Becoming a Cop . . . It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Have you found yourself having those thoughts in the middle of a difficult challenge? Like police work?

Law enforcement is not for wimps. Take a ride with me and see what I mean.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

I recently returned from a 3000 mile round trip motorcycle ride. My journey began from my current home in Austin, Texas and eventually took me to my original hometown of Anaheim, California.

The purpose of the trip was a “two-fer.” First, my wife and I planned to attend an anniversary/reunion at my police department in Orange County. One week later we’d experience the joy of seeing our youngest son marry the girl of his dreams.

So while I planned the trip during the cool months of the spring, riding the Harley seemed like a good idea at the time. However, things were about to change since the season had heated up considerably.

Departure

After driving my wife to the airport (the ride never seemed like a good idea to her), I prepared for departure, which would occur two days later—right in the heart of summer. However, the day before I left home, I heard a news report that gave me reason to pause.

“Planes unable to land in Phoenix due to temperatures reaching 120 degrees.” (Actually, landing wasn’t the problem, but getting lift during take off in extreme heat was the risk.)

For those unfamiliar with the geography between Austin and Anaheim, the trek will take you through El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, and Palm Springs. Other than beginning in the Hill Country of Austin, and finishing near the ocean of Southern California, the ride would encompass mostly scorching terrain.

What seemed like a good idea in the spring suddenly seemed moronic in the summer. Yet it wasn’t my first rodeo, so I was steadfastly determined to brave the elements.

Arrival

When traveling west on a motorcycle, you gain about one hour of sunlight during the day. As the sun passed overhead, I swear I thought it was never going to set. It seemed suspended at about 45 degrees above the earth’s surface, and intent on baking me. Even wearing SPF 50 sunscreen, and covering my face with a camouflaged bandana, I still managed a few sun blisters.

Yet my plan to pass through Phoenix about 4:00 a.m. proved successful, as the temperature dropped to a “cool” 95 degrees.

Finally, I made it to California and was reunited with my wife and family. We experienced a fantastic time at the police department anniversary/reunion, seeing many friends from decades past.

We even experienced the Fourth of July Parade on Main Street in Huntington Beach; an event that I learned was the third largest such parade in the country, and something I failed to attend while working in a neighboring city for nearly three decades.

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Huntington Beach Police Department had this entry during the Fourth of July Parade. (Photo courtesy Jim McNeff)

Next we were able to see our son and new daughter-in-law married in Dana Point, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

‘Good Idea’ Had Challenges

It was a blistering hot day when I departed Orange County. I wore cool, yet ample clothing to protect myself from the sun. Admittedly, the return trip to Texas didn’t have the same appeal due to the heat.

I passed through Palm Springs with a temperature of 115 degrees, and Blythe (a CHP outpost designed for punishment) with temperatures to match. Anyone that owns stock in Gatorade can thank me for the spike in shares as I purchased gallons of it to consume during my trip.

As I arrived in Phoenix on my eastbound journey at about midnight, it was still 101 degrees.

Parallels to Police Work

While intravenously pumping nourishing fluids into my system at a QT Convenience Store/Gas Station—not really, I was simply gulping them—I had this epiphany:

Law enforcement seems like a good idea to most people when they begin. But then challenges arise, and it feels like a trip through hell.

Can you relate? What began with enthusiasm and vigor, suddenly gets doused with a gasoline fire; from a lawsuit due to a traffic fatality; a controversial use of force; an in custody death investigation; a vehicle pursuit that wreaks havoc, and the list goes on.

For most police professionals, the romantic notion of cops and robbers gets replaced with the reality of police officers vs. plaintiff’s attorneys, BLM activists, oversight commissions, protesters, rioters, pundits, etc.

Do you feel the heat? Nevertheless, you are there, right in the middle of the fire. And we need you!

Finish the Ride

Once I committed to the ride, I had to finish. No one was going to pick me up in their air-conditioned toy hauler. As Interstate 10 returned me to the Lone Star State, I was met with a cloud cover, an unexpected cold front, and some a light summer rain. While it was a challenge of a different kind, it relieved the heat I experienced.

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Fountain Valley Police Department K9 Unit on display during anniversary/reunion of city police department.

Life as a law enforcement officer will be much the same. There will be moments you’re in the fire, and times when you get relief from the heat. Yet regardless of the season, your decision to enter police work was a good idea.

So often we get consumed with our personal comfort that we fail to recognize the nobility in fighting through discomfort. Not because we are sadists, but because it’s the right thing to do. Public service is not about us, but how others need our help. And law enforcement officers will be there, regardless of the weather, or other uncomfortable circumstances.

When I hear people talk of walking away from the business, I want to exhort them to carry on. Many of us believe law enforcement was a calling. If that is you, stay the course. What seemed like a good idea at the time hasn’t changed. Sure, the circumstances have made things difficult, but your community needs you! So finish the ride! You’ll be glad you did.

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today

(Feature Photo: Huntington Beach motor officer talking to us during Fourth of July Parade on Main Street. Courtesy Jim McNeff)

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