In my recent APB piece, “The Job Doesn’t Love You Back” (December 2020), I touched on the idea of hobbies and how important they are to keeping a cop sane but also focused on things that are not law-enforcement-related. I have a lot of hobbies, and metal detecting is one of them. If you don’t have a proper distraction, here is what I suggest you look for in a hobby:
- Focus dichotomy: Something that requires enough
focus to be distracting without causing undue brain strain.
- Money: Something you can afford.
- People: Something you can do with people outside of
Here’s an example of something that didn’t work for me: golf. I know a lot of cops who play golf, but I sold my clubs several years ago. Here’s why: It didn’t fit the above requirements. Golf is difficult. It takes a bit of dedication to become proficient. I got a little better with practice, but the only skill I consistently improved upon while golfing was polysyllabic swearing. The more clubs I had, the more I wanted. They’re not cheap. After a while, every one of my golf buddies started taking it really seriously and I just couldn’t. That doesn’t mean golf shouldn’t be your distraction. It just isn’t mine. One of the many attempted hobbies that I have actually stuck with is metal detecting. Let’s apply the above standards to that hobby.
Metal detecting requires a little focus as you swing the detector. You have to cover all the ground in front of you as you walk, listening for beeps and buzzes, which tell you when it’s time to stop and dig. It also requires you to do a little research. If you wander around a field without any idea as to what used to be there, you’ll likely be wasting your time. I first started detecting on 10 acres that my parents owned, which has been farmland for at least 100 years. I found a 1960s-era horse or mule shoe and some beer cans from the 1960s. I also found several Hot Wheels cars from the 1980s. I found fencing hardware, and as I planted flags to mark them, I could see exactly where the old fence rows were. At a 1920s-era house, I found an old three-sided file in the yard. It’s interesting to think about how those things got there and what the world of the owners of those items looked like at the time.
Metal detecting can be an expensive hobby. It hasn’t been for me so far. I bought a $150 metal detector online and started swinging. After several months, I bought another, more expensive unit, but both of them together didn’t cost as much as a duty pistol. I have bought the occasional accoutrement, but over a three-year period I’ve spent less than a grand. That’s not too bad considering what I’ve reaped: countless bottle caps, pull tabs, 87 cents in change and a great deal of peace.
Detecting is a hobby that attracts an eclectic group of folks. I’ve found them to be friendly, accepting and eager to teach others about their hobby. Also, very few of them are cops. They’re folks from every vocation and background. Having relationships outside of law enforcement has a grounding effect for both you and them. If you read “The Job Doesn’t Love You Back,” you know why that’s so important.
Find your hobby
You might notice this hobby has some parallels to police work. It requires me to investigate a little. I have to apply a little dedication and focus. The difference is stress. Many people think “vegging out” — i.e., not thinking about anything — is restful. To an extent that’s true, but too much inactivity is just as bad for the brain as it is for the body. With metal detecting, I get a little mental engagement, a modicum of physical exercise and a very low-speed, no-risk chase.
Warren Wilson is a lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.