A friend of mine recently asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?”
I smiled as this was the hundredth time I’ve been asked that question. I thought to myself, “If you only knew the truth.” Protector to a fault, I couldn’t unload the real truth about what it’s like to be a police officer. Instead, I smiled and said, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.” If he only knew. Over the next few minutes, I would smile and nod as if I was paying attention to the conversation.
In reality, I was thinking to myself, if you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. When my wife asks how my day was I respond with a rehearsed, “It was fine.” I say that to protect her and I guess myself too. I’m not trying to be rude or short. I don’t want to keep things from her or hurt her feelings. I guess the truth is, I don’t want to relive the fatality car accident I responded to last night. A mother, father, and their two children didn’t survive, it was horrific.
If you want to know the truth, a few days ago I came home and was distant and distracted. My wife got upset with me because I wasn’t listening when she told me about the parent-teacher conference she attended alone. What she doesn’t know is someone shot at me on my last shift. I debated telling her but don’t want her to worry more than she already does. Honestly, I am just thankful to be alive. The scary truth is, my wife almost became a widow and my kids almost lost their father. That thought is really messing with my head. I guess that’s what I signed up for, so I’ll have a few more beers and then head to bed. I’ve got work in the morning.
If you want to know the truth, even though that guy shot at me, I’m thankful I wasn’t able to shoot back. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want that on my conscience. I don’t want to be on restricted duty because I need to work overtime to pay the bills. The truth is, I don’t want to hurt anyone and certainly don’t want to kill anyone. I want to help them but I know I’m a consequence for some, a sigh of relief for others, and a hero to a few. The truth is, I don’t go looking for a fight; the fight comes to me, whether I want it to or not. Ultimately, I just want to go home at the end of the night.
You want to know the truth? Today I got word that I’m being investigated, another ridiculous complaint and now my long-awaited promotion is in jeopardy. A drug dealer is claiming his money went missing and he was roughed up while being arrested. Despite the fact the video will prove none of that is true, I have to wait months for the outcome. No matter what, that complaint is on my record forever now. One more thing I have to explain to the promotion board if I even make it that far.
The truth is, my wife is expecting our second child and that promotion would really help with the upcoming expenses. Carrying all this stress the last few days, I’ve been pissed when I hit the streets. But just last night, I was flagged down by a frantic mother and was able to resuscitate her unconscious baby. The truth is, seeing the joy and relief on that mother’s face restored a sense of worth and purpose. In seconds, the anger and stress about the complaint and promotion were gone. I helped someone today and the truth is, that’s why I do this job.
If you want to know the truth, I’m not a hateful person. I don’t care what you look like, where you came from, or what you’ve done in the past, I will give my life for you. I may not know you but that isn’t a reason to hesitate when seconds matter. The truth is, helping people is in my blood. I run toward danger, I shield strangers from harm, and I accept death as a consequence. I guess the truth is, it’s just my way of life. I’m a risk taker but don’t like the idea of dying. I didn’t sign up to die, however, I accept it could happen. The truth is, I would feel bad for my parents; no parent should have to bury a child. At least it would be honorable, that should count for something.
If you want to know the truth, I have a wife, a mother, a father, one brother and two dogs. I have a family just like you. Even if I have to work, they hope to see me at birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like football and baseball. I watch movies and can quote some of them word for word. I guess the truth is, I’m not much different than you are. I have my good days and bad. I hope for the best, expect the worst, and always try to do the right thing. Like you, I want my family to be proud of me. I don’t want to bring disgrace to my name, my family, or my late grandfather whom I know is watching from above.
If you want to know the truth, I love my country, my city, and my brothers and sisters in blue. I guess they are why I keep coming to work every day. I don’t want to abandon them or our fight for what is right. We defend the vulnerable and defenseless from crime and evil. It’s what we do. If you want to know the truth, it gets harder every day. I just blocked some friends on social media. They said they wanted “all pigs would die,” I just can’t stomach that. Why should I die? What have I done wrong? I just want to help people.
You want to know the truth? I may not act like it but the job is starting to take a toll on me. Sometimes I lie in bed and start crying out of nowhere. I don’t feel sad, nothing in particular happened that day. In fact, I had a pretty boring shift. But the truth is, sometimes I just lie there and cry and I’m not sure why. I suppose the truth is, I just had to let it out and eventually I feel better. I’m not too sure if that’s a good thing but that’s the truth. I guess that’s just part of the job.
The truth is, some days I wonder if it’s all worth it. It seems like everyone hates us these days and no matter what we do, we are always to blame. The cards seem stacked against us. Surely, we are playing a game we can’t win. I can’t watch the news anymore. All you see is more protests, tragedy, death, and half-truths. Headlines that seem to be aimed at stoking the flames and furthering the narrative that the police are the enemy. I guess the truth is, I just want to do a good job and make a difference but that seems impossible these days. Ultimately it seems like even if I did, no one would notice.
If you want to know the truth, the more I think about it, it’s just not worth it anymore. I drink all the time and my wife said she’s filing for divorce. I guess the truth is becoming clear, I’m not a hero. I can’t help myself, let alone strangers who call 911. I am angry all the time and I’m losing this battle. I don’t see a reason to go on. I’m losing my wife, my kids, my life seems over and this job has made me into someone I don’t want to be.
If you want to know the truth, I planned on killing myself today. I wrote the note and had a plan but couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t do it. Thankfully, I decided I’m going to take control of my life. I am going to seek help. I decided I need to make some changes and give myself a chance to be happy. I will fight for my wife and the life I once had. I guess the truth is, since all I ever do is fix stranger’s problems, I forgot to fix my own.
The truth is, when you asked, “Tell me, what is it really like being a police officer?” These are all the things I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled and replied, “It’s good, every day is different and I get to work outside.”
– The Officer Next Door