Why it’s worth it: Despite hardships, cops change lives
“Why it’s worth it” is a series of essays by officers, and retired officers, sharing why they wanted to become cops, despite dangers and the public’s loss of trust amid high-profile police-involved killings. We hear from officers in their own words about what motivated them to join law enforcement, and why they stayed on the job.
By Karl Grill
Last updated 3:47 p.m. ET, March 11
It had been raining hard all day, and there wasn’t a place on me that wasn’t wet. I hadn’t opened the road back up for traffic yet. Debris from the accident still littered the highway and the embankment where a bus carrying a church group had hydroplaned and overturned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I was a mile away when the call came in. Three people dead, 37 injured, two of them young girls trapped in the rear of the bus.
I coordinated ambulances, rescue squads treating the injured and putting the walking wounded in civilian cars for transport to the hospital. The last thing I had done when they uprighted the bus, was to remove a severed hand that was on the side of the bus and place it in a plastic bag for transport to the morgue.
Sitting in the patrol car, I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t hold a pen to write. I quietly asked myself why I was still a cop. This would happen on several occasions throughout my 33-year career. The dead and abused children, the battered wives, the suicides and murders. Getting punched, thrown up on and shot at. They all take a toll on you as an individual and a human being. You keep it all inside because you can’t take it home to your family. It hardens you and tests your resolve. You develop a dark sense of humor only you and other cops get. And for some, it leads to alcoholism and suicide. So of all the things I could do, I asked myself again: Why was I a cop?
Those incidents that made me question my career choice also gave me the answer: Because people, victims, needed me. Pure evil exists. And if it’s not me who’s there for them, then who? For every one you can’t help, there’s two you can. And while you can’t change the world, you can change lives. Were there times I was afraid? You bet! People are born with an inherent choice in the face of danger, fight or flight. People who become police officers have made the choice to fight. Why else would they all run in the direction everyone with sense is running away from?
Police officers are molded by influences and events, by family and heroes. My parents taught me right from wrong, to respect others, and not to lie, cheat or steal. And it’s good to have heroes. John Wayne taught me my word was my bond. Protect the weak. I always remembered what he said in the movie The Shootist: “I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I shouldn’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
My son is a cop. He’s been on the job nine years now. And I’m very proud of him. But not just because I know he’s a good cop. He’s my son. I love him. Love is unconditional. Respect is earned. I respect him for the principled man he has become, and the sacrifices he has made for his career in law enforcement. I asked him two years ago why he became a cop. He said: “I grew up watching you. I listened when your friends were around, and I liked what I saw and what I heard. I decided that’s the kind of man I wanted to be.” I was the first cop in the family. He is the second. His life will be to serve and protect, sitting ringside to the greatest show on earth, the human condition.
Karl Grill is a retired law enforcement officer. He spent three years as a municipal police officer and 30 years as a state trooper.