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Should I reconsider pursuing LE?

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  • Should I reconsider pursuing LE?

    I am considering going into law enforcement after 15 years in education. As a high school teacher I taught some difficult populations, but I held my own and did well. Now I am burned out on teaching and need a new challenge. I feel a calling to LE after working closely with school resource officers and subsequently getting to know several patrol officers. I have a passion for public service and would like to continue.

    Here’s the thing- Like many teachers, I have struggled off and on with anxiety in the past. Strangely, the anxiety always makes me BETTER at my job because it causes me to over-prepare for every eventuality. It also is never evident to anyone else because I put forth a very strong and competent presence. People who I’ve told about it have expressed surprise because I come off as so capable and under control. Nevertheless it’s certainly not an enjoyable feeling.

    So assuming I could pass the psychological after having taken anti-anxiety meds before, my question is SHOULD I pursue this? Or is LE a field you need to enter with a completely clean psychological slate?

    Any insight would be appreciated.

  • #2
    This is a tricky issue, and there are no absolute answers which can be provided here...

    Police, like teachers, often also struggle with anxiety/depression. I don't have the time to go digging right now for a link, but I've read that 30% of urban police officers take SSRI meds (general population is 20%).

    The whole issue of mental health is seen under a different lens these days. I compare it to having a broken arm. Wouldn't there be a reasonable expectation that a person concerned with their well-being would seek medical treatment if their arm was broken? So doesn't the same expectation exist for someone with a mental health condition?

    But- just like treatment for a broken arm- is it not reasonable for an employer to inquire if the injury may (or may not) impair their ability to perform a job??

    So the quick answer is this: it depends. On lots of things. Like what does your treating physician say about cause and degree, treatability, and ability to perform the job.


    Only by going through the process will you know the absolute answer.
    People don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.

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    • #3
      An addendum:

      I've personally known LEOs who are under care and much like you describe, put forth a very strong and competent presence. Ironically, when they are at work, they are 'on' and in control. It's when they are off-duty, during down time, that the brooding occurs which affects their well-being, their family life, etc. Long-time coworkers who know about their situations (and treatment) care in the least, other than they are healthy.
      People don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Akm2256 View Post
        I am considering going into law enforcement after 15 years in education. As a high school teacher I taught some difficult populations, but I held my own and did well. Now I am burned out on teaching and need a new challenge. I feel a calling to LE after working closely with school resource officers and subsequently getting to know several patrol officers. I have a passion for public service and would like to continue.

        Here’s the thing- Like many teachers, I have struggled off and on with anxiety in the past. Strangely, the anxiety always makes me BETTER at my job because it causes me to over-prepare for every eventuality. It also is never evident to anyone else because I put forth a very strong and competent presence. People who I’ve told about it have expressed surprise because I come off as so capable and under control. Nevertheless it’s certainly not an enjoyable feeling.

        So assuming I could pass the psychological after having taken anti-anxiety meds before, my question is SHOULD I pursue this? Or is LE a field you need to enter with a completely clean psychological slate?

        Any insight would be appreciated.
        The bolded part above has me concerned. In LE you can't possibly prepare for "every eventuality". Yes, you'll receive extensive training in the academy...and yes, you'll receive ongoing and specialized training...and yes, you'll learn from experience and grow more confident over time. BUT...when working patrol, every day and every call is going to be different. There's no lesson plan, no set classroom, no student roster. It is highly unpredictable, you've got to be able to think on your feet and adapt quickly to whatever the job throws at you at any given moment. Someone who likes to plan ahead and prepare for everything is going to have a difficult time because every call is unique.

        I don't want to discourage you...but you do need to do some more soul searching. Can you handle going to work and NOT knowing what's going to happen during each shift? Or is the fear of the "unknown" going to make you anxious and miserable? Can you fake it til you make it? Or is it going to break you? Only you can decide if the risk is worth it to you. Personally, I don't think anybody should be gambling with their mental/emotional health. NO job is worth it.

        Good luck to you!

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        • #5
          Thank you both for your insight. It gives me a lot to think about. It’s funny because back in my twenties I probably would have jumped right in to LE without this much careful thought. However working in education taught me that public service, despite the great rewards, takes a toll. Now I am much more considerate. Violence has erupted in my classroom on a number of occasions but it never stressed me out because there was no time to anticipate it. In fact, as bad as this sounds, it was kind of exilerating (sp?)! But I understand as an LEO you HAVE to anticipate it.

