Breaking out . . . Why I quit my job as a police officer and I’m not looking back
As far as jobs go, being a cop is a pretty badda**. I mean, c’mon, let’s look at the job description:
- Drive fast
- Carry a gun
- Chase bad guys (on foot and in cars)
- Enjoy the admiration of your community
- Always get the girl (or guy, whichever)
- Keep the peace
- Help people
- Save lives
- Be a hero
- Wear a cape
I Liked Being a Cop
I liked being a police officer. A lot at first. It was new and shiny and exciting. It was fun.
I worked nights and looked forward to doing it. I drove fast and carried a gun. I waded in the depths of human depravity and looked forward to going back for more the next day. I loved my shift mates; those brothers and sisters in blue who I know had my back at all costs. I loved my sergeant and knew he had my back.
Folks, most of you will never have any idea of what it is like to be a cop. To feel those feelings. To be pumped and having fun while being scared out of your f-ing mind at the same time. To know that you are about to open a door and there is a suicidal man with an axe on the other side (true story).
Or, differently, to kick down a door and not know what the hell to expect on the other side. You just can’t get that feeling from watching C.O.P.S.
To be a cop is to have a front row seat to the greatest show on earth. It was Jerry Springer live every day, and you are the big bald guy who gets to burst in from stage-left and take out the trash when it gets rowdy.
Did I mention drive fast and carry a gun? Yeah. It was a pretty freaking awesome job. Until . . . it wasn’t.
Calls Became Mundane
Eventually the calls became mundane. The nights became routine. And when the new and shiny wears off, what is left? Well, I will show you. This is the job description of patrol officer that I posted on LinkedIn:
- Drive in endless circles.
- Deal with other people’s problems.
- Wade in the depths of human depravity.
- Baby-sit adult humans.
- Sometimes take really exciting and fun calls involving death and danger.
- Make inappropriate jokes to deal with the constant negativity.
- Drive fast with lights and sirens (really fun!!).
- Deal with things most people would prefer not to (humans covered in human feces anyone?).
- Try and help the best you can when and where you can.
I didn’t write the job description above for this post. I wrote this a few days ago to describe my former profession. It was off the top of the head. From the heart. It was how a cop four-weeks removed from the profession feels about his former job. It’s raw. And what you will see above is an accurate description of a patrol officer. At least it was for me.
Being a police officer is an incredible profession, post-job cynicism aside. I learned more about people and humanity than most will ever learn from a lifetime in “normal” jobs. (Possible exceptions would be paramedic, firefighter, ER staff in a major city. Those professions also get a strong dose of human depravity every day.) I even got to patch a few bullet holes (*wink-nod to you I700’s) and maybe change a few lives.
But after a while, it does just become just a job. After a while, the rookie stars fade from your eyes. You get burned by suspects. You get burned by the people you are trying to help. You get burned by the criminal justice system. You get burned by your department. You get burned by the politicians in the DA’s office and on the City Council. Wanna know why cops are cynical? It is because they’ve been burned. A lot. By everyone.
So what happens when a really cool gig turns into just another job? Simple, you start focusing on all the negative crap that surrounds the job. And for someone who started policing in 2014, there was plenty to focus on. As a matter of fact, I think most of my cohort would agree that, as far as the attitude surrounding the profession of policing is concerned, 2014 was one hell of a bad year to start. There was Ferguson and Baltimore and we had plenty of our own drama in Austin. All of a sudden, I read the news and got a strong feeling that certain parts of our society felt that I was just a jack-booted thug who evil-laughs while finding ways to violate people’s civil rights. That’s a tough pill to swallow for someone who took on a job to be one of the good guys.
Commercial break: There IS such a thing as the “Ferguson effect.” Constantly bash on cops as an entire profession and you WILL see a thing called de-policing.
There are bad cops just as there are bad doctors, lawyers, and business executives (and politicians. Don’t forget politicians!). Bad cops should be ferreted out with the ferocity of a lion pouncing on a gazelle. But when you start making up stories and mask them as fact; when you intentionally agitate the mob and start forming lynch-parties in the absence of due-process; when you negatively frame an entire profession to further an agenda, you are going to create a situation where all of a sudden the personal risk to become or remain a cop ain’t worth the hourly wage and shiny badge. That is all. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
And, of course, there was all the other work-place BS associated with any other job: Politics. Drama. A policy manual so thick that if you dropped it you would break a toe. Working nights and weekends and missing parties and get-togethers and a social life. Working overtime for extra cash on all your days off and still feeling like you can’t get ahead. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.
Before I knew it, I found myself in a muddy trench. Policing, once fun and exciting, became a slog through a pit. I was caught in attrition warfare, a stalemate, and warriors don’t do that. Warriors maneuver. We infiltrate. We find the flank and overcome the enemy with speed, initiative, and surprise.
Pulling the Trigger
Well, maybe not that much speed. It took a couple more years for me to pull the trigger. In my case, I began to come to the realization that I wasn’t going to be a cop for much longer after about my second year. I tried to stifle it, to push the thoughts down. I so wanted to love the job. I tried to tell myself that I loved it. But I didn’t. Policing is a fun and worthwhile profession. It needs to be done and deserves to be done by those who are incredibly qualified.
