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Being an officer is no easy career
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I sometimes hear people describe the police profession in simplistic terms. This comes as no surprise, because few people fully understand any given profession unless they are in it themselves. The services of any police or sheriff's department are many and complex. Law enforcement officers at the local level are expected to respond to robberies, rapes, murders and other violent crimes, as well as suspicious deaths, crimes in progress, traffic collisions, road hazards, and family fights. They conduct drug investigations, and handle "cold" cases like burglaries and other forms of thefts, noise complaints, burglar alarms, mentally ill persons, lost/missing persons, and medical calls. They are charged with suppressing gangs, delivering death notifications, dealing with suicide cases and virtually every other safety or quality of life need that does not fall within the scope of services provided by other governmental agencies.

Such diverse and complex demands of the job, therefore, require people who can meet extraordinary personal standards and are able to meet increasingly complex training requirements. Law enforcement officers - or "peace officers" as the California penal code describes them - must possess above-average intelligence, while maintaining good common sense. They require analytical skills, rapid decision-making ability and a thick skin to shield them from frequent criticism.

Law enforcement officers must, at times, fulfill the role of law enforcer, and while rare, must be able to take a life in order to safe a life. They must have excellent firearms skills and the ability to effect arrests of combative or resistive suspects with special self-defense and arrest tactics. They have to serve as emotional counselors and surrogate parents. They must have the compassion of a person in the clergy and the patience of a monk, with a sense of dedication to the welfare of the community and the broader society as a whole. They are investigators, public speakers, role models, and expert emergency vehicle operators. They must be able to write detailed and factually accurate reports, work any hours of the day, all days of the year, and are always on call at a moment's notice.

While the rewards of being a police officer are many, the negative consequences of a lengthy career are many. Officers are exposed to innumerable diseases, chemicals, and endure mental and physical trauma. According to life span studies of Americans, the average male lives 76 years. Male police officers, on average, live 64.3 years. Studies also suggest that police officers live just seven years after their careers end, which is one of the reasons some retirement plans allow for officers to retire at 50 years of age. Cops have to learn to balance their professional lives with their personal ones; the long hours and constant stress have effects on their families and other personal relationships. When someone decides to be a cop, it is a decision that impacts everyone in their life - they are unable to attend parent-teacher conferences, family functions, they often work on holidays, are unable to attend all their kids' baseball games, dance recitals, etc. And, of course, there is always the increasing chance that they will not come home at the end of their shifts because of an act of violence against them, a traffic collision or some other trauma that might befall them in the line of duty.

California has among the highest peace officer hiring and training standards in the nation. To become a police officer, a candidate must start out with a clean record, free of serious criminal convictions. That is not to say that a person cannot be an officer if, for example they had a petty crime in their distant past. But felonies, drunken driving convictions or any event that calls their honesty into question severely limits any applicant interested in police work. Candidates must go through a rigorous testing process, which includes oral boards, a written test, physical agility testing and other examinations to establish their suitability for law enforcement. Once the selection process is complete and the local police chief or sheriff passes the candidate in the final step of the interview process, the candidate must then pass a thorough background investigation, medical examination, psychological examination and polygraph test. Some police agencies do not use a polygraph in their selection process, but like Ceres, most do.

Once a police officer or sheriff's deputy is hired, they have to go through an extensive field training program, which can last up to 20 weeks. These trainees are subjected to continuous evaluations, training exercises, hands-on experience and finally are released to perform their duties "solo" once they prove to be ready. They remain on probation for a total period of time ranging from 12 to 18 months.

In order for police officers to maintain their state certification, they are required to participate in a minimum of 40 hours of state-approved training every two years. Most of them double or triple that amount, and also received almost daily updates on legal changes, procedural updates, policy changes and the like. It is a challenge to keep up with the training itself, and at the same time, these training investments are costly. A veteran police officer reflects accumulated training and experience valued at many tens of thousands of dollars.

Police work, indeed, is a complex job that few people wish to do, and even fewer are able to do in the context of their personality disposition, backgrounds, physical skills, and their ability to manage fear and confrontation, and their overall social "IQ." They are an indispensable asset to society, and while I work around these people all the time, my admiration for them never stops.