Why do cops have a terrible sense of humor?

Police life makes us that way. We think our cop humor is great! With the ways of the world and the demands of the job, police cope with more funny-usually in the shade of green.

I envision every police officer in America right now feels like a toddler’s first experience with Mr. Potato Head. “Here, lend me your ear. Wait, I need that arm over here. Let’s put the lips where the eye goes. His foot is now his arm. Isn’t that cute? ”

All this and a microscope, too. I was used to being filmed while on duty, but now it seems more difficult to function off duty as a regular person. What is that anyway-being a regular folk? I don’t think cops can ever put away the uniform or skill sets even after the duty is over. We have to curb our rights to free speech and other daily freedoms most people enjoy because we might suffer consequences. And frankly, it’s too much of a hassle, so we just conform to the new norm. As we adjust, so does our cop humor.

The profession is getting pushed and pulled from a variety of internal and external influences and an overwhelming amount of scrutiny. Some good. Some bad. It makes us jaded.

Rocky Balboa was on to something.

Sylvester Stallone said if you think most people are inherently good, take away all law enforcement for 24 hours and see what happens. I happen to think most people are inherently good, but when a failed state or even a temporary collapse begins to unfold, people adapt. People will become desperate to establish their place in line or survive. You can see a little of that kind of behavior unfolding during the hurricane disasters.

America is a country of law and order. We are a regulated and civil people. However, in the last few years, I have seen some things which amaze me:

• First responders including firefighters and paramedics are getting physically attacked or even fired upon while assisting others.
• Mass shootings have fallen off the shock list of the news to the attitude of “oh, another one.”
• Active shooting is part of school curriculum.
• We cannot take for granted our kids are safe in school anymore.
• People protest with violent action.
• Police get ambushed.
• There are few civil conversations and every discussion seems to be an “us versus them” mentality or leaning in partisan fashion to one side or the other.
• Talk leads to swinging punches. It’s the craziest thing.

Some of us never let our hypervigilance dissipate. Always alert. Always ready. There are moments I think that is a sad state of affairs. Other times I am grateful for the way I am. It is not a perfect place to be by any means, but it prepares me for the worst-case scenario. It is what it is.

We have all come to that. The police see things which tug at every emotion you can imagine. Yet, we are expected to depersonalize situations and conduct ourselves in dynamic events with a calm edge. So how do we deflect some of the heaviness? We have hobbies. We work out. But first, we have humor.

Law enforcement officers use laughter and bad jokes to cope with the mental garbage we accumulate. It could come out at inopportune times. That’s when we become misunderstood.

But what about the times when we make fun of not funny things? Should we be doing that? Yes. We should probably keep those moments to ourselves. Our cop humor is often taken out of context or terribly misunderstood.

In Wyoming, it was common to run into several wildlife and weather-related incidents. There were many unique factors of the west which set it apart from the rest of the world. The isolation factor might have had a bearing on our humor meters and sometimes our limits swing farther from the pendulum of other jurisdictions.

Cows try their hoof at stripping.

Surrounding my city are vast open spaces patrolled by the sheriff’s department and highway patrol. Because of our great LEO partnerships and the land mass, the city police are deputized. We monitor each other’s radio channels so our response to calls for help are swift. We are also friendly colleagues.

One night I was keeping watch over one of my residential areas when a call came out over the radio for another jurisdiction nearby:

“Lincoln 8 copy for a cow in the bar (remaining nameless) parking lot.” The dispatcher was trying to contain a smirk behind the mic. You can just tell these things.

“Copy. En route.” Secretly, I know he is rolling his eyes in response to this call.

On this night, I was giving a refresher training to a veteran officer coming out of another assignment back onto patrol.

My partner snickered, “Maybe it’s really the giant Easter Bunny.”

He is Irish, so I had to get my jabs in, “You should just concentrate on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a cow. Cows are not bunnies.”

