Police Officer jonmc of the NYPD - A good idea?
July 30, 2004 7:13 PM   Subscribe

For the last couple months I've been giving serious thought to applying to join the NYPD. My motivations are manifold: to do good for the city I love, to have a more interesting career, etc. I'm 33 years old and the maximmum age at appointment is 35, so I have about a year to decide and prepare. I'm asking my fellow MeFites, some of whom know me well in person, others only on line: should I join? If so, what should I do to prepare myself to be a better cop? If not why not?

Thanks in advance.
posted by jonmc to Work & Money (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Be prepared to encounter the worst elements of your city while "doing good" for your city. Ironic, that.
posted by scarabic at 7:38 PM on July 30, 2004


Dude, one of my very best friends became an NYC cop a little while back--I think he did it for basically all the same decisions you're thinking of, but it was nothing like he expected it to be.

He had always been the "conservative" in our group, since 10th grade. Not in a stupid way, but in the "stay up till sunrise drinking beers arguing" kinda way. When he decided to become a cop, we all thought it was kind of cool, and definitely in character.

In all honesty, I have never, ever seen such a dramatic change in personality take place in someone I cared so much for. Over the course of 2 or 3 years, he went from an outgoing, friendly guy to the most tightly-wound, aggressive, near-alcoholic (and bigoted) person I've ever known in my life. It was really hard, and you could tell part of him knew what was happening. We'd still get together once in a while to hang out, and when you'd try and probe a bit what was going on, he'd explain that not a single day went by when he wasn't sticking his gun in someone's face. When you'd press him on writing off an entire group of people as crooks, he'd say, "You don't understand--I don't have the time to empathize with some guy and figure out whether or not he's a criminal. Where I work, there's a 90% chance he is, and a 75% chance he's carrying a gun. If I stop to wonder whether or not he's a criminal, me or my partner stand a good chance of getting shot."

He also went from a guy who used to be a pretty sturdy drinker to someone who drank staggering amounts of alcohol, every night. (And I'm speaking as a former rugby player and bartender.) He finally checked out and went to law school--after a couple of years of unwinding, he's back to the great guy he used to be, happily married, with kids, etc. (Which never could've happened when he was a cop--he would've been insufferable as a boyfriend.)

I don't say this even to necessarily discourage you, but I never, ever would've imagined that this is what being a NY cop could mean. Granted, he was stationed in a very tough precinct, with tons of drugs and crime everywhere, but I don't think it's easy for anyone.

It's an admirable, tough job, and somebody definitely has to do it. Even though they're not always the nicest people, I still have a ton of respect for the folks who can actually tough it out and keep people safer. I just would not--I repeat not--underestimate the difficulty of the job, _especially_ if you're a college-educated, thoughtful person. Not that it's wrong, but the job kind of requires the antithesis of that type of personality, and I think that tension really takes a toll after a while.
posted by LairBob at 7:39 PM on July 30, 2004 [1 favorite]


(For more informed perspective on the whole "college-educated cop" front, you also might look into this book.)
posted by LairBob at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2004


be a fireman : >

What are the reasons you want to be a cop? Give us a complete-ish list.
posted by amberglow at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2004


>I have about a year to decide and prepare
Start right away. It sometimes takes more than one attempt to pass their slew of testing. They want to know you're physically fit, mentally sharp, (relatively) articulate, emotionally stable, can drive and operate equipment, be comfortable in stressful situations and maybe speak a second or third language.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:51 PM on July 30, 2004


I just would not--I repeat not--underestimate the difficulty of the job, _especially_ if you're a college-educated, thoughtful person.

Believe me, LairBob, I don't. My best freind in the world is a former paramedic in the (fairly rough) Washington Heights section of Manhattan and is currently a rookie cop in Honolulu. He's told me stories about mothers scalding 4-year-olds and the like that made me weep for the state of humanity, my brother-in-law is an emergency room resident in New Haven and he's told me similar stories. So, I have at least some inkling of what I'd be letting myself in for.

But at the same time, I, first of all want to give back to my beloved New York, and second of all, I want to do some good. Most people when asked what they do for a living say, I help build stiff or sell stuff. A cop says "I protect my fellow citizens and catch bad guys."

