As a police administrator I have heard on more than one occasion the words, “It’s not what I thought it would be …,” as another newly sworn officer turns in a resignation.

Often times young adults with big hearts and noble ideas of how they perceive law enforcement apply for a department, get hired, trained and finally hit the streets only to realize the job is not what they thought it would be.

Reality sets in with disappointment when they can’t save the world in a shift or a week of shifts and that’s an unbearable idea to them. It’s a hard slap in the face for anyone who joins this field and wants to help people.

These newly hired officers are successful in the academic part of policing and the philosophical approach, but the reality … not so much!

early warning program

Police recruits salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the Chicago Police Department recruit graduation ceremony at Chicago’s Navy Pier Grand Ballroom March 30, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Dorsey, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs)

They joined to make a difference, to help their communities, and to solve big problems. They want to be the change but quickly learn it’s not that simple nor is it easy. They realize there is evil in the world. There are situations you can’t control or fix in sixty seconds, sixty minutes or sixty days like they see on TV.

They see a justice system, which is not always fair. All criminals don’t go to jail. Those who do go to jail may not be prosecuted; or a plea bargain for lesser charges with no jail time is struck in the “interest of justice.”

When patrolling the streets these young officers learn not all of the calls will go their way. Some victims suffer and you can’t make it better. Some days will be boring while others are terrible. They are disappointed to learn the thin blue isn’t what they thought it was, and not everyone is “all in” as they are about the job. Their ideals are shook when they see some who wear the badge aren’t trustworthy.

The hard lessons learned by veteran officers along the way are too much to bear for young officers.

go forth young man


For young officers there’s nothing wrong with deciding this job isn’t for them. In fact, it’s better to choose to leave sooner than later.

We have to wonder, what is the difference between the ones who stay and the ones who go? I have stated to many officers the reasons you come into law enforcement are not necessarily what keeps you there. You learn it’s the little victories you have to hold dearly. It’s also incumbent on the veteran officers to help guide them through this tough decision, to build trust and to mentor the next generation to be better than us.

I often think we do a terrible job of mentoring because of our competitive nature. I also choose to believe that the difference in the ones that stay and the ones that don’t is that they never lose hope even when things don’t happen as planned. The veterans know tomorrow will be another chance to make a difference. This is why they will suit up, belt up and try again because they learned the job wasn’t what they thought it would be, but chose to stay on to be the change they wanted to see in the world.


Cathy Bustos is a law enforcement officer in Central Texas. She is one half of “That Peer Support Couple, LLC” with her husband Javier. Together they are strong peer support advocates speaking about surviving critical incidents and marriage. You can contact her at [email protected].