Vargas: An explanation for police anger and frustration

By Joe Vargas

Roughly one-in-five police officers frequently feel angry and frustrated on the job, according to a new Pew Research Center poll of 7,917 sworn police officers and sheriff’s deputies in 54 departments with at least 100 officers.

The job is unique, and I don’t think it is possible to quantify all the frustrating factors.

Handling your third or fourth drunk-in-public call on a Saturday night gets tedious. The subjects are rarely cooperative or friendly.

You might think that after awhile you would get used to tax-paying citizens berating you for wasting their time pulling them over – especially, as they sometimes point out, when there are real criminals terrorizing good citizens.

Watching the evening news has been an exercise in frustration for police officers almost every day for the past few years.

How about watching a group of protesters vandalize property and destroy police cars? I wish everybody would be frustrated by that.

The list goes on and on.

If you know a police officer just ask them. Be prepared for a long conversation.

What about the anger?

I’ve seen plenty of angry cops – and it’s usually the right reasons.

It should make everybody angry to see a child victimized by violence.

It should make everybody angry to see abuse of an elderly person – especially by their own children.

And less than three weeks ago, a Whittier police officer was killed while simply doing his job. Nothing is more infuriating than seeing a good person – in this case, a long-time public servant – lose their life for no good reason.

That’s righteous anger, which, according to the Catholic Dictionary, is defined as: “Justifiable indignation. It is permissible and even laudable when accompanied by a reasonable desire to inflict justifiable punishment.”

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “he that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked…”

The best street cops, detectives, sex crimes and child abuse investigators I’ve ever know have often been driven by anger.

It’s anger that drives them to track down bad guys and bring them to justice, bringing closure for crime victims.

Police officers are human beings like the rest of us.

Sadly, they come into contact with the underbelly of society exponentially more often than the average citizen.

My hope: The officer who responds to my call for service is as angry as I am at being victimized.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.