Now, the walking a beat/busting heads aspect of the job dosen't appeal to me much although I realize it's something one must go through to become a good officer. But the idea of becoming a detective, both for the moral and intellectual appeal of the job is something I think I would like.

I also realize that at 6' 1", 160lbs. I gotta hit the gym and give up the smokes and other vices probably, but I'm feeling something that's almost like a calling. But I could be wrong.

On preview: Lairbob, I just bought that book at the Union Square B&N today.

amber: being a fireman is a noble calling, but not for me. I need the moral imerative that comes with police work, I think. I don't know how else to explain it.
posted by jonmc at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2004


Well, if you feel called, then godspeed to you. Like I said, I have nothing but respect for someone who can manage such a challenging job, and still hold it together on a personal level. Not to go on and on about it, though, but the tough part for my friend wasn't really what other people did to each other (although I'm sure that was hard)--it was dealing with the risks that really attacked him and who he was.

Not to be flip, at all, but an EMT or an ER doc is at relatively little personal risk, and more importantly, they're almost never in a situation where their own safety is in conflict with someone else's. That was the real toll, I think...being in situations where he had to rough people up, or shove a gun in their face, or just treat them like a criminal, every day, just to ensure his own safety. When you're doing that to save someone else, that's one thing, but when you're doing it constantly just to keep yourself safe, it's very different. He would talk about how he felt he kind of had to make a show of being a hard-ass, because the cops who came across as weak were the ones who eventually got messed up. (I don't know if that's true or not, but it was definitely the accepted wisdom.)

Again, I would never condemn cops as unthinking or uncaring. I just think that anyone who's going to be a successful one in NYC has to reach some kind of internal accommodation to deal with that basic tension. I think it's kind of like riding a bike...the more you think about it, the harder it is. That's what makes the whole "introspective cop" thing so hard.
posted by LairBob at 8:15 PM on July 30, 2004


I don't know--there are so many ways to do good--you'd be an incredibly excellent teacher, for instance. You'd be a great fundraiser/organizer for a non-profit/social service org/union. You'd be great working with kids in afterschool programs. You'd be great at lots of do-gooding things, and you can give back in all sorts of ways--ways just as valuable as being a cop (even more valuable i think, and with direct effect and lasting impact on peoples' lives).
posted by amberglow at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2004


Agreed, amberglow, those are all noble and neccessary professions, and as you know, my better half is a teacher in a ghetto area of the Bronx.

But on a more slefish level, I do have a yen for street life and all the experiences and variety of human interaction contained therein.

Plus, I think the fact that I bear no ill will towards (and can in fact relate to and sympathize with) such marginalized groups as blacks, hispanics, gays, punk rocker kids, homeless folks, protestors etc. would make me invaluable as a cop.

I also realize that my stumbling blocks are fear, insecurity, self-doubt and wondering about the effectiveness of what I'd be doing. So I'm not 100% certain yet.
posted by jonmc at 8:41 PM on July 30, 2004


jon, from what I've read from you here, I'm terribly afraid you'd become inured to those marginalized groups. Once you see the downtrodden or discriminated doing the downtrodding and being discriminating to one another on a daily basis--and you will--it's hard to retain cheerful optimism, so very hard to continue to empathize with those you want to help, serve, and protect.

Also, I've seen a picture of you somewhere, and for some reason I thought you were a firefighter "in real life". I dunno, you just had a look.

But if it's the calling of your heart, you won't know until you try.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:54 PM on July 30, 2004


jon, from what I've read from you here, I'm terribly afraid you'd become inured to those marginalized groups.

Think about it though, wolfie and amber, wouldn't you rather have a guy like me on the force, rather than some yahoo there for the sheer joy of the power trip?

I know it sounds like I'm arguing my case rather aggressively but I'm just looking for good arguments against the idea to weigh in the balance.
posted by jonmc at 9:08 PM on July 30, 2004


jon, from what I've read from you here, I'm terribly afraid you'd become inured to those marginalized groups.

Funny: I was just about to say that I would worry about Jonmc overthinking and trying to see all sides in a situation where a fast decision would be needed. I'm certainly not saying that cops are brainless or you're slow witted, just that your personality doesn't fit what I think of as the mindset for the job. But, end of the day, I don't know you especially well, just what I sees on Mefi.

