Ten Misconceptions About Being a Police Officer
Many students enter criminal justice and police preparation programs with the ultimate goal of becoming a police officer. However, some enter these programs with misconceptions about what police work is really like – and end up either, sadly, disappointed or disillusioned.
Here are some of the most common incorrect assumptions about working as a police officer and the realities that counteract them:
- Being a police officer is what you see on TV. Contrary to what you on TV and in movies, being a police officer is not always exciting: full of high-speed car chases, shootouts and dramatic arrests. Police officers have a responsibility to keep the public safe in addition to catching the “bad guys” and the chances of a dramatic incident like those in Hollywood are generally pretty low.
- Being a cop is boring. Okay, so if it’s not like it is on TV, it must be boring, right? Wrong. Just because you aren’t zooming through the city streets, doesn’t mean you don’t have some excitement. It’s just that there is a balance between the exciting and less-exciting times.
- Police academy is easy. Back in the 1980s, a series of comedy films made police academy seem like a nonstop party with endless hilarity. Not so much in reality, though. Most police academy programs are three to four months long – after you finish your criminal justice degree – and are very physically and mentally demanding.
- Once you get a job, you don’t have to stay fit. There may be a popular image of the overweight supervisor barking orders from behind a desk, but in reality, police officers need to stay physically fit. This often means devoting time to working out, in addition to other work and family responsibilities.
- Getting a job is easy. It’s not that there are not police jobs available, because there are. However, the process of becoming an officer is challenging – but not impossible. Earning a criminal justice degree will help prepare you for the rigors of the police academy, the police exam and the early days as an officer. In fact, most officers are hired on a probationary basis and spend several months partnered with a more experienced officer to prove themselves.
- Being a police officer is a thankless job. This is perhaps the biggest misconception about police work there is. Certainly, there are drawbacks to police work, as there are with any career. However, the reward of knowing you are protecting and serving your community, as well as the respect the uniform brings, is a great reward for many. Also, there are other rewards, such as job stability, pension plans and benefits, as well as good pay that make it a popular career path.
- There is no room for advancement. While many police officers certainly work in one area or position for several years, or spend their entire careers in one spot, there is plenty of room for advancement in police work. Officers have opportunities to move through the ranks as they get more experience or move into other types of police work, such as investigations, internal affairs and more.
- Not all cops are traffic cops. Another common misconception of police officers is that all officers do all things. In most cases, though: each officer is assigned a particular role or job and focuses in that area. There may be overlap in certain areas, but on larger police forces, some officers don’t even know how to use a radar gun and have never written a speeding ticket – just like there are officers who have never chased down a criminal suspect.
- Cops are perfect – or they are criminals themselves. Depending on your perspective, police officers may be above reproach or they may be above the law – taking bribes, hiding evidence, framing people, etc. While there are examples on both sides, most cops are just regular people, trying to do their best to do their jobs. They make mistakes, but for the most part, police officers follow the laws they pledge to uphold.
- Police work is a regular 9-to-5 job. Most people probably realize that police hours are irregular, but some are surprised to learn that it’s a 24/7 job. Especially early in their careers, officers will have to work overnight and weekend shifts, making a “normal” life challenging. However, the shifts get better with more experience and families make adjustments.
Even with the misconceptions and drawbacks, police work is an exciting and challenging field. Like getting into nursing and pursuing a MSN bridge, or going after a position in emergency management, criminal justice is just as rewarding. If you think you want to pursue this career, do your research and know exactly what you’re getting into before you start.