We recently caught up with Chris Hernandez, a veteran law enforcement officer, and asked him why he chose to serve in law enforcement. The following are his words.

“Why do you put up with this crap? Why be a cop when you could make more money doing something easier and less stressful?”

During my 22 years in law enforcement, I’ve been asked that question more than any other. Half the time the question came from close friends or family. About a quarter of time the question came from me, when I was babysitting a juvenile obviously faking a seizure three hours past the end of my shift, or looking at a piss puddle in my patrol car’s back seat, or listening to a drunk making veiled threats against my family from behind cell bars, or explaining (again) to Internal Affairs that I did what I did because of the specific reasons clearly listed in my report. More than once I felt like dropping my uniform and badge, and never picking it up again.

But I didn’t quit. There was never a real possibility I would quit. Because outside the military, there was nothing else I was built to do.

It’s safe to say that any good cop could make a lot more money, while taking a lot less crap, in some other career. Hell, just about anyone qualified to be a cop is also qualified to be a firefighter, and firefighters never have to take crap because everyone loves them (those bastards). So why choose all the danger, stress, and frustration that’s intrinsic to police work, instead of rolling in easy dough repairing copy machines or something?

After many years as a cop, and a Marine and Soldier, I’ve concluded that some people just have conflict in their DNA; for whatever reason, they’re driven toward the confrontations that are always around some random corner in their patrol beat. I’ve seen officers literally run toward the sound of gunfire, and I’ve watched many others drive at warp speed to a “shooting in progress” or “officer needs assistance” call. I haven’t seen them stop before arrival and assess the situation before committing; the mindset they had, and I adopted, was “get there and figure it out later”. The oft-repeated observation about first responders after 9/11, “While others ran away, they ran in”, was true of almost every officer I ever knew.

And nobody had to train them to do it; if anything, their compulsion to charge toward danger had to be trained to a controllable level. Some of those officers worked their way to the most dangerous stations, most dangerous shifts, most dangerous districts, and most dangerous beats within those districts. They were the first to volunteer for high-threat calls, and to express disappointment when they missed chases or critical incidents. Those officers, I think, would have chosen law enforcement over a corporate career that made them a million dollars annually. One of the happiest cops I’ve ever known took a $30,000 pay cut to follow his heart and go from IT to police work; he’s been on the job fifteen years now, and doesn’t regret chasing his dream.

Perhaps this is an easier way to explain it:

Some people would rather fight a murderer into cuffs (been there, done that) than live in a mansion. They’re happier screaming into a radio while fighting a PCP-ravaged car thief (done that too) than sipping champagne at the country club. Their favorite memories involve chasing car thieves into muddy ditches (yup, that too) instead of shopping at the nicest boutiques.

When I come to the end of my life, I won’t regret the wealth I never held. But I will smile at the knowledge that when lives were on the line, I was there. I went. I put my fears aside, trusted my beat buddies, and did what needed to be done.

Many men will ask themselves, all their lives, if they really have it in them to stand tall in the face of danger. Most will never know the answer; I do. And that answer is worth more to me, and to all real cops, than a life of safety and luxury.

About Chris Hernandez

Chris is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the ValleyProof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. He also writes frequently on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.