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5 Fears in Police Work

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(Photo courtesy Thomas Marchese)

5 Fears in Police Work

Do police officers have fears? If so, what are they?

Indeed they have fears, and I’m going to share a few with you.

Most citizens fail to understand the true fears experienced by men and women in police work, because they have different dispositions.

Moreover, fears experienced by someone who’s been in the business for 35 years will be different than current cops on the street since there have been shifts in culture. The sum total of their experiences have made them different professionals even though they’re both sheepdogs at heart.

Police officers will not be surprised by my list, but many civilians will.

Readers will not see “responding to an armed robbery” listed. Cops live for that sort of thing. As a matter of fact, I’ve had many speaking engagements during the course of my career as a police commander and book author. It is not unusual to tell audiences that I have a much higher level of anxiety during a public speaking event than encountering a service call of a “man with a gun.”

At this phase of life I am clearly in the category of the OGs. So I write from that perspective. However, I plan to share five fears I had during my career, and then take a shot at fears experienced by contemporary police officers.

My 5 Fears

            Losing a fight

The prospect of losing an unarmed confrontation was drilled into my core by the “top shelf” arrest and control instructors that I had during my training in the police academy.

This was reinforced as I hit the streets and found myself in various use of force situations with drunks, people stoned on drugs, the “yoked out” con just released from prison, and the occasional professional athlete who demanded special treatment.

As a result of this fear, working out has been deeply ingrained in my lifestyle, as much as proper nutrition and rest.

            Becoming disabled

Suffering a permanent injury that would radically change the ability to perform my job and shatter my identity as a cop was a greater fear than death. People think I have brain damage when I say I’d prefer death to a severe disability, but for the wounded warriors who’ve gone through this devastation, you know exactly what I mean.

Furthermore, I have the utmost respect and admiration for every person who is battling through the physical and psychological trauma of a disabling injury. I have learned so much from Wounded Officers Initiative and will always be your advocate.

Although I’ve experienced 19 surgical procedures, many related to the profession, I am not disabled. Nevertheless, I literally limped to the finish line with a leg that was 20 degrees off axis due to knee injuries, yet I was fortunately able to complete my career. Nevertheless, the aches and pains from a physically demanding job linger, even after corrective surgery.

However, they do not hold a candle to many tragic stories that have been chronicled by Law Enforcement Today.

            Looking like an idiot on the witness stand

A good defense attorney has the special gift to make this happen. But after being made to look like a fool on one occasion, I vowed it would never happen again.

Consequently, I viewed every opportunity to testify similar to an academic test … and I studied just as if I were preparing for an exam.

You’re familiar with the adage, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Well, after one humbling experience, I was well prepared each time I took the witness stand after that self-effacing encounter. And it was the fear of looking like an idiot on the stand that drove my motivation.

5 fears
(Courtesy Joe Essenger)

            Unintentionally misstating facts in a report

Honesty and truth are two of the highest values that I embrace. Generally, crooks convict themselves by their actions; they do not need our assistance through “creative report writing.”

The written word can make liars out of truth-tellers and people of integrity appear deceptive. I always wanted to avoid the trap of embellishing facts and reaching conclusions that could not be supported by evidence.

            Poor performance in a promotional process

This fear is closely related to “looking like an idiot on the witness stand.” That is because the first oral board I experienced as a candidate for sergeant was an utter failure.

Although I didn’t realize it during the interview, I quickly learned a basic principle during the promotional process. Organizations are looking for “supervisors,” not “superstars”—and there is a huge difference.

I humbly discovered the variances when debriefing my performance with one of the evaluators. This was a lesson learned well and carried into subsequent promotional processes. While I was successful during three of eight competitive chances for promotion, I only embarrassed myself on one occasion.

Contemporary Fears

Since I’ve admittedly placed myself in the OG category, I can only speculate about fears experienced by cops on the street today.

Nevertheless, I’ve engaged in enough conversations with modern day crime fighters to take an educated guess what their list might look like. Due to changing American culture, it might be similar to mine, or it could look something like this:

  • Getting criminally prosecuted by an overzealous prosecutor hoping to appease the mob mentality.
  • Working a skirmish line during protests or riots with orders that allow malice to prevail while good people suffer.
  • Experiencing political propaganda that has neutered police officers who seek to engage in enforcing laws.
  • The expanding power and opinions of civilian review boards.
  • Appeasement as an organizational strategy over safety and security for citizens.
5 fears
(Courtesy Joe Essenger)

Thrive in the Presence of Fear

Fear can be a driving motivating factor, or it can create a psychological paralysis. While there are outside influencers, each police officer gets to choose what he or she does with the fear they experience.

Yet ultimately, police officers need to figure out ways to overcome their fears so they can do more than survive, but thrive in a dangerous and demanding profession.

As always, be safe out there!

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today

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Author
Jim McNeff

Jim McNeff is a partner and managing editor of Law Enforcement Today where he has worked since 2016. Previous to this he served in law enforcement for 31 years. He retired as a police lieutenant after 28 years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California. Prior to that he served the 3902 Security Police Squadron in the United States Air Force, assigned to the 1st Air Command and Control Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.Jim holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) course, Leadership in Police Organizations. He’s authored two books, “The Spirit behind Badge 145” and “Justice Revealed.” His third book, “Jurisdiction,” is due to be released in early 2019.Jim has been married to his wife Jamie since 1983. They have three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at editor@lawenforcementtoday.com and learn more about his ministry work at www.badge145.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at "Badge 145 - Trending Truth" or Twitter @jimmcneff.

1 Comment

In regards to Fear #2, there have been officers who survived deadly confrontations, suffering grievous injuries in the process, and have said it would have been better for them to have died because of how our wounded are treated after. This has got to change. We need to treat these heroes better in all respects.

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