What COPS doesn't show

There is so much more to being a cop than running around in a sleek patrol car, wearing a shiny badge and firearm. People don’t really understand the down and dirty side of it.

Watching shows like Fox Network’s “Cops” gives a pretty accurate picture of the kinds of sure situations police encounter on a daily basis. What they don’t show is the disproportionate amount of boredom in policing, times when absolutely nothing is happening on your beat and it’s four in the morning and everyone who doesn’t have a night job is in bed asleep. Hard to stay awake, harder still to find something to do that keeps you from obsessing about the fact that you’re not asleep.

Fatigue, working long hours in frequently terrible conditions, having to do things that no one would voluntarily choose to do—it’s all part of the job. But even the worst moments as a cop can be better than the best moments as something else if you love police work.

I was talking to my sister the other day about our mother and her low tolerance for children who puked. She wasn’t averse to the child, but she had a hard time not throwing up herself after one of us did. And my sister was an Olympic-class puker: If faced with something she didn’t like and was forced to eat anyway, she would take a bite and immediately bring it back up. It made for some interesting dinners around our house.

I was built of a bit stronger stuff and only upchucked when my stomach was upset, which often left me sitting in front of a plate of cold mac and cheese long after my sister had been tucked in bed. I never learned the art of deliberate vomiting.

I reflected that Mom would have made a lousy cop because people throw up around cops all the time. I can remember transporting drunks in my patrol car and having them leave a “gift” for me in the back seat. Our cars had no porous materials inside, just slick surfaces, so you’d go to the back of the station and hose it out, then clean it up and go back to patrolling your zone. If you were lucky, you managed to keep the smell at bay, but sometimes it didn’t work. Several hours in a recently puked-in car can be unpleasant.

We were also thrown-up on, spit upon and had every imaginable substance from alcoholic beverages to body fluids spilled or tossed on us: Policing is no place for someone with a weak stomach. And I think that’s one aspect of being a cop that many overlook or ignore.

As a police officer, you’re required to voluntarily do the unthinkable: View wrecks and crime scenes that are straight out of horror movies; break the worst possible news to people and do it professionally; deal with body fluids and things ordinary people find disgusting. And you have to do it all while tolerating the intolerable, which sometimes means that civilians place every move you make under a public microscope.

Being a good officer takes a whole lot more than simply good shooting and driving skill sets. You must also have the ability to put up with working conditions that make “normal” people run for the hills. It’s a tough, unrelentingly grim job at times, but it’s also the best job in the world. And, in my opinion, the best people in the world tackle—and stay with—the job.

It really is “where the tough get going” in every sense of the phrase.