Murphy's Laws for Law Enforcement

Dec. 11, 2013
Mr. Murphy is a different guy for law enforcement professionals. Do you change your behavior according to his anticipated presence?
  1. If you park your patrol car in the exact center of the Gobi desert, within 5 minutes someone will pull up and ask for direction.
  2. The oldest squad car won't be retired. It will be assigned to you.
  3. Your portable radio will never fail until you are involved in a foot pursuit.
  4. You will never get a bomb threat call until the squad is away on training.
  5. Eat right, Exercise, Die anyway.
  6. Your squad car will only break down when you are outside your beat.
  7. You will be flagged down by a citizen when you are on your way to the PD with a bad case of diarrhea
  8. Anyone that flirts with you on-duty won't even recognize you off-duty.
  9. If your patrol car's air is out the suspect will smell worse than a wet dog.
  10. You always have a big use of force on your Friday before your vacation.
  11. If your raid is going well, you're at the wrong house
  12. K-9 units only do stupid things in public
  13. The day you let your girlfriend ride out with you, your wife comes by the station to visit.
  14. Court will be canceled only after you have changed all your plans to be there.
  15. You will only lock yourself out of your cruiser when a Supervisor is on scene, about to arrive on scene or is the only person available to fetch the spare set of keys from the station.
  16. You will only get a citizen compliment when your video camera or tape recorder is broken.
  17. Anyone who doesn't notice an unmarked car is probably not doing anything illegal anyway.
  18. Equipment always fails at the most inopportune time; usually right after you've checked to make sure it's working.
  19. When you get old, with lots of experience, and need the peace and quiet, they will pair you up with a rookie!
  20. The first bad-guy your trainee decides to tick off will have at least three black belts in three different martial arts.

There are a whole lot more of these laws, but you get the point.  If you expect the worst, you'll never be disappointed.

Cops and Cynicism

There are some careers where a healthy degree of cynicism and sarcasm are accepted and even required.  Law enforcement is one of them.  Cynicism is an ever evolving characteristic of even the most idealistic police recruits. It impacts all law enforcement officers.  Let’s face it; walking around with proverbial rose colored glasses can literally get you killed.  And the reality is having a partner who is constantly “a little ray of sunshine” can cause homicidal tendencies.  But there is a flip side: while a little cynicism can keep you on your toes and amuse your partners, too much can be toxic, especially if it overflows into your personal life. 

Officers are seldom called to a happy life experience.  There is no phone number for “What are you celebrating today”.  Nope, you are called to respond to tragic and terribly depressing situations:  fatal accidents, senseless suicides, helpless victims of abuse, etc.  It is easy to become cynical when you only see people at their worst.  Simply put, it is hard to believe in good when you are surrounded by the bad.    Now add all the Monday morning quarterbacking by peers, and criticism and pressure from superiors to perform, public hatred, and media hounding.  It is no wonder that the cynical cop syndrome is so prevalent and so contagious.

However, the consequences of cynicism can be harsh.  Cynicism can essentially become an officer’s coping skill, as he/she come to expect the worst. 

Taken to extreme a cynic trusts no one.  Suspicion and lack of trust can start to leak in all of the officer’s relationships.  To make matters worse, the most cynical cops tend to only interface with other cops who understand their cynicism.  The wheels go round and round.  Research has found that a high level of cynicism is associated with:

  1. Increased risk for cardiovascular illness.
  2. Increased risk for overall and cancer-related mortality.
  3. Increased risk for mental illness: depression and anxiety
  4. Increased risk for alcohol and substance abuse
  5. Feelings of being emotionally callused and detached
  6. Lower productivity in the work place
  7. Lower levels of life satisfaction
  8. Poorer interpersonal relationships (friends and family)
  9. Emotional exhaustion
  10. Burnout

If you are looking for a good New Year’s resolution, why not try to be somewhat less cynical and more “realistic”, even optimistic, about your assessment of people and situations.   Add a dash of gratitude to your cynic stew.  Losing some of that cynicism is simply a matter of controlling your negative thoughts.  Yes, the equipment is antiquated; the captain really is a clod; the new beat sucks, the justice system is admittedly flawed.  You are reminded of this every day.  Does brooding about it really help?  Are your beat partners avoiding you because they don’t want to hear you gripe about it daily?  Do you still think about it when you are out to dinner with someone special?  Is obsessing over this making the situation any better? 

Start with a gratitude journal; add one or more things to it every day.  Example:  “I’m glad that she’s OK”. “I’m happy my mother-in-law cancelled.”  You get the idea.  Then on any particularly Gloomy Gus day look at the list.  I assure you things will look better.  I have yet to meet a person who hasn’t been able to cite at least one thing that made them happy.  Really, even strong, tough, no nonsense cops do keep journals.  I guarantee you that writing down your gratitude won’t make you a namby-pamby.  Besides, there will always be plenty of things to be angry and cynical about, but you can choose to do so more sparingly. 

Next, try to have more contact with people who are not in law enforcement:  find a new hobby, join a social or service club, coach a sports team, take a class, spend more time with your family, call an old friend, etc.  Thirdly, make sure that your goals and expectations of yourself and others are realistic.  All humans come with a lot of imperfections.  Additionally, any situation truthfully “could be better”.  Deal with it.  And finally, remember that hope truly is an essential survival tool; never throw hope away.

Seeing that New Year’s is right around the corner, I’ve included fifteen Murphy’s Law tips for 2014. 

  1. To error is human, to forgive is against department policy.
  2. Do unto others, but do it first.
  3. Bullet proof vests might be.
  4. Waterproof boots aren't.
  5. Wearing white socks makes boot zippers break
  6. New uniforms attract catsup and gravy stains
  7. Crime only occurs on days that end in y.
  8. Don't think of it as being outnumbered and surrounded, think of it as a really low risk of ammunition wastage.
  9. After all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said than done.
  10. For every good deed done there is a lawyer to undo it.
  11. Your time is always less important than the time of the judge and prosecutor.
  12. The "big" pay raise will always come next year.
  13. Departmental Intelligence Units is an oxymoron
  14. The higher the oath, the bigger the lie.
  15. There is a code of silence in law enforcement; until Internal Affairs, the news media, and lawyers get involved.

In all seriousness, I hope you all have a terrific holiday season.

About the Author

Pamela Kulbarsh

Pamela Kulbarsh, RN, BSW has been a psychiatric nurse for over 25 years. She has worked with law enforcement in crisis intervention for the past ten years. She has worked in patrol with officers and deputies as a member of San Diego's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) and at the Pima County Detention Center in Tucson. Pam has been a frequent guest speaker related to psychiatric emergencies and has published articles in both law enforcement and nursing magazines.

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