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Avoiding the Us vs. Them Mentality

Avoiding the Us vs. Them Mentality

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

Most of us start the academy with a servant’s heart. Remember the old LAPD motto “To Serve and Protect?” That’s all of us, that’s supposed to be what cops are all about, but pretty quickly into your law enforcement career, it becomes less about “them” and more about “us.” We separate ourselves from the rest of society, even from our family and friends. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if you learn why this common police pitfall occurs and how to avoid it.

Know why it happens

Remember, less than two out of every one hundred police applicants ever become cops, so as soon as you get hired, you start to feel like you’re a member of an elite group. And you are! There are few professions where we are expected to potentially lay down our lives as part of the employment agreement. However, that elitist feeling you have in the academy can be just the beginning of your “us v. them” mentality.

Your rookie years are crucial

Your first couple of years are consumed with learning the job. You spend a considerable amount of time around veteran officers, trainers, and supervisors trying to learn the profession and earn the trust of your peers. As Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, PhD. talks about in his book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, a new officer begins to rely on the friendship and support of other officers, usually to the detriment of their “non-cop” relationships. Because there is so much to do and learn, and so little time to devote to your personal life, new officers find themselves socializing only with their co-workers. Old friendships may begin to fade way, not intentionally, but after all, are any of your “old” friends willing to meet you for a beer at seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning when you get off work? Not likely.

More time on the job means more social isolation

“The average cop will see more human tragedy in the first three years than most people will see in a lifetime” according to Dr. Ellen Kirschman, author of I Love a Cop. As we become a competent veteran officer, we develop a macabre sense of humor and are forced to control our emotions at all times. We view the world as a violent place full of idiots, con artists, and liars. We become skeptical, paranoid, and hypervigilant, and we look down on those who do not share our cynical and alarmist view of the society. Not only do we cease most of our “pre-cop” friendships, but our family relationships may begin to deteriorate as well. We become distant and dark-spirited, even when we’re at home. We complain that “my family doesn’t understand,” and we may become overly strict with our kids, not wanting them to be exposed to the outside world that we know is violent, dangerous and unpredictable. Eventually, your family may grow weary of your “us v. them” attitude and decide they’d rather be with “them” rather than being a part of “us.”

“If it’s predictable, it’s preventable”

It’s no secret that cops have a 75% divorce rate, a high rate of alcoholism, and we die twice as often by our own hand as we do by felonious assaults. After all, if you go from a fun-loving, idealistic, service-oriented rookie to a dark-hearted, cynical veteran, you’re not going to be much fun to be around, and eventually you won’t like yourself anymore than anyone else does. So don’t let it happen!

Take a hard look at the veteran officers you admire and emulate

Your FTO may know everything there is to know about impaired drivers, but why has he been married and divorced) three times? Your favorite sergeant is a wonderfully supportive mentor to you, but why does she end every shift sitting at the bar of the local gin joint? Sometimes the most qualified cops on your agency are also the least successful when it comes to their personal lives. As delicately as you can, try to find out why. Ask them if they could do anything different, what would it be? And then listen to what they have to say.

Keep some non-police friends

This can be tough to do. Your “normal” friends are either going to be “weirded out” by your new profession or they may become distant, intimidated, even hostile about you becoming a cop. However, don’t give up on all of them. Your true friends are going to accept you for who you are, just make sure to touch base with them and occasionally get together; and when you do socialize with them, don’t spend all your time together telling cop “war stories.” Ask about their job, their life, their problems, concerns, and successes, and then really listen. Don’t make it all about you, even if they try to. In other words, don’t get mired in your own self-importance.

Stay involved in physical fitness and other positive activities

Be proactive about your emotional well being. Make sure that physical activity is part of your regular routine. There are two kinds of stress, “distress” and “eustress.” Develop positive addictions, like running, basketball, hunting, photography, anything that makes you feel good and is good for you. Also make sure you spend time around good, positive people. Go to church, do volunteer work, coach a kids soccer team, do charity work. Get involved in activities that remind you that not everyone is a drug dealing, child molesting criminal, and that in general, life is pretty good. Remember, you took this job to help the community, not isolate yourself from them. One of the great things about policing in a free society is the tradition of being “of the people,” not “over the people.” Good luck!