I'd be really curious to see what someone with your passion and interest in the views of others could do in local government, though. Not sure what the options are like in NYC. Amberglow has some great suggestions too.

(Me, I'm starting to think I shoulda been a librarian.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:12 PM on July 30, 2004


Oddly, PST, that's another career choice I've considered. But, from the research I've done, it appears that the ability to pore over huge amounts of information and draw connections is a valuable skill in a detective, so who knows.
posted by jonmc at 9:18 PM on July 30, 2004


Especially when it's combined with an active bullshit detector and a strong sypathy with street people, I might add.
posted by jonmc at 9:19 PM on July 30, 2004


I was just about to say that I would worry about Jonmc overthinking and trying to see all sides in a situation where a fast decision would be needed.

I'm going to agree with this, and this seems like a really good quality when discussing things online, and maybe down at the station and when puzzling over problems, but out on the beat, I don't know....
posted by weston at 9:25 PM on July 30, 2004


I know, jon, that you've acknowledged a need to become fitter. That being said (and though I've never been a cop), I know plenty of people who have started a career in law enforcement. They hold dear their lead-powder gloves, flashlights, and nightsticks. And every young cop I know has been tough. Each of them suggests that a big pair of balls are the first and most important attribute of a beat cop. This means that he can stare unruly/violent/bad people in the eye, and convey that not only is he unintimidated, but that he hopes for a day where his job calls on him to prove that he is tougher than anyone he meets.

In other words, you won't always have the numbers to ensure victory in a scuffle. You gotta have something else.

I don't doubt that you posess the requisite toughness for the job, but you'd better spend the next year preparing to be stronger, quicker, and smarter than the baddest men you'll face. Otherwise, you'll either be shuffling papers or getting eaten alive.
posted by trharlan at 9:36 PM on July 30, 2004


I'll catch flack for this but every single cop I know (six of them; five I knew before they joined; one was a best friend in high school) are racists. Only one of them was before joining the force. Each of them are among the least tolerant and quickest to judge of anyone I know. Without exception, of the five I knew pre-force, they've all changed for the worse (for most of the reasons Lairbob lists). I wouldn't wish the job on anyone. (If it's important, all the cops I know are Toronto cops.)
posted by dobbs at 9:43 PM on July 30, 2004


jon, I can't think of a single reason that you shouldn't go for it. Truly a noble calling. And working for the NYPD doesn't necessarily mean being a "beat cop" -- there are dozens of different ways to serve, I'm sure.

I admire your reasons, too. "To Serve & Protect" is an honorable thing, and I completely understand the desire to serve the community that you love.

I think that your intelligence, broad-based knowledge, and outlook on life would serve you very well if you make the move.

Good luck, jon.
posted by davidmsc at 9:52 PM on July 30, 2004


Think about it though, wolfie and amber, wouldn't you rather have a guy like me on the force, rather than some yahoo there for the sheer joy of the power trip?

Oh, absolutely. But then, I very rarely need a cop.

I realize you're using this venue as a sounding board, to air out your own arguments with yourself, so don't let what I said be interpreted as I don't think it's a bad thing to do.

Just be careful, very careful. And whatever decision you make, you'll let us know, yes?
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:00 PM on July 30, 2004


I've also mentioned this idea at work, and one of my co-workers, a young black man who (to outward appearance, even though he's a former altar boy and Boys Club counselor) is the sterotype of the urban "thug," has taken to calling me "Officer McNally," and saying that I might as well do it since i already look the part, being Irish and having the semi-pompadour and the sideburns, all I'd need is the moustache. :)
posted by jonmc at 10:07 PM on July 30, 2004


Is there any way I can invest in a donut shop in a particular neighborhood? 'Cause I figure if you join the force, someone's going to make a mint selling crullers.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:15 PM on July 30, 2004


make a mint selling crullers
make mint selling crullers
make mint crullers

MAKE MINT CRULLERS

Excuse me, I just had one of my million dollar ideas...