          Can anybody tell me, even if it should be obvious, where the anxiety from LE comes from? Is it from always having to anticipate the worst? Is it from not knowing if you’re going to make it home at the end of a shift? The cops I know didn’t seem to ruminate on the second one. Is that typical or is it always on your mind?

          One more question- I sometimes ask teachers how they would react if their kids decided to go into education. Almost every one says he/she would discourage them from doing so. Do cops feel the same way or does it vary?

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          • #6
            Can anybody tell me, even if it should be obvious, where the anxiety from LE comes from? Is it from always having to anticipate the worst? Is it from not knowing if you’re going to make it home at the end of a shift? The cops I know didn’t seem to ruminate on the second one. Is that typical or is it always on your mind?

            Ask ten LEOs this question, and you'll get ten different answers.

            Looking back on my 27 years....

            There was a point where witnessing carnage first hand, or abuse, had an impact. Less so as the years passed.

            There was a point where bad managers (vindictive, spiteful, micro-managers with their own bizarre personal agendas) had an impact. Less so as the years passed (in full disclosure, I've had mostly good bosses for the past ten years. But I've seen the worst in my career...)

            BTW- I'm convinced more LE careers end not because of the day-in, day-out stressors that come with dealing with the worst of humanity, but because of petty institutions that place protecting the power structure above all over concerns, at all cost.

            RE: Not knowing you might not go home at the end of a shift: that's always in the back of your mind but in all candor, there's only been a handful of times this became an actual reality for me. I recognize though that others have been closer to the edge on more occasions.

            Two people I trained with/worked with were KITLOD. An equal number took their own lives. One went to prison. Several were fired. Several died early in life because of the job. I suppose that's par for course.

            RE: Would I do it again? The peaks were high and the valleys were low. I can't imagine having done anything else, though.

            RE: Would I discourage my kids if they decided to go into LE? No, but I would tell them everything I know and warn them to quickly read everyone they deal with, including those with a badge....
            Last edited by Ratatatat; 10-13-2018, 09:32 PM.
            People don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.

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            • #7
              Have you considered part time or reserve? That way you can keep your current job and try policing. Though you'll have carefully plan and pay for the academy.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by westside popo View Post
                Have you considered part time or reserve? That way you can keep your current job and try policing. Though you'll have carefully plan and pay for the academy.
                If this is a possibility in your area, I would strongly second the idea.

                While I was in a different career field, I caught the LE bug in my 30s. But I was in a position (financially, family acceptance, etc.) where making a major career shift to law enforcement didn't seem right for me. Especially without any real knowledge that it would make me any happier than I was at my existing job.

                I learned there were opportunities for part-time officers in my area, so I put myself through an academy (which I was able to do as night school). I found a position that allowed me to be a cop once or twice a week but that didn't significantly impact my day job. Best decision I ever made.

                Among the advantages:
                - My part-time LE job paid, and it was actually pretty good supplemental income. When the economy tanked in 2008 the income from my FT job went into the toilet. By picking up more shifts at my (recession-proof) police job, I was able to keep paying the bills.
                - I honed my skills. Having a day-job meant I was relegated to nights and weekends, and that's when the 'interesting' stuff usually occurred.
                - I got to know cops in the area, both in my own agency and in neighboring departments. They clued me in to opportunities that helped me.
                - It got my family used to the idea of me being a cop.
                - I learned that doing it FT for the rest of my career would make me happier than what I'd been doing up to that point.

                For me, it took over 10 years to get to a place where I felt I could/should make the shift to full-time law enforcement. I'm a couple of years in now, and I can't stress enough how much happier I am than I was in my old career.

                I don't have a lot to add about the anxiety treatment, other than to say I wouldn't see it as a significant hurdle these days. Heck, a third of the people I know (both in and out of the LE field) are on some form of medication for anxiety/depression/sleep disorders/etc. The stigma, while still alive, is waning. Heck, I'd rather work next to a cop who recognized he/she needed and got treatment than one who ignores the warning signs and self-medicates.

                Also, I think you bring a lot to the table that police departments are looking for these days: Maturity, life experience, dedication to public service, a history of appropriately dealing with a stressful environment, an ability to connect with youth, etc. I know of several teachers who made the shift to LE and, in general, they made good cops.

                Good luck.

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