+36
  • Photo_user_blank_big

    CaptainPicard

    over 2 years ago

    2 Comments

    I've been pulled over for:
    Speeding
    Having an expired plate
    Having a plate crookedly placed.

    I've been served/protected:
    Never, of the three times I"ve pursued it.

    Empirical, yes; but I'm not the only one. Police help themselves. They help not the citizens of their jurisdiction. They are non-innovative, Type A pawns. I'm a (now) civilian, with good intent 98% of the time. I want nothing more than to help people and make my community a better place. I dumpster dive for perfectly good, edible food, wash it, and feed it to the homeless, and eat it myself.

    Whenever I'm unlucky enough to encounter a narcissistic, bull-headed cop, I'm reminded of my cynicism for humanity. A government-backed pest. Police are MY deterrent and hindrance from truly blossoming, and doing my best, giving it my all, and caring for others. They are my reminder that, given the opportunity, anyone will abuse power in certain circumstances, and that people are inherently not worth the time.

    Go drink yourselves silly. Get divorced. Beat your wives (as is statistically cited that cops are the #1 occupation for domestic abuse, ironically). Then, even bitterly, look down upon the anomalous population who partake in the same aforementioned actions you frequent. But don't take your self-inflicted poor living standards out on those of us trying to get by, and help others do so.

  • Mister-clean_max50

    Netizen

    over 2 years ago

    4 Comments

    Cities allow and even want thugs in uniform. Cities also do not want people of high IQ to become police officers. Police officers are very much like the biggest and baddest street gang around anywhere, in every city. They are to be treated as dangerous animals that you have to be very careful around or near. People "respect" wild animals because they are dangerous, but that is not how people ought to really respect other people. It is in all practical reality the basis of why police offers are to be correctly treated similarly with people needing to be very careful, in fear of the police officer themselves, who will lie with absurd excuses to defend their use of violence. Such as all a cop has to do is yell, "stop resisting" or later claim the person was resisting arrest, in order to continue using force on anyone. When will people wake up to this BS excuse and tactic they use (and usually get away with) to abuse their power? How clueless could you be to not know better? Take a twenty something male and give him a short haircut, gun, badge, and uniform, and his violence will be protected and defended instead of held to account with any true justice. Cities simply fear liability and having to pay out as why they lie and say that no wrongdoing has happened when cops are out of control, It has nothing to do with justice. Cops lie, cities lie. It is simply faulty attempts to cover their asses and save face in government. Police officers are permitted to be the biggest violators of law. Thugs in uniform are what they are. Give a bully or hooligan a badge and they can get away with murder. Shame on all involved.

  • Mister-clean_max50

    Netizen

    over 2 years ago

    4 Comments

    Cities allow and even want thugs in uniform. Cities also do not want people of high IQ to become police officers. Police officers are very much like the biggest and baddest street gang around anywhere, in every city. They are to be treated as dangerous animals that you have to be very careful around or near. People "respect" wild animals because they are dangerous, but that is not how people ought to really respect other people. It is in all practical reality the basis of why police offers are to be correctly treated similarly with people needing to be very careful, in fear of the police officer themselves, who will lie with absurd excuses to defend their use of violence. Such as all a cop has to do is yell, "stop resisting" or later claim the person was resisting arrest, in order to continue using force on anyone. When will people wake up to this BS excuse and tactic they use (and usually get away with) to abuse their power? How clueless could you be to not know better? Take a twenty something male and give him a short haircut, gun, badge, and uniform, and his violence will be protected and defended instead of held to account with any true justice. Cities simply fear liability and having to pay out as why they lie and say that no wrongdoing has happened when cops are out of control, It has nothing to do with justice. Cops lie, cities lie. It is simply faulty attempts to cover their asses and save face in government. Police officers are permitted to be the biggest violators of law. Thugs in uniform are what they are. Give a bully or hooligan a badge and they can get away with murder. Shame on all involved.

  • D_a_badge

    martin1181

    over 5 years ago

    510 Comments

    Excellent advice. I wish we all can take it as well as we are able to give it. Yes I agree, GOOD LUCK to us all!

  • Nj_508th_mp_co_max50

    redskyn23

    over 5 years ago

    176 Comments

    Great article... but like most things in life. it is all about balance.

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max50_max50_max50_max50_max50

    rhood

    over 5 years ago

    23592 Comments

    A well written thought provoking article.

