Officer Jason Jones has served as a police officer in Oregon since 1999. He has devoted his career to crisis intervention, community policing, youth delinquency prevention programs, homeless outreach and empowering domestic violence survivors. Prior to police service, he worked as a probation officer, specializing in collaborative-based programs. Jones also serves as an adjunct instructor at area community colleges and two universities, where he has developed curriculum for over twenty-five courses. He also assists as an instructor with the State of Oregon’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and in his spare time works as a consultant on international development projects, focusing on social crime prevention, justice and public safety initiatives. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Behavioral Science from California State University at Dominguez Hills.
Q: What are some of the highs and lows of working as a police officer?
A: Well, the highs are that you can help people, and you get to be there at really important times in people’s lives. There’s some sense of urgency or threat or other problems that you get to be a part of in helping find solutions. If nothing more, you get to triage it and help get things stable, kind of like an ER doctor would. But you can also be like a family doctor and try to get at the root cause of problems so that the problems don’t continue. If you really like helping people, there are amazing opportunities every day to do kind things for other human beings. This is a very unique job that enables us to do that.
But there is a lot of trauma. There are a lot of awful, traumatic, horrible things that human beings do to each other, and you have to see that. I will tell you, it leaves emotional residue on you. It stays with you forever, and you’ll never be able to get rid of it. And you just have to know that. It can be very hard. Some people are able to process it and work through it pretty well. For others, it can be very emotionally taxing, and it can definitely affect their personality, their home life and their health. There can also be a lot of stress from the organization itself internally. Some officers do fine with the risk of death and the trauma and the human misery that you experience daily, and some struggle more with the change inside and the poor morale, or a perception of lack of support from the community or the chief or city officials or something like that. And that can be very stressful.
Q: What type of person would be good for law enforcement work?
A: Yes. People who have care for other human beings will do well. People who are creative and flexible enough to think outside the box with problem solving. People who have a natural curiosity about human behavior and are able to suspend judgement, to a degree. They’re not judging the people who are doing it; they are curious as to why they’re doing it. They’re looking for explanations. Also, they need a willingness to adapt to change, because that’s the one constant. The one thing that won’t change is the fact that there is change. People who are good at adapting to technological change, policy change, procedural change and change in societal norms or values will do well.
People who have power and control issues struggle. People who don’t have a strong moral compass or have issues around ethics or honesty will struggle. This job amplifies who you are. You can’t become a police officer to become a better person. This job–being exposed to all the bad things you’re exposed to–will amplify who you already are. And if you have issues with power and control, or if you’re insecure, or if you have some axe to grind and you have something you want to prove, this is not the profession for you. You have to be a stable person with that moral compass in place, demonstrated in your character, and if it’s not demonstrated in your character, find another line of work.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement?
A: Do internships. Do some interviews. Really research where you think you’re going to be working and talk to people who work there, because you could potentially be working there for 30 or 35 years. I sometimes see people just apply to wherever without really doing any research, when in fact, it might not really be the best fit for their personality, their lifestyle or their family. They really don’t know what they’re getting into until they get there. So talking to people, doing job shadows, ride-alongs and things like that can be very helpful so they know what they’re getting into and see if that specific agency is the right place for them for the next 35 years of their life.