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:33 PM on July 30, 2004


I'm very curious what the process is if one's goal is to become a detective? What is the training? Being a detective and being a beat cop must be very different things, but does one have to do a certain stint on the street first? How does it all work?

I really can't imagine you happy as a beat cop, jon, and, honestly, I think that going into a profession that has such a high rate of alcoholism would be courting disaster. (I'm not saying this in a judgmental way - I'm an at-risk person myself). But I can see why the life appeals to you, and I'm just wondering how long it would take, and by what route, for you to become a detective. Have you talked with a PD recruitment rep?

By the way, I knew a street cop once (as a casual friend) who in every way seemed to go against type, and in fact this guy later became the Department's PR spokesperson, for which I was very glad, because he was getting deeply depressed by the job. But I saw him in action once as a regular cop, and I was amazed. This gentle, laid-back, softspoken guy just basically turned into another person altogether - not cruel (as in sadistic), but absolutely, breathtakingly, coldblooded. It really made me ponder the nature of the job, and understand that it is a completely different existence that the layperson can't easily comprehend.
posted by taz at 10:47 PM on July 30, 2004


First, to respond to Taz, in NYC, becoming a detective is largely a political process. It involves years of working the streets, hoping to impress the right people at the right time. It's a very difficult track, which is why a lot of cops opt for the administrative route, which is more easily attained, as long as you're a good test taker.

Jon: I have a good friend who joined the force for very similar reasons to those you mentioned. Like you, he's a smart, fair minded, reasonable guy. He has not become in the least bit racist. He has not become an alcoholic. He hasn't become paranoid, or abusive, or taken on any negative character traits. He really likes his job.

But there are down sides. First, the hours suck. You work nights and weekends for years. Maybe your whole career, depending how it goes.

A lot of cops are meat heads. On the other hand, a lot aren't, and you can make a lot of very good friends, like my friend has.

The problem he has that I think you might also find difficult, is the desire to do good, but the push to simply make arrests. For instance, he was recently told by his superiors that he was not making enough arrests, and reprimanded for it. He's working in public housing, and doesn't particularly feel arresting guys smoking pot is the best use of his time, or the cities resources. But that's the push, for a lot of different reasons.

But like I said, he likes his job. The NYPD has something in the order of 40,000 officers. There are a lot of opportunities.

At the very least, take the upcoming test. You can turn them down at any point in the process.
posted by Doug at 12:30 AM on July 31, 2004


When I was in high school, there was a police officer that came to the school for reasons unknown. One day between classes I walked up and asked him how he was doing. I asked him innocently if he ever had to shoot a person performing in the line of duty.

He did, not a week before. Interestingly enough, he explained to me how depressing it was for him to pull the trigger that took another persons life. I remember what I said to him:

"You were doing your job. You did it for the safety of other people. Thank you."

I walked away a little more educated.


Numerous encounters later on the non-innocent end of dealing with our local police department taught me this: When you deal with the "morally" worst people in your local area, you are naturally going to become desensitized. This in turn will make you begin stereotyping if you let it get to you. I know, absolutely, I have been let off because I am white and polite to cops. This is not fair at all, but because of the bullshit history people in America have made for themselves, some denominations get it easier than others. I have lied to cops and gotten shafted, told the truth (Yes I am drunk I know I shouldn't have tried to drive home) and gotten away with it.

A good cop is one that keeps something in the back of their minds that reminds them that everyone is equal, that reasonable people do unreasonable things at times. A cop has to protect themselves and the community, which puts them and their teammates at great risk. If you want to be a cop, I congratulate you but don't let the noose of profiling get to you.
posted by Keyser Soze at 5:01 AM on July 31, 2004


being a fireman is a noble calling, but not for me. I need the moral imerative that comes with police work, I think. I don't know how else to explain it.

I totally know where you're coming from. I'm currently in the application process to become a police officer in a smaller city in Canada. I'm not sure how relevant my advice will be for you as I imagine it's a whole different ball game in the 'big city'. Anyway - what has been stressed to both my husband (currently a police officer) and myself is lots of community service/volunteering. Find out if you can donate some of your time to victim's programs, or any sort of outreach program.

