By John Hegger

People often dream of becoming a cop one day. Whether that dream begins as a young child, or later in adulthood is irrelevant. It can be considered a dream for many reasons. There are times when working in law enforcement is rich in family tradition. Some individuals have a strong desire to help mankind. At the same time, there are always those that are only seeking this position to achieve power and authority over others.   Becoming a cop is a life changing event.  Once the transition is made, it is nearly impossible to return to a normal lifestyle. There are several factors that need to be considered when entering into a career as an officer.

The very first, and most important factor to be considered involves family. Becoming an officer will create a drastic change in one’s family dynamic. While there are ways to effectively deal with change, it can be quite difficult at times. Maintaining a successful career as a cop will require working long hours, missing holiday gatherings, and sleeping irregular hours. If children are involved, it is important to realize that as a cop, you will miss school events, youth sporting events, and many other aspects of raising children. Another factor that is related to family involves finances.

It has been said that money doesn’t make the world go round, or does it? The fact of the matter is, becoming a cop is a very rewarding job in many aspects, but it simply doesn’t pay well. There is no corporate ladder to climb in this line of work. Sure, there are ranks to gain with promotional opportunities, all of which typically include a small pay raise, but is it enough? Many cops are forced to work several secondary jobs, just to maintain an average middle class lifestyle. Secondary employment in this industry can be very rewarding, often paying double or triple an officer’s normal salary. However, we need to keep in mind, working multiple secondary jobs will require more time away from family. As if money and family weren’t enough of an obstacle, cops need to consider the stress of dealing with challenging moral and ethical dilemmas, often on a daily basis.

Maintaining professional integrity is crucial to being successful as a cop. That integrity will be challenged, and at times, will cause severe stress. There can be small opportunities that will test your ethical code. Gas station attendants will typically offer free coffee and beverages, sometimes even free food, just for an officer to spend some time at a place of business. There are law enforcement discounts offered galore. From restaurants, to clothing, to vacations, someone is always willing to bend the rules for law enforcement. Not to mention, the occasional situation where you will be faced with observing a fellow officer violating policy, or even breaking the law. A decision will have to be made on how to proceed with what you just observed or experienced. It’s not impossible to maintain professional integrity, it’s just a concept that always needs to be on the forefront of every cop’s mind.

Being a cop can be the best job on the face of the planet. The experiences can be extremely rewarding, and terrifying at the same time. There are a few life areas that will need to be continuously monitored in order to ensure success. Learning to work together with a significant other, or spouse, and keeping lines of communication open is an absolute must. While it can be challenging at times, figuring out how to live within your financial means is important. Always try to make good decisions, but more importantly, learn from your experiences, don’t dwell on them. Continue to train, and train as if everything is real-life. When all else fails, you will revert back to your training. Stay safe, and most importantly, have fun. When the job is no longer fun, it will be time to consider moving on. So, you want to be a cop? Look at the big picture, assess your goals, aspirations and quality of life, and then if the shoe fits, go for it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, written in a personal capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, or any other governmental agency.