  • Me_and_the_kids_1_max50

    razzaqnz

    over 5 years ago

    518 Comments

    Outstanding article--I'm glad someone has touched on this in such an informative format. The psychological "us vs. them" trap makes it so easy to have such a myopic view of police and our role in criminal justice.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    Comndo is right on...like him, I always "carry," not just for my safety but for that of my friends, family and community. It really is all about balance; being aware, but not paranoid.
    Thanks for all your continuing comments, I learn more from my PL readers and friends than you're ever going to learn from me, and thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all each week.

    Betsy

  • Delicate_arch_max50

    ryanhatch

    over 5 years ago

    1372 Comments

    Comndo is absolutely right. This is a very good article.

  • Veteransadm_small_square_max50

    amrote

    almost 6 years ago

    652 Comments

    I was fortunate enough to begin my LE career in the Air Force. While I was still a cop, I was able to cope in a slower pace environment. The military does a good job at keeping your mind occupied on other things. I have always been a strong man of faith and nothing gives me comfort like my faith. This also allows me to have friends outside the career who have the same love of mankind that I do. We do live in a cruel and uncaring society, but I know I have a better life waiting for me once I leave this world. My wife is a PA who works in the ER, so we also utilize each other as comfort when the days are hard. I think ER medics see the same kind of stuff we are subjected to thru our "chosen" job. Great article.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 6 years ago

    Well said Comndo! Its all about balance...

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Comndo

    almost 6 years ago

    8 Comments

    This is a tough subject. I see myself and many co-workers with a foot on both sides of the fence. I don't ONLY hang out with Cops, but I am VERY selective about who is welcome in my personal life/ time and around my family, and most of the time Cops fit the bill. I think that as Cops we become more keenly aware of character flaws and stereotypical personality traits as part of our training and continual contact with the ugly side of our cities and the ugly side of (even good) people. After awhile things just stand out to us that normal people never notice. While everybody else is yammering on and giggling, we're backing up with our hackles raised. That makes it uncomfortable to mingle with 'normal' people. I also find it kind of sad that we 'good' people and Cops are not considered the 'normal' ones, that right there speaks some truth about our current society. It is difficult to find positive influences such as church or sports when you know how the same people act when not wearing a tie or whistle (and maybe you're the one who dealt with them).
    I have a lot of respect for the author whose artices I've read for years, and many valid points hit close to home. Still, when I'm 'off' I carry, I see everything and my family's safety takes precedence over having fun, but doesn't prevent it. I don't drink or do anything else to 'cope' and I sure don't contemplate washing out my mouth with buckshot. I'm just more aware (and prepared for) of the realities of this world.
    Part of it is rebellion against the brazeness of today's criminals too. I have ALWAYS served my country and community, I pay my taxes, vote, try to always do the right thing and work damn hard for the little bit I can call my own, and I'll be damned if i'm going to let some scum take from me or endanger my loved ones just because I'm 'off-duty'. Being a Guardian is just as much the fiber of my being as "father', 'husband' and 'American' and you can't 'turn that off'. As long as there is something I can do about it, no thug is ever going to be empowered by indiference of THIS good man. That readiness doesn't make us paranoid, it makes us THE DETERENT.
    Ever see a paranoid sheep or cattle dog? No, they just trot around the herd, calm and observant, doing their job holding the line and knowing they've got the bite to back up the bark if necessary. They don't pal around with the members of the herd, see they have to keep an eye on the tree line, pacing between the herd and the wolves, but the Shep(herd) is always closest to the herd. It's called instinct. It can be honed, but it can't be taught. If you have it, you just learn your place is with the other shepherds, between the herd and the trees. You keep a sharp eye and always be ready to use your teeth. 'Nuff said.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 6 years ago

    Great article, after working patrol for a few months and seeing more bad people and bad things that happened to good people, it is easy to forget that there are good people out there. You have to have someplace where you can be around "normal people" that aren't cops.

  • Img_0639_max50

    Star80A9

    almost 6 years ago

    1228 Comments

    Good reminders. Thanks for submitting.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    1patti

    almost 6 years ago

    252 Comments

    Great advice to go by and understand that not all people are "bad people ". They have their problems to. Be friendly and curtious to all included. Your neighbor may need you one day.

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