Police officers are public servants charged with the duty of protecting lives and property. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 883,600 police officers and detectives employed as of 2008. Of these, 665,700 served as patrol officers or transit and railroad police. The dangerous nature of police work, along with the constant contact with society's criminal elements, make it possible for the police officer to have his career cut short.
The constant potential contact with the criminal element in society opens the police officer up to the possibility of corruption. The statistics on police corruption tend to be unreliable or skewed towards the angle of the writer or researcher, so it is nearly impossible to say with any certainty what level of corruption exists within police departments nationwide. Nevertheless, officers who do not maintain high ethical standards to uphold the law can find themselves in difficult situations. On the one hand, their actions can be discovered by law enforcement officials and they can be brought to justice if involved in illegal activity. On the other hand, they can also get in with the wrong crowd of criminals and find their lives endangered by their own recklessness and carelessness.
According to a 2011 article by the editor of CopsAlive.com, statistics indicate that police officers are two to six times more likely to commit suicide than they are to be killed in the line of duty. Through a combination of stress and constant influence from the the criminal community, police officers can find themselves focused on the most negative aspects of life throughout their daily activities. A police officer's career, and life, can be cut tragically short if they are unable to find an outlet for their stress.
Police officers can find themselves pulled between two poles of their daily existence. On the one hand, they live with their own desire to serve the public good, working long and perilous hours on the streets. On the other hand, police officers who are devoted family men may find it difficult to make that same type of commitment to the police force. Some officers may find it difficult to commit to their job because of their devotion to family. Not being able to find the right work-life balance can have an adverse effect on a police officer's career. Some may find it easier and more desirable to seek employment elsewhere.
Similar to corruption, police misconduct, in terms of the use of excessive force, can also be detrimental to a police officer's career. A 2001 study conducted by the Institute for Public Safety & Justice indicated that nearly one in five police officers had pending complaints against them for the use of excessive and unwarranted force. While just one isolated incident is not enough to end a police officer's career, a pattern of behavior indicating continued violence can. Police officers who develop a reputation on the streets for excessive brutality can make themselves a target for violent criminals.