This line of work takes a toll on you. There is no avoiding the punishment your body and mind will endure by the time you are eligible for retirement. It is a physically and mentally demanding job.
Go to any gathering of retired police officers and watch how they walk. Stiff arthritic legs, bent backs, and if there is any hair on the men, it is probably gray. Conversations cover chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons, and new pain meds.
Yes, you will find plumbers and carpenters and steelworkers who look similar. However, with those, you usually won’t hear talk of the sleepless nights, the stomach problems, and the conversation will seldom get around to a badly decomposed body or ass-kicking.
Police officers pay a price that civilians don’t see. Our backs hurt from lugging around a duty belt and Kevlar with close to thirty pounds of equipment on it. Then take into consideration you sit in a squad car for hours at a time until suddenly you jump from the vehicle and throw yourself into a life or death situation. Is it any wonder you have back and knee problems? Keep in mind that when you live out of a squad car you will probably get into accidents. It happens, I know. I was just driving through an intersection when a Dodge Omni broadsided me and flipped my squad. I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, just cruising. I lost my spleen in that accident and will always have some back problems.
As a group, we eat terribly. Greasy fried foods are probably our primary food group. If the heart blockage doesn’t strike you down, then type 2 diabetes will do you in. My doctor has told me I’m now type 2. As a result, I get to enjoy all that goes along with that.
I was a police officer for 30 years. Most of that time I rotated shifts and for a few years worked straight midnights. Toss in working side jobs whenever I could to help pay for my three sons and you can see how it is hard on a marriage. I’ve been divorced for about 17 years now.
Like all officers, we have dealt with all the family issues most people have plus the added problems of not being there. You miss a lot of school functions when you work evenings. Days off get canceled in the summer and the fall and winter holidays are hit or miss. Not like your kid’s uncle who is an accountant and after tax-season he is off whenever he wants. Add the pressures of the job. Going from a domestic, to a shooting, to a barking dog, to a traffic accident. Your adrenaline pump is on and off all day long.
Shoot – don’t shoot. Should I lock this guy up? Did that burglar hide in the basement? Is that bulge in his pocket a gun? These are stressors your average person never deals with. After all you have dealt with, you see bad and evil at every turn, so you always worry about your kids and your spouse. They don’t understand it and think you are ridiculous.
Stressors cause anxiety. While you might think you have it under control, it takes a lot out of you. I developed TMJ because I started clenching and grinding my teeth. It required orthodontia and a night mouthguard. I have clenched so hard that several molars have cracked. Until things were under control, the headaches were at times debilitating.
I have suffered from insomnia for at least fifteen years. Not all the time but looking back I can see the bouts coincided with times in my life when I was under stress for one reason or another. Even though I always believed I had things under control the stress was there eating away at me.
I’ve never had irritable bowel syndrome but that is another example of stress causing your body havoc. Take the bad diet we live on along with lack of sleep and that is one example of your body’s reaction to stress. So is PTSD, depression, and suicide.
I suppose on the bright side most of us have developed a sense of humor that is only appreciated by other police officers and E/R nurses. We can chuckle over breakfast about the gangbanger who was shot six times (five exit wounds) and wanted to be released from the E/R saying he would be okay. Shortly thereafter his heart stopped beating, the staff opened his chest did manual heart compressions and fought valiantly and sadly unsuccessfully to save his life.
Yeah, I have found humor is some pretty sick things. We all have. It is one of the few things that will help with the pressure. If the public heard some of the things said it would make the news and we would all be all out a job.
So, where do you stand? How many of the five items have you achieved? That guy you know who always says cops don’t have it tough, where would he stand?
Take care, run low and zigzag,
– Robert Weisskopf (retired Lt. CPD)
Note: You can find more police articles from Robert Weisskopf as well as his six novels through the links on his website www.bobweisskopf.com
Robert Weisskopf grew up in Chicago. The son of a 33-year veteran Chicago Police Lieutenant. Bob was sworn in on February 14, 1983. Over the next thirty years he rose from Police Officer to Sergeant, to Lieutenant. He’s worked almost every job there is in Patrol and as a Sergeant, he was detailed to H.U.D. working undercover narcotics enforcement in public housing. As a Lieutenant he was the commanding officer of the CPD Alternate Response section commanding up to 300 officers. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union. He served as its president for six years, negotiating two contracts. He also served as Vice President of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons, Bob, Jim, and Patrick. He is the author of a series of sci-fi novels and a cookbook for single fathers. You can find links to his work and more at www.bobweisskopf.com.