A Day in the Life of a Cop

What It's Like to Work as a Police Officer

Officers standing outside a precinct
Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images News

Working as a police officer can be satisfying, rewarding, saddening, lonely, and fulfilling—all during the same shift. The job pays pretty well and the benefits are typically very good, but each day can present—and probably will present—a new challenge.

Time to Make the Doughnuts...

The alarm wakes you from a long sleep or a nap, depending on what shift you're working. You grab a quick shower and give yourself a thorough shave so your sergeant doesn't ding you on your inspection.

Your whole demeanor changes as you get dressed. You become quiet, stern, and thoughtful as you prepare yourself mentally for the day ahead. You stop being "you" and become "officer you" as you strap on your ballistic vest and zip up your uniform shirt. The transformation is complete when you wrap your utility belt around your waist.

Some departments let you take your patrol car home so you can be in service as soon as you leave your driveway.

"10-8" You're in Service and Ready for Duty

You kiss your kids and your spouse goodbye and step outside into another day on the job. Shifts in most departments begin with roll call and this can take up to 30 minutes or so. You'll be informed of any special assignments or events that might need your attention, as well as any be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) alerts that have come in since your last shift.

Now it's time to inspect your patrol car, if you haven't already done so at home. You make sure everything is the same as it was the last time you sat behind the wheel, and that everything is operating properly. All necessary equipment, such as flares, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers, is in place.

You turn the ignition and reach for your police radio. You key the microphone and advise your dispatcher that you're "10-8," in service and ready for duty.

A Traffic Stop

You spot a car with a headlight missing as you drive out onto the main road. You pull the vehicle over, get out of your car, and approach cautiously. You wonder if this will be your last traffic stop ever as you get closer to the violator's car.

You introduce yourself and inform the driver that you pulled him over because his headlight is out. You let him know that it's a potential safety hazard because it affects the ability of other drivers to see his car, not to mention his own view of the road ahead. You issue him a warning or a faulty equipment notice to remind him to get it fixed, then you wish him a safe day.

A Crash With Injuries

You get back in your patrol car, and your dispatcher immediately advises you that there's been a serious traffic crash with injuries and entrapment near your location. You inform her that you're "10-51 10-18," en route with lights and sirens.

You meet with chaos when you arrive on the scene. Two vehicles appear to be welded together. Spilled coolant and oil is burning and boiling off the still-hot engines, transforming what was once two distinct vehicles into one massive, steaming pile of twisted metal.

You're trained to give first aid and basic life support, but you're privately thankful that it's not necessary because an ambulance is already on scene. You watch as paramedics talk to a bloodied driver in one of the vehicles and firefighters work fervently to cut into the vehicle to get her out.

There's a driver in the other car as well, but he's not moving. No one's trying to help him, either. It's too late for him. You talk to one of the paramedics and confirm what you already knew, that the crash involved a fatality.

A crowd begins to gather. You call for a traffic homicide investigator before you begin to cordon off the scene with crime scene tape. You grab a fire blanket out of your first aid bag and drape it over the dead individual's car out of respect for the deceased.

You gather witnesses, take statements, and work to identify the drivers. You brief the traffic homicide investigator and hand over the information you've obtained so far, offering to provide any additional assistance that's necessary.

Notifying the Next of Kin

The task falls to you to inform the deceased's next of kin now that you've been relieved of investigative responsibilities. In this case, it's a wife who stays home to care for the couple's two small children. You show up at her door and ring the doorbell.

She answers the door and stares at you as you stand there with your hat in your hand. She knows why you're there, and you know she knows. There's no easy way to tell her, so you rip the band-aid off. "Ma'am, I'm very sorry to tell you that your husband has been killed in a car crash."

Naturally, she cries, while you do your best not to. You offer to make phone calls for her and to stay with her until a family member, minister, or a friend can arrive.

Back on Patrol

You get back into your patrol car and inform dispatch of the time you made notification. You advise that you're "10-98," task completed, and that you're now "back 10-8."

This is the humdrum work—if there is such a thing in police work. It's a matter of cruising your assigned area, watching for disturbances, speeding, illegal parking, and other traffic violations. Of course, any of these incidents can mushroom suddenly and without warning from humdrum into a life-or-death situation, but each will require its own report even if it thankfully doesn't blow up.

Worn out and thirsty from the day so far, you stop at a gas station to get a cup of coffee. You avoid doughnut shops at all cost so you don't play into the cops-and-doughnuts stereotype. You drive through the parking lot and scope the place out to make sure you're not walking blindly into a robbery.

The clerk greets you as soon as you walk in and asks you to deal with some teenagers who are causing a disturbance. You never get your coffee.

Real Police Work: Report Writing

You find a vacant parking lot to catch up on reports after you leave the gas station. You park someplace where people can see you if they need help, and it doesn't take long before someone does. You get out of your car as the man approaches so he can't surprise you while you're sitting down. You're always thinking tactically.

As it turns out, he just needs directions, and you're more than happy to provide them.

Another car pulls up just as you get back to your report writing. You leave your car again and meet an elderly woman who's frightened because she found her door open when she got home. She remembers shutting it and locking it. She asks you to come to her house to make sure it's safe for her to go inside.

Burglary and House Clearing

You ask the woman to stay outside by her car while you enter her house. You check the doors for any signs that someone broke in. You notice scrape marks on the rear door and it appears that someone tampered with the lock there. You draw your handgun and enter the house to clear it, wondering if it will be the last thing you do.

But you find no one in the house so you ask the woman to come in and tell you if anything is missing. You caution her not to touch anything as you process the scene, and you call for a crime scene technician.

She gives you a list of what she's missing. You tell her you'll do everything you can to help her get her things back, and you make sure she's safe and secure before you leave the scene to enter evidence into the property room at the station...and write another report.

She offers you $20 dollars for your trouble, which you decline. She insists on paying you for your services despite the fact that you tell her you're already getting paid. She continues to press the issue, so you ask her to donate the money to a charity of her choice instead.

You drop off your evidence at the station and realize that it's almost time for your shift to end. You get back in your car and head home after you finish the required paperwork.

You Don't Get Home on Time

You notice that a car in front of you is weaving within its lane as you're turning into your neighborhood. It's slowing down, speeding up, and braking erratically. You're concerned that the driver is either impaired, tired, or sick. In any case, it requires further investigation.

Your shift ended 15 minutes ago, but you pull the car over. You're greeted by the strong and unmistakable odor of alcohol when you reach the vehicle. The driver's eyes are bloodshot and watery, and his speech is slurred. The driver performs poorly on the field sobriety exercises you offer, so you make the arrest.

It will take another three hours before you're finished with the paperwork on this incident, but you know your job and your duty.

One More Day Down

You finally make your way home after you've left all your paperwork at the jail. Fortunately, you don't come across any other issues this time. You walk in your front door four hours later than you were supposed to.

You take off your uniform and slowly transform back into yourself. Tired from a long day, you lay down to go to sleep. Your last thoughts are about how happy you are to have the opportunity to be a police officer, and how thankful you are that you made it home safely one more time.