On a recent evening I was typing reports inside a Starbucks. There’s nothing better than having my paperwork spread out all over the table and a drink right next to me. A refill is just steps away.
Every once in awhile someone will ask me a question about police work. I don’t mind answering because people get to see me as a real person sitting in Starbucks just like them.
This young guy in his early 20s walked up to me and asked, “What’s the difference between a reserve officer and a full time officer?”
I told him the difference, and I asked him why he wanted to know.
“I was thinking about being a reserve officer. I figured it was a good way to get my foot in the door,” he said.
“Why don’t you put your foot all the way through the door and try to become a fulltime officer?”
“I was in the process with Anaheim and Costa Mesa, but I pulled out.”
“I got this real estate job and I wanted to try it out. Maybe I’ll do both.”
I got the impression his heart wasn’t into it. He said it like he was trying to decide if he should wear Nike or New Balance shoes. His answer was so casual it didn’t seem like he was that serious about it.
Anyone who has been through the hiring process, the academy, field officer training and then working the street, knows this isn’t the right frame of mind.
That’s when I said, “Either you want it or you don’t. This isn’t a job you try out to see if you like it.”
I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I think he needed to hear straight talk. I then went on.
“This is a rewarding job, but it has its moments. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. You need to take a look in the mirror and decide how bad you want it. This job isn’t for everyone. Your heart has to be into it.”
He told me he understood and said he had been on some ride alongs. I told him about the different types of situations an officer faces and stressed to him how much responsibility went with the job.
That’s when the radio came to life about an injury collision involving a bicyclist and a truck. I told him good luck and I cleaned up my stuff.
A few minutes later, I was standing over a dead body in the street. The victim’s brains were all over the place.
I then thought back to the guy at Starbucks. I wondered how he would’ve reacted to seeing this.
I could tell he was young and maybe this wasn’t the job for him right now. I’ve spoken to other people his age that were so much more focused about where they were going in life and what they wanted to do. Maybe I was the fork in the road of life for him right now. Only time will tell.
Like I told him, this job isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to do it. Some people are just made for the job. For some, it’s a calling. It requires sacrifice and determination. I could go on and on, but there’s one thing in the world that’s the most important: You gotta have heart.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (badge415.wordpress.com/). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. behindthebadgeoc.com will share some of his columns