Saturday, December 20, 2008

I want to be a cop.

I struggled to open my eyes when my alarm went off this morning - they felt like they were glued shut. I hit the alarm more times that I can remember. I dropped everything that I picked up as I was getting ready to go, but I was not going to be late and I was not going to miss this. There are few opportunities where I can go out as affiliated with "The Police Department" and feel like I'm doing something good, simply because people should do good things for other people. Not paid, not required by law, not as a duty I swore to carry out. It felt good. It always does...even better, I saw the faces of the kids that were on the receiving end of it. It didn't take much from me and I didn't have to go that far out of my way, but I know for sure that there are at least a dozen kids, and a handful of relieved parents, who will have much more to look foward to come Christmas morning. I remember a Christmas one year when I was 12 or 13. We didn't have anything. No presents, no special dinner, not even gas money to go to my mom's side of the family like every year before and every year since. I was sick. Really sick. I didn't get out of bed for days, but in my feverish haze, I do remember seeing the disappointment on my parent's faces that they couldn't provide more for their children. Some things you don't forget.

I've wanted to be a cop since I was 14.

I got sidetracked. I'm a dispatcher...not that dispatching isn't a great career and a completly vital link in the public safety chain. I can say without a doubt that without it, efficient, life-saving public safety would come to a disturbly ineffective pace. I never intended on being a dispatcher. It just kind of happened - dispatching found me and I still remember the attitude that I had when I started. This is where I'm supposed to be right now. I can do this and I can make this better. I can be the best at this. More than 5 years later, now I think - if I choose to, I can stay in this career until I retire, but I don't think this is where I was meant to stop and that is what has been eating away at me for far too long.

I had a youth pastor, Joe, back when I went to church religiously, who was the inspiration for my law enforcment desire. I give him credit regularly, because him and his family are still an intregal part of my life. He used to lace his Bible lessons with a real life work story about and arrest, or a stop or, a call for service, and the one thing that always caught my attention was the humility and respect for human dignity that he portrayed in his stories. He made me want to be a cop for those reasons - not for the glamour, or the praise, or the mystery of it all; but because I knew he had actually made a difference in people's lives. When all the other girls around me wanted to be teachers, nurses, missionaries, and mommies, I wanted to be a cop. I still want to be a cop.

I was discussing with a friend from work that law enforcment as a career does things to young, new employees. It seeks out and finds the best, the most qualified, eager and enthusiastic minds and hearts and beats them down into a cynical, untrusting, remnants of what they started out as. This is not the case with everyone who retires or leaves law enforcment, but it is what I have witnessed more often than not. I've been in a uniform for 10 1/2 years now. That's more than 1/3 of my life. People try and tell me that those early years, as a Cadet and an Intern, don't really count. Those are the years that are the most important. Those are the years when the desire and drive beat out the pay, the cynicism, and the baggage of what this field has to offer. Although the color of my shirt and the size of the badge has changed (Police Cadet, Police Intern, Dispatcher) the patch on my sleeve and the meaning that it is supposed to carry has not.

I've changed. I used to wonder why the senior dispatchers and cops were the way they were. I used to wonder how it was that rookies turned into the hardened, doubtful, hateful employees that they become. I get it now. I've been seeing myself evolve and I lost my fight to stop it more than once. I've come to decide few thing about that change - some of it is emotional survival - get detached and unfortunatley some stay detached; some of it is feeling like you're living your life under a constant microscope; but more than anything, I realized that it isn't so much the actual job. At least in my case. It isn't the screaming parents whose children have stopped breathing, the stress of hearing officers yell for cover and then go silent, the chaos of injury and death, or all the callers who remind me that their tax dollars pay my salary and the chief is their neighbor. In my department, it is the unsettling fact that, the people who are surrounded by have been loosing their fight too. From what I've gathered, they're loosing their fight for a variety of reasons - they were drafted into a career they weren't meant to have; they believed it to be something that it wans't and they were never told otherwise; they have no more love for what they do; they were given the physical and mental battle gear, but not the emotional ones; and the final thought - the one that has stuck out the most lately is that that older generation, the ones who are the supervisors and decision makers, have given up and not only lost their fight, but lost their entire battle. I'm not talking about the supervisors who are in the trenches with all of us. I'm talking about the ones who are safe in their offices, whose memories of what it's like to pick up the phone or knock on a door, are so distant and faded, it's a wonder if they even remember if they were real in the first place. Quite simply, I would venture to guess that they forgot who they were when they started.

For the last few years, I've stuck with a saying that I heard in dispatch. "If you're going to be effective in this career, you have to love it a little bit, or it won't love you back." I've told every trainee that and I stick by it. I've stopped loving my career as a dispatcher. It is suffocating me. Lately, I am anxious before I go into work. I've only experienced that a few times before. I've been swimming upstream against the flow of past practice, unreliable partners, lackluster traning, and ineffective supervisors. It is exhausting.

I'm not 14 anymore. I don't think I was ever naieve. I lost that very early in my childhood, before I even hit double digits. I know that perception and reality are worlds apart. I know that you can't change people. I know that battles are lost probably more than they are won. I also know that you cannot pretend to be someone you are not. At least not for long.

I'm almost 28 but I still hear that voice in my head from half a lifetime ago that said "I want to be a cop." That voice is not as loud as it used to be, but it has never gone silent. However, the voice that tells me that I am meant to do something more and that I can't settle for being at the end of a headset for 20+ more years has been deafening in the last year.

I don't exactly have a plan for the rest of my career, other than I plan on having a career. I know that I've wanted to be a cop since I was 14 and some things you don't forget.

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