Does NYPD allow civilians to go on ride-a-longs? That is what basically decided it for me. I had always had the idea in the back of my mind and finally decided to research the job more. I spoke with new officers/older officers, from all different departments of the police force I want to be a member of. I've also spent a few evenings on patrol with various officers to be exposed to what they deal with on a daily basis.

It's unfortunate, but there is always going to be racist people in the world, and some of them will be cops. It's just a fact of life. But please don't think that all officers are like that. A lot of guys/gals in my circle of friends are officers who aren't the least bit racist.

Another thing I've noticed since my husband became an officer is how important it is to find an effective way to deal with stress. Many people do drink themselves into oblivion after a shift in order to forget what they had to deal with for the past 12 hours. Definitely not the way to do it. Even at my current job (not as high stress, mind you) I find going for a run or to the gym after work is very theraputic.

Good for you jonmc - I can't say that I 'know' you at all but I think it's important that you are taking steps to prepare/improve yourself. I've run into so many people that do nothing to prepare for it and wonder why they didn't get hired.
posted by kelrae3 at 6:41 AM on July 31, 2004


Playing Devil's Advocate:
What would you do if you're one of the patrols responding in the Amadou Diallo, Malcolm Ferguson, or Patrick Dorismond incidents? Eleanor Bumpers? Michael Stewart? If another Abner Louima thing happens in your precinct house? If you're there when people like this guy (another dark person) are beaten by other cops? (which happens a lot.)

You're an upright guy, but the system isn't. How will you reconcile that? How will you deal with it at the actual moment brutal/unneccessary shit is happening?
posted by amberglow at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2004


everybody's objections are, mostly, very important and you should think long and hard about them.

having said that -- you're a good man, I hope you join. God knows police forces are sorely in need of decent people willing to do good
posted by matteo at 8:44 AM on July 31, 2004


Thanks for the comments, both pro and con. I've been reviewing the requirements. Im not sure I have all the neccessary college credits, and I do have a juvenile offense, although my records were sealed/expunged, since I was only 16. But I'm not sure whether it would disqualify me.
posted by jonmc at 9:17 AM on July 31, 2004


Another major plus, is that pips says I'd look "hot" in a police uniform. Although, I started reading that Blue Blood book and on his first day, a cop asks why they have to wear clip on ties, and is told "to avoid strangulation."

Wow.
posted by jonmc at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2004


I'm surprised you haven't mentioned this before.

But I'd say if you're interested, go for it. Read Blue Blood...it's really good.

If you're still interested, it can't hurt to start doing the preliminary groundwork. Do you have a New York driver's license? Can you do the runs/physical stuff? Talked with the recruiter? Taken the exam tutorial? Seen if they have citizens' ridealongs? (Heck, you may just want to stop by the local precinct and see if you can chat with some of the folks on duty there, and maybe ask there about a ridealong. The 114th is on Astoria Boulevard at 35th Street.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:29 AM on July 31, 2004


Ah, the 114th. Those assholes just laughed at me when I told them about my apartment having been burglarized. That's the thing about NYC police work: since there are so many violent crimes, they really don't give a rat's ass about mere property crime (unless, needless to say, you're a fellow cop or a big shot). That's one reason not to be too sorry I moved out of the city.

Having got that off my chest...

I have two equal and opposite reactions to this idea.

1) I think having people like you on the force is vital to keeping it humanized and keeping people like me (whose image of cops was derived from watching them beat the shit out of protestors in the '60s) from being too prejudiced against them. I know I'd feel better about the line of cops at a protest if I saw you among them. If you can stay the way you are, go for it.

2) What LairBob said. It's really hard to keep from being brutalized by the job. And I'd hate for the city to lose a great guy and gain another asshole in blue. Talk to as many cops and ex-cops as you can, see if you can go on ride-a-longs (great idea, kelrae3), do your best to figure out for yourself what it would be like for you, not for Joe Blow. If you get a bad feeling about it, listen to that feeling. There are plenty of other ways to give back to the city. (My brother joined the Army for similar reasons, and was very disillusioned. Not the same thing, but not utterly different either.)

