Police Psychology: Choir Practice
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
In 1975, Joseph Wambaugh named it, when a group of cops go out after their shift for nights of drinking, camaraderie and debauchery. They would get drunk, be obnoxious to regular citizens and have sex with a variety of barmaids, hookers and naïve young girls wanting to have a good time. During the day, they would shoot gays in the park and bond together so nobody could get the real story and no cop could get charged. Their pranks on each other are so appalling and dangerous that Joseph Wambaugh actually had his name taken off the film. Superiors are all jerks, judges are listed as “black-robed pussies.” It was called a “film about brutes for brutes.” But the book and movie actually started something that is quoted frequently today, and perhaps is part of the way the public views cops.
Even cops see other cops as more likely to be alcoholics, more likely to suicide, and little divorce producing machines because of the stress aspects of the job. Some of us have tried for years to say that cops are not that bad in comparison, but the myths prevail. This is an article about alcoholics, so let’s go there. The number of men in America diagnosed with alcohol use disorder is around 8 ½ percent of all men. About 9 percent of them go to rehabilitation. That seems to run pretty steady with some cultural differences around the world. About 7 percent of all men from the ages of 18 to 90 say they have binge drank to an extreme the last month, or about 24 percent for the year. That is weighted heavily on young single drinkers. I put people in rehab programs a lot for some of the larger departments in New York, but I can’t really say that with the number of people we cover and the number expected from the department, the rate is a much higher than those percentages of normals. The fact that cops have insurance and the job beckons them to go to rehab for alcohol problems, they are in the same range percentage- wise. Sometimes they even go when it wouldn’t normally be the first line of treatment. Yet, I would still say the cops in our departments are still around the 8-9 percent of the population.
Now cops do tend to go out after work on a binge a few times a year. They do tend to meet in a bar to watch a football game and throw a few back. Maybe say a third of them a year, again within the normal percentage. If the comparison group is other mostly male environments (or all female for that matter), it’s not extreme. Most cops I know go home and are with their families, and I work in a mental health center where if they are going out they will be more likely to be in our offices. The single guys and divorced guys do run through major drinking stages, but that would be the same at computer consulting industries, accounting firms or even municipal employees. The key is there is a group of similar people together, there is someone to roughly organize (even if it let’s meet here) and the word can get out quickly through the office. These are all characteristic to the cop environment. There is never a shortage of people who want to have fun, or blow off some steam. Happy hours are a testament to that, in fact almost a rite of passage.
So, what’s the big fuss when cops go out and drink!? Why are they seen as alcoholics? As with most things in life, the perception is the reality. The perception is cops are available 24-7, the reality they do have time off from work sometimes. The perception: cops have a higher moral standard and should live up to that standard throughout their life. Reality: they actually probably do have a higher moral standard but people have ridiculous expectations. The perception: cops should not act like jerks when they are drunk. The reality: I once did a flying side kick karate chop at the entrance gate to the campus of the University of Notre Dame and fell on my ass almost knocking myself out when I was drunk in college, and I turned out all right. Most people act like jerks at times when they have had too much drink. Perception: all cops act like the guys in Joseph Wambaugh’s movie CHOIRBOYS. Reality: Wambaugh’s book had a lot of sensitive caring scenes in the book that the movie didn’t show and Wambaugh did even want his name on the movie. Attempts at entertainment sometimes set reality aside.
Choirboy and Choir Practice give a name to something that is not that unusual. In policing it has a name, so we think it is more often and endemic to the image of police officers. Naming something makes it more alive. Maybe it’s not.
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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