral decline, prevalence of lawsuits, all add to officer's stress as well. The result is oftentimes an officer "hitting the wall," as Joan Barker comments in her book. This phase of a police officer's career can occur around the seven year mark. The problem with hitting the wall is that the wall doesn't fall, and you end up with a splitting headache, or worse. How then, when stressed by the inside game, can you get over or around the wall?

How to Go Over, Under or Around the Inside Game Wall

Survival authority Dave Smith refers to "the machine." You see, a police agency is not a living thing. According to Smith, you can love the department, but it is an inanimate thing and does not have the capacity to love you back. Police departments are not fuzzy doggies that will meet you at the front door as you arrive home, wagging their tails with unconditional love. They can be cold, heartless and unfeeling and can frequently leave younger officers feeling betrayed. In order to succeed, you must accept this truth and live a well balanced life without placing too much emphasis on police work. You can love people, but your love for the "machine" will not be returned.

The stress of the inside game can be dealt with just like all other types of stress, with hard work and diligence. Exercise, proper nutrition, engaging in activities outside of law enforcement and with people from outside of LE, and finding useful and healthy ways to "shake hands with it." Because, indeed getting around the stress has a lot to do with accepting it and working through it, or finding an alternate way of overcoming job stress. Talking to professionals, whether clergy (police chaplains are great for this, I value my friendship with mine, the Reverend Bob Denton) or counselors that specialize in law enforcement and have confidentiality, is important in a job like police work, where stress can be taken home and taken out on family or result in alcohol-related issues.

Alternate strategies like promotion to fix some of the perceived problems, or simply "powering through," as Barker says, remind you that life is not a sprint, but indeed a marathon, and as Friedrich Nietzche said, "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

I'll leave you with the thoughts of a veteran LAPD officer, as recounted in Barker's book,

"If you want success, then you have to work without any expectation of reward. You have to do it just because it needs doing. You do it the best way you can, with no negativity. It took a year or two to change my life around. I did it out of desperation. It's a totally different mental attitude."

I implore you, my brothers and sisters in blue, to not let the inside game beat you up or wear you down. We need you and law enforcement needs you, and with a proper plan to deal with the inside game, you can lead a rewarding career in the noblest of professions.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.