“Law 1. Lincoln 8.”

The central dispatcher was eager to hear what was going on with the cow, “Go ahead.”

“This cow is laying down. She won’t get up. Looks like she just calved or something. I’ll give you the brand, call the rancher and have him come get it.” He gave the brand over the radio.

“Lincoln 8.”

“Go ahead.”

“The rancher wants to know if you are sure it is a cow and not one of his steers.”

Sure, I giggled right then and there.

“Tell him I am sure.”


A few minutes go by and even though I am still intently patrolling my area, my ears on clinging to ever word of the radio traffic.

“Lincoln 8.”

“Go ahead.”

“The rancher wants to know how you are sure it is a cow. He doesn’t want to drive into town for a steer.”

You can hear him roll his eyes over the radio. “Well, she has red hair, big brown eyes, and huge udders, and I looked under her tail and…”
The mic went dead.

My partner had a conniption fit, “Doh! NO! He did not just say that on the radio? Oh my gosh!” I, myself, was snorting with laughter. Perhaps it was the late night or early morning hour fatigue. Was the cop humor not resonating with my partner? I got it. But maybe it was best it was not radio traffic material. Ah, well. It was too early in the morning for the brass to be listening. 

I immediately called up my buddy, the lieutenant of that agency. A lively conversation ensued.“What the heck? You guys are going to get the Sheriff pissed over that radio traffic.”

The lieutenant was giggling, “I know that’s why I schmucked Lincoln 8 on the head and the rest of his damn transmission was interrupted. Funny stuff though. But now I gotta write him up. I don’t know where this damn cow came from. What the hell? Doesn’t she know she is in the big city?”

“That cow probably was in the bar. You might want to check to see if her date is still in there.”

“I know. I did that already. She didn’t even come with a friend. She is a loner. All the broads look the same in there. Even the pole dancers.”

“Are you sure it’s a girl? I mean, do you think you guys got it right? The rancher obviously thinks you are an idiot. Did you bend over and look under there?”

By now we were snorting again at our clever immature humor. “I know. She did have a purdy mouth.”

“You are so sick. I hope when Lincoln 8 lifted the tail to check gender, he didn’t get sharted on.”

“I know. This is the funniest thing right now. Not like our usual cow calls. But something is wrong with her. She looks like she calved recently. And she won’t get up.”

“Poke her in the booty with a stick. She’ll get up.”

“Tried that already. No MOO-EVE. That’s cow Spanish.”

“Are you sure she isn’t drunk? I mean after all, she probably just got off work. If she’s not talking to you, maybe she had too much to drink at work. You can tell if she has been pole dancing by looking for chafing of hide between her legs.”

“I know. You are so sick. I want her to blow in the PBT, but she is refusing. And her pasties fell off. So, now, that’s another charge.”

“You got a free show.”

“I know. It’s a damn shame everyone can’t be enjoying this. Oh…WHOA. I have to go. CRASH! BIG CRASH!”

With that, he promptly hung up on me because a drunk driver tried to avoid the cow but ran into the bar structure. No patrons or cows were hurt. The rancher retrieved the exhausted cow and found the calf. The drunk driver went to jail. All was peaceful again on the western front.

And so, we giggled and moved on like it was ordinary business. In that part of the country, actually, it was common to have livestock issues. Our humor may have been viewed as inappropriate by someone, especially strippers. 

It isn’t easy being green. Cop humor is a coping mechanism.

Cop humor is in a league of its own and often misunderstood. Sometimes we share and other times we have learned to keep it within our inner circle of first responders. Right or wrong, it releases tension and becomes a coping mechanism for police stress. We really don’t think about it.

To be skewed or not skewed. That is the question.

Our laughter helps regulate our emotions and counteract our maladaptive approaches such as the resigned acceptance that the human misery we observe and accompanying stress is normal. Over time, it becomes a part of us and how we view things in our world. Police officers often operate in the color of jade.