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Four Calls for Cops

Check-in to 4 "Ports of Call" to discover your connection to the work you do.

Note: If you or someone you know is former law enforcement (retired or separated by choice OR not, please read my Psychology Today article called Life After Law Enforcement.

If you’ve ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle, you know that they start as disconnected, fragmented pieces and, when put together, create something beautiful. The image carries a certain accomplishment knowing that each piece was placed where it belonged. This sense of "fitting in" creates purpose and meaning. Left scattered on the tabletop the pieces were chaotic, but through patience and persistence they snapped together! It revealed the picture it was meant to show and you made it fit.

As human beings, we share the same quest for an authentic life and a connection to the work we do but often steer off-course in an attempt to control what we hope to find. Together we share that journey, but for the law enforcement community, a life served to protect begs a unique perspective in its ultimate expression. An authentic vocation takes control of us and that relationship can be categorized into what I consider the most important "callings" a cop can accept:

#1: The Call to Go

People make career and job choices. Perhaps more, they make a life choice—born out of vocation—built with and sustained by service to others. Vocatio is Latin for to call; thus, we often identify a “calling” as a psychological or spiritual need that we seek to fulfill in our life choices. How and where it comes from is important, but so is the need to follow it without fear of judgment that comes from socialization by people who may not be in touch with it, themselves.

There is an old Quaker adage that says, “Let your life speak. Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you; before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody—what values you represent.” Similarly, philosopher William James wrote, “In the dim background of our mind we know meanwhile what we ought to be doing but we hesitate. Every moment we expect the spell to break but it continues, pulse after pulse, and we float with it.”

A cop’s journey is one of transcendence. Throughout history, we’ve seen our cultures function where one deed is done by many—a father, mother, friend, coach or teacher. For a small few, however, they have found or achieved something beyond a normal range of experience. They have given their lives to something bigger than themselves (or other than themselves). These precious souls perform physical and spiritual acts of giving and they come back to communicate what they have learned.

Transformed by trials, the journey asks them to leave one condition and find a source of life in another—to create a richer condition. Much like a child gives up his childhood to become a man out of a posture of dependency, a similar transcendence requires a symbolic death and resurrection. With a quest to find their “source,” a cop puts on their uniform to become another person. Each day is a new death and resurrection—another transformation.

Port of Call: How would you answer someone who said to you, “Why do you continue to put up with the same people who get out of jail the next day and do it again”?

#2: The Call to Suffer

Cops regard suffering for the sake of others as a privilege. Conflicts they face confirm that they are following their original Call to Go. They believe that the integrity of the mission matters more than trivial friendships or conflicts with family, bosses, or colleagues. Regardless of the disagreement, saying yes to suffering means saying no to other people—even other cops!

It requires you to embrace a responsibility to seek out answers—to suffering and injustice—and to do so within a complex arena of morals, values, laws, and politics. You will be uncomfortable because you must look inward, be vulnerable, and question your own beliefs in answering a seemingly basic question. This kind of self-awareness will bring with it a certain loneliness and anxiety over a lost sense of direction, but you will also experience a certain freedom in letting go—and the answer will soon follow.

Cops are killed for being cops. They are harmed, disrespected, and chastised for doing what their society has asked them to do. Few can identify with that specific suffering. When a civilization goes after the only people who stand between law and lawlessness—that thin blue line—it has reached a point of suffering, itself.

"Knowing” is only an extension of our humanity that we are forced to handle at the moment of truth—our truth or another’s. Those who have made the ultimate sacrifice have experienced their true callings and are indeed finally at peace. But for those who are chosen to escape their own peril in fulfillment of their service to others; they're only destined to bear a lifetime of suffering—an inescapable paradox. Not yet knowing peace themselves, they accept a call to suffer so that others may know it.

Port of Call: How do you respond when wearing a uniform leads to conflict with the community, a fellow cop, or your administrators?

#3: The Call to Love

Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Poverty. Addiction. Racial prejudice. There are negative forces at work in the world out to hurt and destroy human life. Evil won’t surrender quietly, but as you work to silence it, love will trump and there IS victory over evil—it might just take a career or lifetime to understand the freedom that gives to others.

Cormac McCarthy mirrored this sentiment in his novel, Cities of the Plain, when he wrote, “Our enemies seem always with us. The greater our hatred, the more persistent the memory of them so that a truly terrible enemy becomes deathless. So that the man who has done you great injury or injustice makes himself a guest in your house forever. Perhaps only forgiveness can dislodge him.”

Individuals who have chosen public protection have come to understand that they are commissioned to help people and battle evil and destructive forces. Together, they form a symbolic gesture of what is right and good in this world.

Unlike helping, where behaviors benefit another with an expectation of a reward, love has no such motivation. It’s simply carried out without expectation because the real reward is the benefit of loving ourselves. A cop aids another in peril because they sense a higher obligation, and their instincts, upbringing, and call to love drives this behavior. In doing so, they exercise their distinctive powers and fulfill yet another authentic call.

As the Bible tells us in John 15:13, there is no greater love than one who lays down their life for their friends. Cops must connect that message to their audience, but not sacrifice the content in doing so.

Port of Call: How easy or difficult is it to identify your role as a law enforcement officer?

#4: The Call to Give

There is no well-defined job description for a law enforcement officer. They collectively carry forward a vocational compass conveyed in the duty of public service. Here they have come to understand and use that compass for rescuing and giving acts—especially in the face of adversity. Hardwired into their psyches, that vocational compass projects outward by putting a face on those things in life that connect with success and fulfillment.

Law enforcement officers seek to find personal meaning and significance against the backdrop of a needy and sinful society they work for. As a result, they require hope and ideals to carry them through to such possibilities. A belief in something that forces them to be better—to serve and not count the cost—is not an absolute truth, but warriorhood has always been a great place to start when looking to become more than just a “man” or a “woman.”

Our civilizations are preoccupied with danger and evil and even in the absence of an immediate threat of death; our lives are still a meditation on it. The only planned venture for controlling or eliminating those threats is left with those who appear larger than life. We have called heroes “saviors” in both literal and symbolic senses. They deliver us from evil and the termination of our souls’ higher existence. Noble instincts arising out of this cultural hero system allow us to believe we can transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. For many, the service and honor of the law enforcement profession satisfies that sense of obligation to others.

A cop’s call to give is never in a moment of weakness despite their physical connection to the world. Facing another’s mortality is like facing your own, but it can be a positive and spiritually enlightening exchange. The recognition of one’s own essential being in another is most clearly and beautifully evident in those cases where an officer, already on the brink of death, is actively concerned with the welfare and rescue of others.

Nothing could possibly express more clearly that their destruction is only the destruction of a phenomenon and is therefore, itself, a phenomenon. While the essential being of he who faces death remains unaffected, it continues to exist in the other who now recognizes it.

Port of Call: Talk about a frightening situation in which your faith in giving encouraged you or others.

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” ---Mark Twain

Copyright © by Brian A. Kinnaird

Brian A. Kinnaird, Ph.D. is a former law enforcement officer and current criminal justice professor. He is active as an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant and can be contacted at

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