Humanity is a fantastic thing. I find myself thinking about humanity quite often. Of course, I think about the human race in the macro as I see what is happening globally and man’s seemingly timeless and endless pursuit of self-destruction. But, I also think of humanity from the perspective of the micro. It is often in this view of the few that I see the everyday small victories and courageous actions of those who are determined to live life in a manner that benefits their progeny.
As a law enforcement officer, I believe you begin to see both sides of humanity. You see the actions, behaviors, and decision-making that leads to destruction. You feel the tense pull of national and international narratives and question the future of your profession. Yet, you also get to see the fantastic things humans can accomplish and the everyday miracles that become the cornerstone of life itself.
You see humanity when you are a cop, but you are also part of humanity as a cop. In this career, every action taken, every statement made is often formed in training but rooted in that individual’s personal experiences. So you do not forget you are a person when you become an officer; at least, you never should.
Sadly as times have changed, this career is becoming one where people are often judged by their chosen vocation rather than their humanity. The reality is that law enforcement is usually a subset of the state or community where they serve. The same qualities that make up the humanity surrounding the officers make up the officers themselves. However, there is one difference that is the most important distinction. It is the type of people who are typically drawn to the law enforcement profession.
There seems to be a misnomer in the names attributed to officers or a misunderstanding of the profession that protects others or serves one’s country or community that you must trade in your humanity. There is an errant belief that you must become robotic, some version of the Hollywood “RoboCop,” to be an officer. You are forced to picture some ultimate protector or warrior of the government with no heart, no emotion, and no errors in judgment. Envision the quintessential tin man with a gun. Emotion, feeling, and empathy are seen as weakness, and weakness is seen as the antithesis of strength. This thought process has also given rise to a misguided rise in required perfectionism. A belief that training or people will result in no mistakes or misjudgments.
There is an errant belief that you must become robotic, some version of the Hollywood “RoboCop,” to be an officer.
Indeed, in moments of distress, you do not want to give in to emotion or, more accurately, be overwhelmed by it. I recently had a conversation where a horrific story was told to me by a civilian. It was a story that I have seen play out several times in my career. It was a story of death, loss, mental health crises and exemplified the worst of humanity. The caller had called to say to me, “I don’t know how you do what you do.” They were referring to a career in law enforcement where you see the worst of humanity regularly. They also recounted the officers’ response in a moment of absolute chaos, death, and human emotion. They were amazed at the professionalism, the human reaction these officers brought to the scene, and how their mere presence brought a sense of calm to the confusion.
As they described the tragic scene, I thought of the many similar situations that I have seen. I took a moment to consider the scene they were portraying and consider the critical questions: why do I do what I do? Why do I choose to work in a career where I see the worst of humanity? Why do I work where I know the darkness that can envelop the human mind? In a word, it led to introspection.
At that moment, what occurred to me was that it is not the darkness that draws me to this career; instead, it is the light that I can insert into the moment of darkness. In those moments, I can exemplify, even from my humanity, a difference in stark contrast to the darkness. In all the tragedy, in all the evil, what resonated with me the most was being with people in what is often the worst moment of their lives. It is truly an honor to have the ability to offer some strength to help them in this moment of crisis. I also realized that repeatedly seeing tragedy fed my different perspective; it allowed me to see things that others do not see or understand. This unique perspective allows me early in an investigation to describe what the road ahead may look like for those who are grieving and struggling with the unknown.
This is my core point; I am here to offer a different thought on law enforcement’s role in relationship to humanity. Law enforcement is made of people who are not only from the surrounding community. They are someone who also has the desire and drives to make a difference in that community. Law Enforcement is simply people, just like you and me, who at their core want to make a positive difference. Sometimes it is a clear desire to change their environment. Other times, it is spoken as the desire to be the line between chaos and order in the community. Either way, the type of people drawn to this profession makes the difference in the quality of professionals who become cops.
Law Enforcement is simply people, just like you and me, who at their core want to make a positive difference.
Law enforcement is one of a few unique careers. These careers are defined by having to be good at many different things, but rarely the best. You have to feel your humanity while simultaneously not giving into it in a moment of crisis or strong emotion. You have to show empathy for those faced with the worst moment of their life while looking at a scene and not being overcome by the grief. Yet once the scene has settled, and the dust gives way to the slow forward momentum of a latent investigation. In those moments, the first responder must come to grips with their humanity and how they feel because the failure to do so can hunt them for the rest of their life.
Law enforcement is a unique mix of professionalism grounded in humanity, forged in strength, and rooted in the understanding that we all share our humanity but do not have to be victims of it. Simply put, cops are people too. They are people, but they are unique because they feel a heart-felt mission to become the positive change they wish to see in the world.
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