The majority of us go to our jobs every day with a certain assurance of safety. Even if there are physical hazards, we'll likely not come to harm, so long as we follow the rules. But when your job is dealing with the safety of the public directly, your own safety isn't guaranteed, whether you follow the code of conduct or not. It's just one sacrifice of many that community member Scield has made to fulfill a duty he's sworn himself to, and he's proven himself more than capable of handling it. I think we're very fortunate to have him here, and while this interview kick of mine lasts, I wanted to make sure he got a spotlight.
1. What activities, duties and work do you do every day?
I am currently a Sergeant for a police department in South Florida. I have been employed for 11 years and 10 months and have held several different positions in my time here. Besides regular patrol duties sometimes, like responding to calls when needed, I’m also tasked with supervising a squad of patrol officers. This involves a large array of duties, such as taking minor crime scene photos, checking reports, setting up incident commands for major crime scenes/incidents and minor internal investigations, such as officer involved traffic crashes and use of force reviews.
2. How were you trained for this career?
Being an officer is something I have wanted to do since I was four years old. I started out in college for a year but I did not like it. I decided to follow the career path of a police officer. I went to the police academy, which in Florida is based out of Community Colleges or county technical schools, for six months. There we were taught high liability topics, such as firearms, defensive tactics and driving, along with basic topics such as search and seizure, case law officer safety and the list goes on.
Since being employed, I have been offered many further education opportunities. Classes are constantly offered in our region and statewide that, while I may not get to attend a lot for one reason or another provide, a great chance for any officer to continue to improve themselves in their line of work. If someone wants to focus on drug investigations, DUIs, property crime or persons crime, they have the chance to mold their own specialties based on their interests. I have sort of tried to dabble a little in all topics so I can be well rounded, so I have taken a lot of different courses.
2.5. What created the desire to be an officer at such a young age?
In kindergarten there was a boy in my class whose dad was a police officer. He would come talk to our class a lot and it really interested me a lot. Other than that, I've just always liked the idea of what police stood for and having an exciting job.
3. What is the salary range for people in your line of work?
It really depends where you work and live. Florida is an odd state. There are parts of the state that are rural, which pay less than other parts of the state but the cost of living is lower. Whereas, looking at a place like Miami Beach, the starting pay may be higher compared to another area but the cost of real estate, taxes, etc, would make it very hard to live even if you have a starting salary of $50,000.
In my area, the starting agency pay generally runs around the mid to high 30’s. Bigger cities, obviously, may start at a higher rate. The range of pay is what you make of it. If you stay as a patrol officer for your entire career, you may top out around $60,000 (agency depending), but if you go into different positions or get promoted, it will obviously raise your pay. Going forward in the ranks will give you a raise and each rank has their caps.
4. What are some of the fringe benefits you enjoy?
There aren’t really a lot of fringe benefits. The days of free meals, getting out of speeding tickets or whatever else died long before I started in 2003. It still happens but it’s rare. Every once in a while a nice citizen will buy some of us lunch as a thank you and we really appreciate that; not so much as a benefit but it’s just nice to be thanked every once in a while.
5. What are the positive aspects of your work?
It can change for everybody. Some people don’t like being stuck in an office all day and enjoy being out and about. Others like the fact that every day is different and there is always something new to experience and learn. For me, I like to see a positive impact from my work. It could be the gratitude from the victim of a burglary after finding her property that was important to her or from the family of someone you gave CPR to. For me, those moments act as a shining light through everything else.
6. What are the negative aspects of your work?
What are police known for? Speeding tickets. Putting people in jail. Taking kids away from their parents for one reason or another. All negative things and very small parts of our jobs but things that we are known for most. Most people have a negative image of the police, even if they have never had any interactions with them at all. We’re presented in a negative light a lot of the times in media and that definitely has an effect on the way people view us and treat us. It really makes it hard to do a job when people are vile to you constantly and adds a lot more stress to what is already a stressful job.
I have also seen my personality change over the years. After years of putting up with verbal abuse and all kinds of fights, seeing the worst in people 99% of the time, and having to put on a straight face during some of the toughest situations really makes you close yourself off emotionally from friends and family. For the past several years I have been trying to reverse that but it is a very hard thing to change.
6.5. Do you have any personal ideas on how to heal civilian-law enforcement relations en masse?
As far as ideas on how to heal relations between law enforcement and police, I don't know. I don't think there is one specific answer to fix everything. I don't think people crying for body cameras and outfitting police with 85 different microphones and cameras is the answer. I think that is just a quick fix to make people feel better. I think police can help the tension by giving the public a better understanding of what it is to be a police officer and what the situations can be and what they can turn in to. In turn, I think the media and popular entertainment should stop making police out to be the villain in a lot of cases. That gives the public a bad taste for police and helps feed the cycle.
7. What are some of the major trends you see in this career field? What predictions can you make about this field in the next five to ten years?
Being at this for almost twelve years, a lot has changed even in the time I’ve been on. For better or for worse, police use of force has come under a lot of scrutiny in the recent years. Since that is one of the more visible aspects of our work, the public obviously sees a lot of it, most of which is taken out of context. With more attention on police use of force and police procedure, I can definitely see major changes coming to give the public better access to the information and evidence in those cases. From in car audio/video equipment, body cameras, Taser cameras, GPS monitoring in vehicles and whatever else, I see those being introduced more into police work in the next few years.