Best of luck whatever you decide, and if you do join the force, I hope you keep commenting here!
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2004


You know, even if you do burn out, like LairBob's friend, and have to quit after a few yeats to avoid being someone loathsome — in that time you've still done unmeasurable good, and just because you did it for 2 years instead of 40 doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing.
posted by hattifattener at 1:03 PM on July 31, 2004


I know this is rather late, but Jon, no, please, no. The criminal justice system in this country is so fucked up and draconian, I'm not sure that sending someone into it is really a moral thing to do at all. From people getting kicked out of public housing for the behavior of one member of their family to the Rockefeller drug laws and total unequal protection/punishment, there is a fair question as to whether subjecting people to a totally outsized punishment makes anyone in the community safe.

Please at least check out groups for prisoners and former prisoners (like Critical Resistance) for another perspective on the ramifications of your actions.

I know the idea of getting rid of bad bad guys for your fellow citizens is a seductive notion, but I think you'll find that most cases are not so clear cut as getting that baby-raping mass murderer that's held everyone in terror. As both you and others have noted, there are ways of helping people pull themselves up that do not do harm to anyone.

And then there is cop syndrome, beliving that because you enforce the laws & knowing that your friends will get off, you refuse to obey them yourself, act like they don't apply to you, thus beginning the sick arrogance that makes every single person I know hate cops with a passion that is totally unfair, considering a lot of them probably signed up for the same reasons you're thinking.
posted by dame at 5:20 PM on July 31, 2004


A lot of what I would have said has been echoed above. I've spent a lot of time around cops and poor people and criminals, and the desensitizing thing is real and disheartening.


Posting to say this: read Homicide by David Simon, a terrific portrait of a year in a homicide unit in Baltimore.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:45 PM on July 31, 2004


Wow, dame... seen Copland lately?
posted by kelrae3 at 7:12 PM on July 31, 2004


I apologize, that was rude and not appropriate for AskMe.

Please don't paint all police officers with the same brush because they are not all bad seeds. I agree, there are lots that are arrogant, that don't follow the laws that they enforce. But it is awfully ignorant to assume that all are like that.
posted by kelrae3 at 7:18 PM on July 31, 2004


I know the idea of getting rid of bad bad guys for your fellow citizens is a seductive notion, but I think you'll find that most cases are not so clear cut as getting that baby-raping mass murderer that's held everyone in terror....makes every single person I know hate cops with a passion

But if decent men like me don't join up, what's ever gonna change about that? I assure you that I wouldn't join up to march people off to jail or to abuse my fellow citizens, but it's a neccessary and noble profession when done right, that I'd like to be a part of.

CunningLinguist: both the book and the TV series of Homicide are part of what planted the seed in my head years ago.
posted by jonmc at 8:13 PM on July 31, 2004


jonmc, languagehat pretty much summed up my feelings on this.

You're one of the posters who I feel I share a lot of common ground with, and although I really like the idea of more cops out there who are fair-minded, smart, decent guys, I am worried that being a cop in NY is exactly the kind of job that turns people from fair-minded decent guys into tense, bigoted alcoholics.

I don't want to doubt your intestinal fortitude, but being a cop is a tough gig. If your only goal is to help make your city a better place, maybe you could do some work in a homeless shelter. Again, I'm not implying that you're not up to the task, but there are a lot of ways to give something back to your community besides joining the boys in blue.
posted by backOfYourMind at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2004


Kelrae: No, it doesn't come from movies. A fair number of people I know are involved in the prison abolition movement; they and others have had enough run-ins with asshole cops, as have I. And I don't mean big law breaking, not at all—I mean cops who almost hit me because they don't feel like waiting for the light, cops who act like I'm an ass when I don't instantly assume they are right, cops who park all over the sidewalk because they can. It's the little things that communicate a totally massive arrogance. And like I said, these things make people *unfairly* hate all cops. But there you have it.

Jon: I don't know that it's a question of one decent person. Sometimes systems are so rotten that to be involved in them is an ethical compromise that doesn't need to be taken, which is to say, I don't really think it can be done right. I'd have to be in a pretty terrible way before I would think cops could improve even a dangerous situation in which I found myself. I don't know that knowing there was an officer Jon would chance that.

