Johnny Paycheck popularized this song originally written by David Allen Coe in 1977, and despite having been his only #1 hit, we recall with clarity those famous words, “Take this job and shove it.” He sings about the dissatisfaction and hurt of a man who gave his life to his work without reciprocation of reward.
Ok, I’m not quitting, but it gets your attention. It also gains the attention of supervisors, Chiefs and Mayors who ask, “Why?” Well, there are many reasons why, but I’m going to share with you several of the real reasons, despite what the nice resignation letters say about “learning a lot, enjoyed serving with people, it is with regret that I inform you, …”
Quitting what you love is a terribly emotional event. Whether it is a relationship, a food, a vice or a calling to serve, the act of physically, mentally, and emotionally separating yourself only happens after much thought, turmoil, and reconsideration.
We are not discussing ice cream, alcohol or chewing tobacco. We are discussing the separation from an occupation requiring that you give no less than everything you have to ensure your survival, success, and socialization.
There are individuals who enter the fraternity, only to realize it was not their calling and quit. I admire those people for accepting a reality and not jeopardizing the others because of less than a total commitment.
Those selfishly clinging to the job because it’s better than serving in the manual labor industry, or enjoy the perks (abuse) coming with the shield, should be encouraged to quit immediately. Because they are cloaked behind a badge, they are a greater threat to officer safety than the victimizers.
I examine the reasons cops quit in my work, A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant after studying the culture of organizations, interviews, and observations of officers across America. The most common factor is that officers do not associate hard work and risk with a system of reward.
The reward did not mean monetary, and is often associated with self-satisfaction through the appreciation of others. I’m talking to you – Chief. Who knew a simple pat on the back or sincere thank you could reverse the tradition of attrition?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple, but human decency goes a long way. The USMC promotes a indoctrination for new recruits teaching that the act of becoming a Marine is the most rewarding part of becoming a Marine[i]. Because many mission-based objectives are not pleasant, the USMC attaches the higher ideal of service to satisfaction.
Law enforcement attaches the outcome of self-actualization to the officer’s perception of value or importance to the work conducted[ii]. Researchers look to understand why individuals enter the profession, endure the difficult assimilation processes, seek the social clustering, yet become so alienated leading to early separation[iii].
Officers are highly influenced by the occupational assimilation process, or “fitting in” as it contributes to self-actualization. It also shows officers care more about intrinsic values (duty, honor and service) than extrinsic values (monetary compensation, or public opinion). Officers also value close friendships and peer clustering opportunities.
The desire to establish close relationships is valuable for esprit de corps, but is also a weapon used against officers seen as going against the flow or not fitting in. Officers ostracized and isolated from peers soon experience a fragmentation from the organizational core, a sense of dissatisfaction and soon the desire to quit.
Officers have been tempted to operate within a cultural expectancy outside of their ethical sphere to avoid institutional isolation from cohorts. They soon find themselves compromising their moral character and become vulnerable to professional deviance.
This duality of conscience versus fitting in, leads to either quitting the job, or remaining within a realm of great dissatisfaction.
During the course of my research, I spoke with an officer from Arizona about his feelings about “fitting in” with his new Narcotics Task Force. I do not identify him, or anyone in my research, to honor my promise of maintaining confidentiality. An excerpt from my book describes his feelings;
An undercover narcotics agent in Arizona shares his struggles over maintaining the integrity he desires versus being pulled into a lifestyle he wants to avoid:
“I’m not like some of these cats who just do it for the rush, or the pain. They live to chase women and tell war stories after each night of partying. Hell, I find myself at the center of these stories, and I’m like, this ain’t the me I want to be.”
He exemplifies the strain of subcultural socialization when he states:
“Just the peer pressure … is crazy. Worse than any college frat I saw. I used to think if it’s that bad then the guys should just quit. Then I realized that you can’t. In a way you’re trapped. It’s a dishonor to quit.”[iv]
Another reason cops quit is unrealistic expectations of what the job actually involves. We grow up admiring cops while we pretend to be them, dress like them for Halloween, even bachelor(ette) parties have been known to receive visits from “officers.”
Movies, television, books, and video games glamourize the profession of policing. Who would not want to become one? Yet these preconceived expectations quickly dash once the cadet enters day one of the academy.
The daily gun battles, bank robbers, and detonating bombs don’t happen. You are not swept into an undercover role driving a Maserati, and the awesome goatee and earrings are replaced by strict grooming policy, old fleet Crown Vics and sweeping spent brass from the range.
The hopes of being mentored by a crusty old Sergeant, treating you like crap because he cares for you is realistically replaced by the FTO who just completed the process himself and is stuck with training you because his recent training is still “fresh” in his mind.
The only thing you’ll hear from “old crusty” is to forget the stuff they taught you in the academy, because the streets are where you learn to be a cop. Raise your hand if you have heard that fairy tale before. Now, strike yourself with that hand if you were the one saying it to the rookies.
Academy life instills homogeneity as a crucial element for maintaining the standardization and rigors of policing. Everyone is forced into a similar square peg through policy, practice, and pressure. In a profession of over 70% white and male, it is easy to see how looking, acting and thinking the same is so important for maintaining the “traditions” of policing’s culture.
This does not only refer to race, gender[v], religious or sexual preference[vi]. Become the highly proactive officer on your shift and see how quickly your dispatchers’ cheerfully respond with requested information and lunch invites from your buds diminish.
Anyway, police work is truly about public service, and that includes directing traffic so little Jill may safely cross the street, to taking someone’s life as they try taking yours.
The key is to attach the ideal of policing to a higher calling. No not, the ministry, but to a true sense of service and satisfaction. The process of self-actualization for becoming an officer must mean more to the individual than an hourly wage or the year of the fleet unit issued.
As chiefs and senior leadership, we must create an environment producing an affective and cognitive attachment to the job and the organization, as it relates to higher levels of career satisfaction, organizational commitment and identification, and the reduced intentions to quit.
What does that mean? Stop being such an a-hole and show someone you care about the important work they do. Just kidding about that, but please do take the time away from budgets, lunches, research, lunches and policy review and lunches to express your appreciation.
The more you say thank you, the less you will hear, “I Quit!”
Scott Silverii, PhD is a native of south Louisiana’s Cajun Country and serving as the Chief of Police for the City of Thibodaux, Louisiana. Spending twenty-one previous years with a CALEA accredited Sheriff’s Office allowed opportunities for serving various capacities including 12 years narcotics, 16 years SWAT and Divisional Commands.
Chief Silverii earned a Master of Public Administration and a Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, focusing his research on anthropological aspects of culture and organizations. A member of IACP’s prestigious Research Advisory Committee, Chief Silverii, author of “A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant” is available at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ThibodauxChief, http://www.thebadgeguys.com/orBrightBlueLine@wordpress.com.
[i] McKittrick, R. Major (1984). An Analysis of Organizational Socialization in the Marine Corps. The United States Marine Corps Command Staff and College, Quantico, Virginia.
[ii] Hazer, J, and Alvares, K. (1981). Police work values during organizational entry and assimilation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 66(1), 6.
[iv] Silverii, L.S. (2013). A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant; Policing’s Special Operations Culture. Bright Blue Line, Police Culture, Vol. 1, ISBN:1481858378 / 9781481858373.
[v] Britz, M. (1997). The police subculture and occupational socialization: exploring individual and demographic characteristics. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 21(2)
[vi] Myers, K.A., Forest, K.B., and Miller, S.L. (2004). Officer Friendly and the Tough Cop: Gays and Lesbians Navigate Homophobia and Policing. Journal of Homosexuality, 47(1), 20.