Flash: cops are human.
Like us all, their emotions are turkish taffy - yank them here, jerk them there, see them ooze slowly back into shape. They must deal with stress, silliness and a job structure they may not totally admire. They may bring the job home with them, with troubling results.
So where does a cop turn for help?
Not normally to coworkers; there's a code of stiff upper lip. Not easily to a non-cop; there's a gulf of understanding, sometimes too wide. Not comfortably to a psychiatrist; there's a big stigma, and a bigger bill.
Perhaps Preston L. Horstman is the wave of the future, then.
He is the staff psychologist for the Prince George's County Police, the only department in the Washington area, and one of any seven in the country, where such a job exists. His is the shoulder cops cry on, but his role also is to advise the chiefs on policy so that, just maybe, fewer police tears will ever start to flow.
Horstman has all the bona fides one could ask of a police psychologist - doctorate in psychology, published author, police specialist. he also has the key bona fide that makes him palatable to the rank and file - he used to be a cop himself.
"Police work is a very absorbing kind of thing," Horstman said. "You get into people's lives and sometimes you get into them so much, you don't pay attention to yourself or to what's going on at home.
"There are a lot of different ways you can handle stress, but sometimes it just helps to talk to someone. Just to get your grip back."
Horstman's counseling sessions have been "very informal" and somewhat limited in number. He has been at police headquarters in Forestville only eight months, not long enough to have his own office yet.
And he has played it "strictly passive so far" - he sees only those who seek him. "I don't want anyone to think that seeing me will go against them," Horstman explains.
But he says he is pleased, and "very surprised," by his reception so far.
"Most police agencies are just a little afraid of psychologists," said Horstman, a gentle, graying 33-year-old who previously served in the same capacity with the Dallas police. "Here, I was accepted very readily. They have laid things out on the table." That applies to both individual officers and bosses, Horstman said.
What's bugging the individual officer these days?
"Pretty much the same things as always. Money, a lot of time. A lot of policemen have to work two jobs, which can cause strains at home . . . Police officers have very high divorce rates. It can all go downhill pretty easily.
"Plus you get their kids being called pigs at school, that sort of thing. And old friends won't be quite so good friends any more. Maybe they've got a couple of joints at home they don't want him to know about."
What's bugging the upper echelons?
How to consider the human side of planning - for example, just the human side of whether to order a certain piece of equipment.
"Or let's take schedules. They rotate shifts here every week. We go down and took a good look at it." Now, the department is considering a rotation every quarter, or every six months, to minimize disruption of personal lives.
Horstman feels he was hired because "the command staff here became more and more educated, and they saw needs that were not being met . . . I'm being paid by normal adminstrative funds, not by a grant. Obviously, they were serious about it."
Such sensitivity and innovation may come as a surprise to students of the "old" Prince George's force. It earned a reputation over the last 15 years as the area's champion gatherer of brutality complaints, many of them racially tinged.
Are Prince George's police brutal?
"Oh, no, no more so than anywhere else," said Horstman. "It's very easy for a police department to be a scapegoat."
Are county police racially insensitive?
"No more than anyone else. There have been interracial incidents here, yes. But there have also been incidents with whites and whites.
"Most of the time, a police officer just deals with a situation without thinking about race. It's when there's a head-to-head situation, and a policeman has to exude authority, that something's got to give."
What gave in Horstman's own case was his wallet.
"I started as a police offier at $300 a month," he said. After 7 1/2 years with the Norman, Okla. force, "I just couldn't afford it any more."
So he spent six years at the University of Oklahoma, earning his doctorate last year.His masters thesis examined why certain policemen resist attitudinal changes during training. His doctoral dessertation was a blueprint of how to spot police applicants who might later become disciplinary problems.
Horstman expects to spend a great deal of time in the next year designing ways for the Prince George's taining system to overcome both problems. In the trade, it's called "prescreening," or "a good, solid assessment of whether a person has what it takes to be a police officer.
"The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," said Horstman. "You look for maturity and stability."
What you tend to find among applicants, Horstman said, are "very idealistic kinds of people. They want to make an honest contribution. Of course, sometimes they get that banged out of them after a while. But then we can counsel them.
"I try to keep everything as positive as I can," Horstman said, "and to be fair to everybody . . . It's too bad we can't get infallible machines as policemen. But we're stuck with human beings, and my job is to take that into account."