But this one opinion, that's all. I wish you'd tool around Critical Resistance and read some prisoner memoirs too, just to get a fuller picture. And then if you do it, well, I'll wish you hadn't. But I'm one person and it isn't my life. So I don't know how much that really matters.
posted by dame at 8:03 AM on August 1, 2004


dame: as a somewhat left-leaning and just generally curious person, I have read plenty of strong (often justified) criticism of the justice system, so believe me I'm not going in blind. I've also seen it with my own eyes, walking around with a black freind and getting the fisheye, because we don't "belong" together etc.

But at the same time, in a city this large, there are dangerous people who need to be dealt with: murderers, rapists, assualters, armed robbers. Plus there's the simple work of prevention, when the presence of that patrol car or beat cop stops somebody from snatching your purse/stealing your car/raping your grandmother.

Plus detective work, which would be ultimate goal, is definitely a noble calling. And also interesting. Which is the other reason being a cop appeals. I realize that people in homeless shelters, firemen, paramedics, etc all do great work for the city. But being a cop also sounds like hella exciting work too.
posted by jonmc at 9:51 AM on August 1, 2004


So you did what I asked—considered all sides—and still want to do it. I still think that you cannot, as a cop, choose that you will only arrest the people you call dangerous; you may well end up arresting kids doing the same shit white and middle-class kids do everyday and fucking up their lives for it, not because you are evil, but because it is what doing your job well requires, because it is a bad system. (The detective work defense seems almost like the ends justify the means: I'll have to fuck over a few kids to get where I can really do good.)

For me, becoming a cop would be ethically indefensible. You disagree. We're both good people, and sometimes good people come to opposite conclusions for even similar reasons. For what it's worth, if you do become a cop, I hope you prove me entirely wrong.
posted by dame at 10:12 AM on August 1, 2004


My best friend is an NYPD detective and has written about it for Slate. I could answer a lot of specific comments here from vicarious experience of his 12 years on the job but I'll assume that anything he hasn't written about isn't for public consumption - or will end up in his book someday. Anyway, like Blue Blood he gives the perspective of an intelligent, educated, socially liberal NYPD detective, which might be instructive (he's also the only person I know who might give Jon a run for his money playing "Name That 60s or 70s Pop Tune").
posted by nicwolff at 4:46 PM on August 1, 2004


At some point, are you going to consider that you could be killed in the line of duty, possibly on your very first day?
posted by joeclark at 5:35 PM on August 1, 2004


For me, becoming a cop would be ethically indefensible.

Wow. I gotta say, that as someone who offered early, vigorous caveats on this idea, I would never go so far as to say that becoming a cop is "morally indefensible". I can understand it on personal level--I have absolutely no interest in doing it myself--but to categorically condemn a class of people who end up bearing the burden of most of society's shit seems way over the line, to me.

Granted, being a cop can take a tremendous personal toll, and can bring out the worst in people, but in a very real sense, it means that they're willing to risk or sacrifice their own moral certitude for the sake of letting us keep ours.
posted by LairBob at 5:37 PM on August 1, 2004


Anyway, like Blue Blood he gives the perspective of an intelligent, educated, socially liberal NYPD detective, which might be instructive (he's also the only person I know who might give Jon a run for his money playing "Name That 60s or 70s Pop Tune").

Sounds like a guy I should meet before applying. Maybe we should all have a drink.
posted by jonmc at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2004


joeclark: about 2.5 NYPD have been killed in the line each year since 1990 (not counting 2001). There are about 30,000 NYPD, so that's about 1/12000 chance of a given cop getting killed.

There were an average of about 300 murders per year in the city over those years, out of 8 million people, so that's about a 1/27000 chance of an average New Yorker getting murdered.

So becoming a cop would only double Jon's chances of getting killed, from negligable to slightly-less-negligable.
posted by nicwolff at 8:04 PM on August 1, 2004


jon: I'm out of town till the fall, but once I'm back we'll see if we can put that together.
posted by nicwolff at 8:13 PM on August 1, 2004


As a fourth generation Hell's Kitchen Mick, I have many, MANY relatives that are were and will be in da FAWCE. Email me offline if you have any questions. I'd be happy to help put you in touch with real NYPD veterans, if that's the route you want to pursue.
posted by psmealey at 8:29 PM on August 6, 2004


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