A number of years ago, Utah Peace Officer Magazine published the
following article and granted Calibre Press permission to share it in
our Street Survival Course Workbook. We felt now was a great time to share it again.
The beginning of the piece reminded us of a tee shirt we offer that speaks volumes. The shirt reads:: “It doesn’t weight much…until you put it on.”
referring, of course, to the badge. We all know the pressures that come
with the decision to dedicate yourself to a life in law enforcement.
They can be challenging at best, overwhelming at worst, for you and your loved ones. On behalf of all of us here at Calibre, thank you for bearing that weight.
With that, here’s the article:
Perhaps it weighs only two ounces overall. Large ones may run to four
ounces. But when that badge is pinned on, there is a weight unknown to
most law enforcement officers. The true weight of the badge is not
overcome by muscle, not found in the gym, not measured on a scale. This
weight requires a strength and conditioning for which few officers are
trained. The badge is not just pinned on a chest, it is pinned on a
lifestyle that is different from that of other professionals.
Over the course of the last 10 years, we have identified 10 key areas which make the badge heavy…and a source of stress.
1. You are seen as an authority figure.
People deal with you differently and treat you differently, even when
you are not working. When a problem occurs, everyone looks to you to
“take charge,” to “solve the problem.” Some say you are never off-duty.
Even when you are not working, there is a tendency to attack problems
and take charge. Sometimes taking charge is not preferable and can cause
particular strains in our world where many people like to linger with
problems, never really solving anything. Recognizing the difference
between a “problem-solving situation” where action is desirable and a
more passive situation where action may alienate others is difficult for
2. You are isolated. The wearing of a badge, uniform
and pistol separate you from society. This separation leads to many
psychological effects which research shows can create negative
personality traits. For example, psychological research shows wearing a
uniform tends to make a person dehumanize people who are without a
uniform. Just wearing a badge or gun can cause people to act more
aggressively. Many officers suggest there is a “role” or “mask” which
they put on along with their uniform. Sometimes this role leaks into
their personal lives and changes the course of their relationships and
3. You work in a paramilitary, structured institution.
There are mental health concerns associated with working within a
“paramilitary structure” and other mental health concerns in an
“institution.” Military organizations require the sacrifice of the
individual for the good of society. “The individual” is not a
consideration: the “goal” of the group is paramount. In a military
organization, the focus is on punishing the individual if he is not up
to standards. It is a dehumanizing process to understand that you are
only valued as part of a machine. The institution takes the same
attitude, only it goes a step further. In an institution, you are locked
in a set process and the process is more important many times than not
only the individual, but also the goal. When you do a remarkable job of
police work, perhaps even save a life, you can still be reprimanded if
you do not file the proper paperwork. Both the paramilitary nature of
police work and the functioning within an institution combine for a
mental health situation that is quite undesirable and very stressful.
4. Shiftwork is not normal. The “rotating shift” is
very taxing. Our bodies are adjusted on what is called “circadian
schedules” which is a repetitive daily cycle. Our bodies like to have a
regular eating time, sleeping time, waking time, etc. An officer doing
shift work never gets a chance to stay on schedule. This upsets her
physical and mental balance in life. The changing work schedule also
changes the routine patterns that are needed in healthy marriage and
family development such as rituals like dinner together, “inside jokes,”
repeated activities, etc. Because of shift change you have less chance
for these rituals. This predisposes your family to potential problems
ranging from divorces to children acting out.
5. Camaraderie can be a two-edged sword. Your job
nurtures a sense of teamwork and unity with co-workers, what is called
“esprit de corps.” The fraternity helps you to feel secure in getting
needed support in dangerous situations. It also stimulates a sense of
belonging that can create a “them and us” view of the world. This makes
the “clique” harder to leave when retiring and makes officers more
protective of each other. It also makes it more difficulty to accept
someone within your fraternity leaving or being killed.
6. Even the stress is different. Your kind of stress
is “burst stress.” Burst stress means there is not always a steady
stressor, but at times there is an immediate “burst” from low stress to
high stress. The normal stress situation for most of the civilian work
force consists of a stressful building process that can be either
reduced or adapted to before it gets out of control. Your job is
reactive, not proactive. You can usually not control your entrance into
situations you face, unlike most people who get warnings. It is
difficult to defend against burst stress.
7. The need to be in constant emotional control.
Your job requires extreme restraint under highly emotional
circumstances. You are told that when you get extremely excited, you
have to act calm. You are told that when you are nervous, you have to be
in charge. You are to act in a world with a role. The emotional
constraint of the role takes tremendous mental energy, much more energy
than expressing true emotions. When the energy drain is very strong, it
may lead to exhaustion outside of work and result in not wanting to
participate in social or family life. This energy drain can also create a
sense of job and social burnout.
8. No gray areas. You work in a fact-based world
with everything being compared to written law. Right and wrong is
determined by a standard. In the real world, clear rights and wrongs are
not likely to occur. The newspapers are an opinion-based system, the
court system is an opinion-based system, and needless to say,
relationship decisions and proper parenting techniques are opinion-based
systems. Adjusting from right-and-wrong-, black-and-white systems to
opinion-based systems is very difficult and requires a complete change
in mental attitude.
9. The “at work” world of an officer is very negative.
You see the bad part of society—the criminal, the abuser of the rules.
This may skew your opinion on the character of the average human being.
It creates a cynicism, a critical view of the world. It is hard to
adjust to trusting a fellow human being when so much of the day is spent
with people who are not trustworthy. This lack of trust can show up in
the way you deal with people on a personal level; with neighbors, with a
spouse. It can even show up in the way children are raised, as police
parents may tend to be stricter in discipline and more careful in
10. Even the children are affected. Children of law
enforcement officers have a more difficult adjustment. When a child is
young, he or she sees the police parent as holding a prestigious,
desirable position. The young child and his friends look up to you as a
minor celebrity, a person of great respect. As a teenager, the police
parent is part of the authority of society. Because teens tend to rebel
against authority anyway, this can cause a double rebellion against the
parent, both in the role of caretaker and as a symbol of authority of
society. Frequently, the officer’s child is either overly compliant
because of the rules imposed, thus causing depressive problems or
personality restriction, or the teen becomes overly rebellious of the
rule-oriented parent—the best child or the worst.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in the “It Doesn’t Weigh Much” T-shirt, you’ll find it HERE.