With having said that, I do see a major change in police activity. Sometimes doing police work the right way isn’t pretty. Sure, we would all love to solve each situation peacefully and with the best result, but some of the times that isn’t the case. If an officer does his job correctly in those situations it isn’t going to be a pretty thing. Whether lethal force is used or a knock down, drag out fight is caught on video, it will look bad. The officer will be tried in public court days after the incident, with media calling for the officer’s head and it may turn out that the officer was justified in what he did, But now that officer is blacklisted and toxic at that agency and may have to leave the career. I have talked to several officers from different agencies about current events and many have started to shut down their activity, noting that losing their career and putting their family in jeopardy isn’t worth the risk of being in a situation like that. I hope it isn’t a widespread thought and, maybe, with time it will pass. If it doesn’t, I can definitely see a dramatic increase in crime in the next few years or a lot of people leaving the profession because the risk isn’t worth the reward.
8. Is there a lot of competition to get into this field?
When I was first looking for a job, a lot of agencies were hiring and I did not have a problem getting hired. When the economy declined around 2008 or 2009 and a lot of people lost their jobs in the private sector they turned to government work to support themselves and their family. Good benefits, a stable job, lower pay but less risk compared to a private sector job made a lot of people look at law enforcement. However, many local budgets were also hit and many positions were eliminated making the job field very competitive for people during that time. Even though the private sector seems to be improving and more jobs are being offered, the local governments still seem to be behind in getting positions back to hire more people.
I honestly don’t know what the job field is like now for law enforcement. I know my agency is not currently hiring anyone but I don’t know about other agencies and what the applicant pool is for those, so I can’t really give a straight answer for the current time.
9. What are the strongest skills a person must have to do well in this career?
A good presence and a good personality, at least in my opinion, are the most vital. You could be the strongest person alive or being able to shoot the wings off of a fly is great but none of that would matter if you can’t show up to a crazy scene and take control. Some of these calls get out of hand, with people running around, yelling, screaming and being timid and meek let those people run over you and you’ll lose control of the situation more. With a good, commanding presence people will stop and focus on you and things can start to calm down.
As far as personality goes, the saying comes to mind about getting more bees with honey than vinegar. Treating people with respect and talking to them in a friendly manner or taking the time to hear them out will net better results than being the dick that shows up on scene with a bad attitude. It could mean the difference of getting a complaint filed on you or solving a case that you initiated by having someone give you a vital piece of information because you related to them.
10. What personality traits do the most successful people in this career have?
Being self-motivated is a major one. Some officers just show up and sit in their cars until they’re sent to a call. They normally don’t go very far. The ones that are motivated to go out there, be active, make good cases and do a thorough job will get noticed and selected for special units, such as detectives, narcotics or whatever units are at their agencies.
11. In what other fields can a person with your training go?
There are a lot of different options. If you were good at investigating property crime or financial/fraud crimes, many private sector companies have internal divisions that monitor their own employees. Many insurance agencies also hire ex-law enforcement to work fraud investigations on cases that have red flags.
Many police suppliers also hire ex-law enforcement as salesmen. Who better to sell your firearms, uniforms, body armor or anything else than someone who used it and can vouch for it? Those are just the several jobs I can think of off my head but I’m sure there are a ton more out there that I’ve never even thought of.
12. If you had it to choose all over again, would you still enter this field? Why or why not?
I’ve learned a lot in my time being a law enforcement officer that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve learned valuable skills and had a lot of fun. Having said that, I don’t think I would be a law enforcement officer again if I had the chance to start over again. With today’s political climate the way it is, I see a lot of officer safety issues being compromised for the sake of various reasons. Although I would gladly give my life to serve and protect, I would do it for the right reasons; not for being told I can’t do my job right just to make whatever incident politically correct for the news.
I’ve also sacrificed a lot and missed a lot with my family. I have a young son now and one more on the way and I’m tired of missing family time. I’ve missed birthdays, holidays, I have not been able to bring my son to play extracurricular sports or activities due to my schedule, and there does come a point where you realize it’s only a job and not worth what you miss with your family.
And like I’ve known since I started the career, I knew it was going to require sacrifices. At this point in time in my life, I’m just not sure that not being able to be the father I want to be is worth it.
12.5. What skills or practices do you exercise to cope with the stressors of the job?
I just try to cut myself out of work when I'm off. I took my email off my phone so on my days off I it wouldn't constantly go off with random emails. That helped a lot. Other than that, I love playing video games to relax when I have the time. I use them now as a form of escapism, which is why I tend to gravitate towards games with strong stories now. Along with video games, I enjoy the gaming culture. I love the community at Destructoid and spending a few minutes on the forums or in a quick conversation on Twitter on my phone at work can just take my mind of a lot things.
Outside of gaming, I love spending time with my family. Everything I do is for them so it makes me happy to see them enjoy what I can provide for them. I also started working out during work last summer and that has helped relieve some stress and I've lost a ton of weight in the process so I feel better about myself.
13. What is your next career move?
Well, I can retire in about 8 years and I haven’t really decided what I want to do. I’ve been taking college classes here and there to be prepared for when I do retire. I would love to do something in the technology/IT industry but I don’t have the time to devote to school to learn that right now. I can see myself, maybe, getting one of the jobs I spoke about previously, like an investigator for a bank.
14. Where can I get more information about your career?
Law enforcement varies by state. What may be required in Florida may not be required in Texas. I would speak to the training/HR division at your local agency, or wherever you want to work, to see what steps are needed to apply and start a career.
15. What advice can you give someone who is trying to choose a career?
I know it sounds cliché but do what you love. Plain and simple. If you get stuck in a profession that you hate then you’re going to be miserable, hate going to work, and that will cross over into your personal life. People won’t want to be around someone that’s unhappy. But, if you can’t do what you love, make the best of whatever you do choose. Just try and stay positive because that will reflect in your work, and co-workers and supervisors will take notice.
Eternal thanks again to Scield for his compassion and service, and to the Destructoid community for housing such remarkable specimens. I like to think surviving the zombie outbreak will be more feasible with you all here.