But it is not my calling.
There was always some nagging and persistent thought in the back of my mind that my path was meant to diverge from policing. That I am supposed to be something different. That I was supposed to take the path less travelled; all Robert Frost and s**t.
Planning My Escape
I began planning my escape mid-way through year four. Initially I was going to start a side-hustle and try and grow that into a business. Then, after year 12 I would, as our employment contract dictated, vest my pension and make my way out able to cash out my sick leave. Good plan, right? Makes sense. Conservative. Likely to be blessed as reasonable by those who are reasonable. But THEN . . .
In December 2017, after months of negotiation, the Austin City Council, those blessed politicians trying so desperately hard to be seen as progressively progressive, decided to trip over their own feet and vote, unamimously, to NOT ratify a contract that had been negotiated in good faith by the Austin Police Association and their own selected negotiating team.
As much as I want to (see post-script), I will not go further on that subject. Matter of fact, I gotta pause here. I am getting all verklempt. I’m going to get some coffee and take a break. I get angry.
Ok, I am back.
That vote, ladies and gentlemen, is what a warrior would call an open flank. Well, since I was escaping, I guess it was more a hole in the lines. An opening. Whatever.
After the council’s vote, I stumbled around in stunned frustration for a couple of months before I realized that, without a contract, I could leave now and ca$h out that $ick leave.
Have my cake AND eat it too? Now that is an opportunity that must be seized. Carpe diem and stuff. So, I did. One day in late February, I mustered up all my courage, walked into my sergeant’s office, and gave him my two week’s notice. I shot through the hole.
Is my business off the ground? Nope. Did I make the reasonable decision to jump ship when my income was fully replaced? Nope. Am I scared? Yep. It’s a big risk. I know. I recognize that I could end up desperate in a few months, with no income and the savings gone, flat on my face. But risk is a part of the game. And sometimes you just gotta go for it.
Warriors Reside in Every Department
I will end this post with a big note: It is the men and women who LOVE policing who will bear with it for decades and then some. And those warriors reside in every department across this great nation.
For them, the profession of policing is a calling. They live it. They breathe it. They don’t want to do anything else, and they would do it no matter what. No matter the polemic and negative BS that certain segments of this society might throw their way. They will still run to the sound of gunfire. They will still kick down that door not knowing what is on the other side. They will still walk up to that package to make sure it is not a bomb. And they will do it for you. With love in their hearts. Because they are warriors. And because they are the sheepdog. And it is their life’s work. God bless them and keep them. We need them badly.
Whoever reads this, all of you out there in internet-land, you need to shower your love on your cops. They need it now more than ever. Oh, and give them pay raises too: shower them in Benjamins because love does’t pay the bills. And a well-paid cop is a happy cop. And don’t you want your cops to be happy?
Thanks for reading,
P.S: I have a lot of emotion (anger is my go-to emotion) surrounding the Austin City Council and their decision. I even wrote a blog post about it. Then I decided to take it down (nobody read it anyway) because I thought it was too angry. Even for me. The self-appointed King of Righteous Anger. Whew. I get hot just thinking about it.
P.S. #2: Note: Hey Austin City Council, when the long-standing president of the Austin NAACP publicly states that you made a mistake on not ratifying the contract . . . well, you done messed up A-ARON. Pure and simple. Just admit it. You will feel better and your cops might, maybe, regain a fraction of an ounce of respect for you. You have zero respect right now. The layman can read more about their terrible decision here.
Dustin Hammit wrote this bio about Dustin Hammit. In 3rd person. Using his full name the whole time. Yeah. He’s that guy.
Dustin Hammit is a Texan who comes from Texas and is damn proud of it. He was born in Austin and raised in Georgetown, TX. He went to Texas A&M, got a sweet pair of riding boots, and left with a piece of paper that hangs on a wall. Whoop!
After college, he joined the Marine Corps because Marines are awesome, have the best uniforms, and always get the girls. He went to a lot of places and did some stuff. Then he left the active duty Marine Corps, did a corporate job for a year, before deciding that desks and offices suck. So he became a cop. Then he decided that working for politicians sucks. And he has control issues and always wants to do things his way. So he stopped being a cop.
Now he writes about breaking free of the grind and living life his own way. He interviews awesome people. You can read it at www.insurgentcapitalist.com. You can also like his sweet FB page at The Insurgent Capitalist. Or, if you are more of a Twitter person, he tweets at @TheInsurgenC (witty, no?).
Dustin Hammit is somehow still married to the most understanding and patient woman in the entire world. Together, they spawned 4 more just like him (I mean, they’re like clones. It’s eerie). If you would like to shower Dustin Hammit with positive comments and affection, please email him at email@example.com.
Negative comments and death threats can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. That is all.
Well, people who get me will like it. Everyone else will roll their eyes and send death threats to Kim Jong-Un.