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Cops & Superstitions

Editor's Note: Normally, articles from Pam go in the section for psychological services because they focus on mental or emotional health issues.  This one, however, due to its high value for officers on the street, has been placed in Patrol / Officer Survival.  Read carefully.  Pay attention.

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Cops generally don't come across as a particularly superstitious bunch.  They are usually perceived as tough, dedicated, no nonsense, get ’er done kind of group.  However, the police culture does indeed include plenty of superstitions.  The chances that you are superstitious are pretty good, over 50% of the population is.

13 of the Most Common Cop Superstitions

  1. Friday the 13th is a day notoriously linked with ill-fortune, bad calls, and bad karma
  2. Dead bodies always happen in 3's or 6's.
  3. Same goes for suicide attempts.
  4. Never say the word "Quiet" (normally referred to as the "Q" word) in any squad room in the United States.  Ditto for saying, "It's slow" or "I'm bored".
  5. Never leave the house without kissing your significant others on the way to work…
  6. Also, pet the dog(s) or cat(s)
  7. Never make definite plans for immediately after shift.
  8. The full moon brings out the aluminum foil brigade.
  9. Always bring your lucky gear; a special pair of handcuffs, feathers, special pens, etc
  10. Dress in exactly the same order each day.
  11. Dry firing your gun a specific number of times before going to work:  pull, rack pull, rack pull, etc
  12. Sitting in the same chair every day in the patrol briefing room.
  13. Don’t ever piss off the dispatchers. Well, that's not a superstition, it's just common sense.

More than 1/2 of all Americans admit to being at least a little superstitious, according to a recent Gallup poll.  Additionally, most people occasionally participate in superstitious thinking or behavior often without even realizing they’re doing it.  When was the last time you knocked on wood? Walked within the lines? Avoided a black cat or a ladder?  Read your daily horoscope?  These are all examples of superstitions.  . What is the psychology behind our magical thinking?  Do superstitions hurt us? Do they help us?  

Essentially superstitions are a way we try to extract meaning, and to give us a sense of control over the uncontrollable; our destinies and the future. Simply put, a superstition is an irrational belief that events can be influenced or foretold by specific, unrelated behaviors or occurrences. If A happens (“I have my St. Michael’s prayer card in my breast pocket), then B will happen (I won’t be shot).  However, all the rules of science and logic, as well as plain old simple common sense, tell you that A and B have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

It does not matter how confident or prepared you are for an event (a shift, a game, a performance, etc); things can still happen beyond your control.  Superstitions allow people to believe that they have done everything they can to try ensure the outcome they are looking for.  It decreases feelings of helplessness.

Thirteen of the Most Common Superstitions in the USA

  1. Do not walk under a ladder or you will invite bad luck.
  2. Hiccups are unlucky because when you have them you are believed to be owned by the devil.
  3. Breaking a mirror will bring you 7 years of bad luck. (If you think seven years is bad for breaking a mirror, try breaking a condom)
  4. It's bad luck to have a black cat cross your path.
  5. If you see a shooting star it will bring you good luck.
  6. Carrying a rabbit's foot in your pocket will bring good luck.
  7. If you step on a crack you will break your mother's back.
  8. Spill salt. If you accidentally spill salt, immediately throw a pinch over your right shoulder to ward of the bad luck.
  9. Bad luck comes in threes
  10. The numbers13 and 666 are unlucky; reversely the #13 is viewed as very lucky by others
  11. Knocking on wood twice reverses bad luck
  12. Cross your fingers
  13. Never open an umbrella in the house. Umbrellas should be opened outside to avoid bad luck.

Superstitions are something we often learn in childhood.  If your Mom or Dad was superstitious there is a good chance that you are, and that you have their same superstitions.  The older you get, the less superstitious you get as well.  In general, women are more superstitious than men (when was the last time you saw an astrology column in a men's magazine?).  Intelligence does not seem to be a factor in contributing to superstitiousness. 

Most superstitions are harmless and even may be helpful in encouraging people to achieve their goals.  However, others may have serious consequences. Superstitious beliefs about luck may lead to problem gambling or other risky behavior.  And magical beliefs in alternative medical practices over traditional treatment can lead to grave illness or even death. Additionally, this type of magical thinking can also hinder your performance.  Your world will not end, if say, you lose your lucky object.  Research has not been able to find any definitive connection between superstitions and mental illness. 

The greatest benefit of superstitious thinking or behavior (like carrying your lucky cuffs) is gaining and maintaining a sense of security and confidence.  Now if you rely on your superstitions over your training and instincts you are really going to find yourself in a pickle.  Obviously, unless the really bad guy’s bullet hits your lucky rabbit’s foot which deflects it, you better have another plan.  Otherwise, enjoy your healthy superstitions.  Halloween is traditionally the most superstitious time of the year.  The good news is we only have one more Friday the 13th this year (December) and one next year (June).  The bad news is that June 13, 2014 is also a full moon.

6 Superstitions That Could Really Help an Officer (yes….these are real)

  1. Guard your dead body:  do not let a cat jump over a corpse; else the corpse would rise from the dead.
  2. Watch where you walk during prowler calls: if you pop an inflatable toy you will have bad luck for the remainder of your life.
  3. Remember your body stances and squat:  do not bend down and look between your legs (you will see a ghost).
  4. Break down those doors:  never enter a house through the window else bad luck will come to that house (and it is on your beat).
  5. Just in case:  keep a dry frog in a bag and wear it with you all time, it will keep epilepsy away from you.
  6. Stand back after calling for the medics:  seeing an ambulance brings bad luck, unless you pinch your nose right away or hold your breath until you see a brown or a black dog (not applicable to canine handlers).

Dear Readers:  I want you all to know that this will be my last article because I am going to die at midnight tonight as a result of not forwarding chain mail.  Pam