Cop Dreams… What’s That All About???

By Betsy Brantner Smith

I wrote an article a few years ago for titled “Cop Dreams.”  The feedback was immediate and unexpected.  So many people were surprised to find out that they weren’t alone in experiencing these vivid, sometimes terrorizing dreams, and it wasn’t just the cops who were having them.

When I was a high school senior I worked evenings as a police dispatcher for my local sheriff’s department.  One night I had a terrible nightmare. It was so real!  One of my deputies was yelling for backup but no matter how many times I pushed the “transmit” button, I couldn’t call for another unit.  I was unable to speak.  The phones didn’t work. I was completely helpless. I woke up sweating and terrified.  I wasn’t even a cop yet, and I’d just had my first “cop dream.”

There is no exact science when it comes to the study of dreams.  We dream between 90 and 120 minutes per night, depending on how long we sleep.  We tend to only remember the last dream we had, unless you have reoccurring dreams, which are pretty common in both humans and in animals.  Sometimes I watch my dog Marley twitch, whine, and pant while he naps.  I often wonder if he’s reliving some of the terrible abuse he suffered before we rescued him.  Humans obviously suffer similar emotionally difficult dreams. The top five most common dreams for humans are:

  • I’m Being Chased
  • I’m Falling
  • I’m Lost or Unprepared
  • I’m Naked in Public
  • My Teeth Are Falling Out (how weird is that?!)

Law enforcement personnel also tend to have similar, reoccurring dreams.  We once took a totally unscientific and unofficial Facebook poll on the “JD Buck Savage” fan page and we found that the top five “cop dreams” are some variation of:

  • No Matter How Hard I Try, I Can’t Pull the Trigger
  • I Fire My Gun, and the Round “Dribbles” Out of the Barrel
  • I Need to Run Somewhere but I Can’t Move
  • I Can’t Get to My Gun, My Ammo, or My Holster is Empty
  • I Fire and Fire and Fire and the Rounds do Nothing

Any of that sound familiar?  Notice that four out of the five involve our firearm.  I’ve experienced them all, some more than others, during different times in my career, and I’ve spent countless hours discussing dreams with my fellow cops and trainers all over the world. Some believe that cops who have dreams of “helplessness” are ill-prepared for the job.  In fact, I’ve had fellow police trainers tell me that they’ve never had the typical cop dreams because they are so incredibly prepared.  To that I say “bullcrap.”  Everyone experiences occasional feelings of doubt or inadequacy, and if you don’t, you might want to engage in a little self-reflection.  Over-confidence is a great way to get yourself, or someone else, hurt or killed.

The meanings of our dreams are extremely speculative, and they are very different from one source of meaning to the next.  Dreams are just a part of everyday life.  They don’t predict the future, they shouldn’t be used to judge someone’s capabilities or determine one’s psychological issues or needs.

It is quite possible from the nature of “cop dreams” our ambient anxiety about things we can’t control no matter how hard we train or prepare is being resolved or expressed. Some doctors believe that these dreams are the brains way of exercising itself safely. Dream research is a fascinating, if not very exact science.

After that article was published and it hit social media, a fellow crime fighter read it on Facebook and was shocked to discover that he wasn’t the only person on Earth having the reoccurring “cop dreams” that had been haunting him.  He was at a low point in his life and was contemplating taking his own life but decided to reach out to Safe Call Now and get help.  I was just honored knowing sharing my experiences and being able to connect with another cop with my story may have helped him.  Sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone, and you’re not “crazy” can help you take that first step to reach out.

After you read this, think about your own dreams and then ask around the station. See who has “cop dreams” and what those dreams entail.  Start a discussion over coffee or during roll call, post it on your Facebook page.  Ask the dispatchers and the animal control officers. Talk to the retirees.  The more we talk about it, and find out how “normal” our dreams are, the less scary and frustrating they seem.  And if your dreams seem to be getting the better of you, you’re not alone. Being a proud member of the Board of Directors for Safe Call Now and watching how they have saved lives over the years… Never, ever hesitate to contact them, because we’re here for you 24/7, nationwide. First responder to first responder.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

For more information on the First Responders program:  Click here

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008