Helping Friends and Family Understand Your Desire to Serve
Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith
I’ll never forget when I told my mom I wanted to be a cop. It was about 1973, very early in the history of women in patrol work, so when I said “I want to study law enforcement” she said “You want to be a lawyer?” “No Mom, I want to be a cop.” She looked at me sideways and replied “Why don’t you be a lawyer instead.” And that was the end of the discussion. Well, at age twenty one and just two weeks out of college I became a cop. I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my career choice even if they didn’t truly understand it, but I know many crimefighters and police candidates who aren’t so lucky.
Many times our family members – parents, spouses, partners, close friends – are taken aback by our desire to serve as law enforcement officers. It’s our responsibility to help them understand and learn to accept our desire to wear a shield, carry a gun, and be that person who runs towards the shots when everyone else is running away.
Tell Them Why
Think hard about why you want to be a cop, and then communicate your reasons logically but passionately to your friends and family. Tell them that you want to serve the community, that you want to walk the Warrior’s Path, you want to be part of a profession with a proud history and real mission. Let them know that in today’s society, the world needs people like you, who have a true desire to help keep the rest of the community stay safe. Be positive, be upbeat, and leave the part about wanting to drive fast cars, shoot big guns, and arrest maggot dirtbags out of these conversations…at least for now.
Make and Keep Promises
One of the biggest concerns our friends and family have is our safety if we become police officers. Promise them you’ll do everything you can to keep yourself safe. Stay up to date with your research on officer survival issues and trends; read books like Street Survival and The Tactical Edge by Calibre Press, practice your tactics, your firearms skills, and your repetitions. Commit to staying in excellent physical condition long after you get hired. Get involved in martial arts; promise to always wear your vest. Study why and how people survive (read The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood) and share this knowledge with those you love. Provide them with accurate information; in these days of tragic, multiple police killings it’s natural for our families to be worried. Let them know that police work usually doesn’t even make the top ten list of “most dangerous professions” in this country and that we’ve made great strides in the last 40 years on the officer survival front. Make those promises, and then keep them!
Show Them the Money!
Okay, nobody gets rich doing police work, but there are some definite financial perks. Generally speaking, law enforcement is pretty stable employment. The pay isn’t terrible (this varies largely by region and type of agency) and the benefits are usually pretty good; these are two very important advantages in today’s economically uncertain times. Let them know that shift work has its advantages too, like time off during the week and during times of day when most people are at work. If you have a spouse and kids, let your spouse know that you’ll take an active role in household chores and childrearing, and that shift work can often help you do that more easily. When you get hired, take out extra life, liability and disability insurance to help make them feel more secure financially.
Make Them Part of the Process
Keep them involved and informed. As you learn about the hiring and training process, share that information with family and friends. Say “Thank You” for their support frequently, and show your gratitude often. Buy them a copy of Dr. Ellen Kirshman’s book I Love a Cop and then read it yourself. Have an open discussion about how all your lives will undoubtedly change when you become a police officer, and commit to working through those changes in the best manner possible. Make the “emotional survival” of you and your family as big a priority as your officer survival.
Remember that you’re not the only one with dreams and ambitions. Let’s face it, as cops we can get a bit self-absorbed, especially when we’re initially involved in the hiring and training process. However, one of the best ways you can garner the support of your family and friends is to equally support them in their educational, career, and life ambitions. Resist the urge to talk constantly about becoming a cop; ask them questions about their career goals, find out how you can help them achieve their dreams and ambitions. And if you’re the spouse or partner of another crimefighter, resist the urge to “compete;” see yourself as a team, as allies, not as competitors.
Law enforcement is an honorable and exciting profession, but it’s also a way of life. Work hard to bring your family and friends into “our” world in a positive, responsible manner. The support of the people you love is absolutely necessary to have a meaningful and fulfilling career as a crimefighter. Good luck!