First published in the Sunshine Coast Daily on June 13, 2015
I’m a mother of two. I’m a successful writer. But being a police officer is the thing that seems to define me in the eyes of everybody else.
I’ve been doing this for many years now and I’ve built certain defences against the stereotypes and presumptions people immediately make when you say ‘I’m a cop’. It’s a shame because it’s only a part of who I am but often people just can’t see past it. They treat me differently when they find out I’m a police officer.
It can be very polarising, and you never know what sort of reaction you’re going to get. It seems to depend on people’s most recent experience with police. And if someone’s just received a traffic ticket for driving with their arm out of the car window, then you can expect some crankiness.
Sometimes though, it comes from unexpected quarters. I ran into my Grade Three teacher shortly after I’d graduated from the Police Academy. When she asked me what I’d been up to in the ensuing decades, I proudly told her about my shiny new career. She launched into a diatribe about corrupt and evil police because she was in a family war with her police-officer brother-in-law. Well, that was unexpected. Lesson learnt.
When I chose this career, I accepted the fact that people may hate me for what I represent rather than who I am. To a certain extent, it is a 24 hour job. You are never not a police officer and this can attract a lot of negativity. I get paid to deal with that at work, but when my shift ends, I want the cynicism to end too.
Clearly, I don’t spend all of my time at work. I do the same things other people do when they are not at work – shopping, picking the kids up from school, paying bills, enjoying hobbies. When I’m not in my uniform, I don’t usually ‘feel’ like a police officer. I have a life aside from my job. If I’m just going about my own business, I don’t want any attention drawn to me. It can make things uncomfortable, confronting or even dangerous, depending on who happens to be around. There is a huge difference to being at work kitted up, with a partner by your side to being blindsided in Coles alone with your hands full of groceries.
With this in mind, here are a few things I’d like to say as a cop to the general public.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean my job is like a TV cop show. “Have you ever shot anybody?” is only an acceptable question to ask me if you are under the age of 10.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I want to hear about each and every time you’ve had anything to do with police. Especially not some traffic ticket you think you didn’t deserve. Really. If I didn’t write it, I’m not interested. Even if I did write it – if you want to argue it, I’ll see you in court, when I’m actually at work and getting paid to sort that stuff out.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m going to admit it to you. I don’t know you, I don’t know what reaction I might get, so I’m steering clear of a potential minefield. Ask me what my job is, I’ll say something generic like ‘public servant’, and dodge any follow-up questions until I know who you are. Just leave it be.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I have every answer. I make mistakes, I have bad days, I make errors of judgement. I can’t always solve all your problems, and honestly, sometimes your problems can’t be solved. Blaming me is just going to make me cranky and that’s not going to help either one of us.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean it defines me. I might also be a mother, a father, a husband, a carer, a writer, a runner, a knitter, a builder. Some people love being a police officer and they want it to impact on every part of their life. But for a lot of us, it pays the bills and we may consider it to be one of the least interesting parts of our lives. If you talk to me normally, as a person, you might find that out.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m want to lock everyone up. I could not begin to count the number of times I have had strangers push their friends towards me and say something like “look Bob, the police have finally caught up with you”. It’s not funny. Please. Just stop it.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean you have to announce it to everyone around you, at every possible opportunity. If I’m at work, in my uniform, I accept the attention it draws. That’s part of the job. But if I’m in the playground with my kids, and someone feels the need to announce it loudly, then that makes me cringe and look over my shoulder. You don’t have to constantly bring it up in conversation. Move past it. It’s not that exciting.
Just because I’m a police officer… doesn’t mean I’m not a person. Please treat me as such.