If You’re Afraid of Risk, Don’t Take the Job of Absorbing Risk

If you ask the average America what the job of a police officer is, you will likely receive some variation of, “To protect and serve the public.” This shouldn’t surprise anybody. We’re told from a young age that police officers are heroes who protect us and that we pay taxes so police officers can protect us from nefarious individuals.

So, at least ideally, the purpose of a police officer, like that of a firefighter or a private security guard, is to absorb risk. When your job is to absorb risk, the job you take is necessarily risky, which is why many individuals, including myself, are puzzled by officers’ obsession with going home safe at night:

If my concern was “you going home safe,” then I’d just fucking hunker down and die. Because I wouldn’t want that poor responder to endanger himself.

Except…that’s what I pay taxes for, and that’s what you signed up for. Just like I signed up to walk into a potential nuke war in Germany and hold off the Soviets, and did walk into the Middle East and prepare to take fire while keeping expensive equipment functioning so our shooters could keep shooting.

There’s not a single set of orders I got that said my primary job was to “Come home safe.” They said it was to “support the mission” or “complete the objective.” Coming home safe was the ideal outcome, but entirely secondary to “supporting” or “completing.” Nor, once that started, did I get a choice to quit. Once in, all in.

When that 80 year old lady smells smoke or hears a noise outside her first floor bedroom in the ghetto, she doesn’t care if you go home safe, either. She’s afraid she or the kids next door won’t wake up in the morning.

People have varying degrees of risk tolerance. The more risk tolerant a person is, the less they’re concerned about mitigating risks. An investor who is highly risk tolerant is more willing to invest in an unknown startup than an investor who isn’t very risk tolerant. An individual who is motivated to save lives and is highly risk tolerant is more willing to take on the job of fighting fires than an individual who may have the same motivations but isn’t risk tolerant (they might instead opt to become a doctor).

The problem with the “I want to go home safe at night,” mentality that many officers cite whenever they put bullets into somebody is that going home safe at night isn’t part of their job description. Their job description is to absorb risk, which means possibly not going home at night.

If you’re not willing to be shot at, signing up for the military isn’t for you. If you’re not willing to run into a blazing building, being a firefighter isn’t for you. If you’re not willing to put yourself in a situation where you have to let another person initiate violence before you can respond in kind, being a police officer isn’t for you.

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