A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague. As I was explaining some of the challenges departments across the nation are facing in these economic times, such as lower staffing and resources and how this could make the job more dangerous since there is less back-up, my colleague responded, well it's not like there is crime where your husband works, totally dismissing any potential danger that exists in his job.
At this point my blood began to boil as I was very hurt by the statement, but I have also heard this a million times, as many of us have. I should have walked away and shrugged it off, but I made the mistake of trying to educate the ignorance and insanity of what was just said. I told him about the dangers that exist, some of the real-life experiences Mike has had that might shock those who have no real knowledge of the job, and how I am proud of Mike since he has a high number of arrests every year. The response I received still dumbfounds me today and in all my years of hearing civilian experts tell me about how law enforcement ought to be done was, Well, what kind of arrests? in a tone that was dismissive and unimpressed.
And I did not really know what that meant: what type of arrests? as if there are different categories and some are not dangerous. How do you explain to the person who is talking at you and not with you that the point of first touch of the cuffs is extremely dangerous? How do explain the magnitude of countless videos we have all seen in real time of officer after officer being killed, injured, or going hands on while putting cuffs onto what appeared to be a tame subject that turned violent very fast? LEOs know that when the subject feels the cuffs on them, it can be traumatizing, that the subject has the potential to react calmly or decide to fight. No matter the reason for the arrest, it always has the potential to turn life threatening. All officers have gone hands on when cuffing a subject. Cuffing is dangerous which is why all LEOs are taught never forget the moment of great risk which is known as point of first touch with your cuffs.
I walked away from that conversation with blood boiling in my veins and adrenaline pumping through my system. I was ramped up with anger and also hurt to the point tears were welling up in my eyes. How statements and conversations like this are taken by me is to wonder, How could you have such low regard for my husband's life and all of those brave officers who serve us every day? And the sacrifices countless families make and to the officers who are our fallen angels? This is not the first time I have had encounters like this and it will not be the last, however, I do not imagine my emotional response will ever diminish. I am very protective of the profession and for me, when you wrongfully criticize one cop, you criticize them all.
The silent pain I carry as a police wife is the overwhelming pride I feel for my husband but not being able to talk about it to most. In the beginning of Mike's career I learned not to tell people I had just met what my husband did for a living after time and time again hearing their story of a police officer who pulled them over for no other reason than to fill a quota, had nothing better to do, or was obviously just being petty. I soon learned to tell people he was a government employee. I became worn from hearing the armchair quarterbacking of a career that is highly misunderstood, but about which most believe they are an expert even though their only contact has been through TV shows like Cops, dramas like NYPD Blue, or from a crime novel.
Most would probably expect these responses are few and far between, and only coming from acquaintances or people I had just met, but that would be grossly untrue. Negative comments routinely come from everywhere, including family, friends, coworkers, and even pastors. It is a response that had led me to only be able to express to very few people, those I consider the most trusted, the excitement I carry for the profession or the pain I carry when an officer is killed, injured, or experienced a trauma.
Another source of the silent pain inside is knowing it only takes just one. Those in the profession, spouses included, know the sensation of the hair prickling on our arms and back of the neck as our hearts beat a little faster, knowing that it takes just one. It is the one unknown risk traffic stop that goes wrong and the driver opens fire. The one alarm call in the middle of a storm where it should have been the thunder that activated the alarm, but it wasn't; instead there is someone inside with a gun who ambushes the officer. It is the one domestic call that turns into a subject desiring suicide by cop, and the cop has no other choice but to take a life for, if he doesn't, he loses his own. It is the one piece of black ice during a winter storm where everyone else is advised to be off the roads, but an officer is the closest unit to an infant who has stopped breathing. Driving to the home the wheels of the squad car leave the soundness of the pavement; the squad car is projected and flipped into a mighty oak. The officer cannot return to work but instead is forced into retirement due to injuries sustained on a day that schools and other businesses are closed.
For police spouses it is knowing that the phone call can come at anytime. That The One found our husband or wife. It is also knowing that The One found someone else's spouse that day, that week, that month. There is always a LEO family somewhere going through that pain and when one of us hurt, we all hurt together. It is someone's pain we are always carrying.
This is not to be said that all professions do not carry an element of risk and danger. For even the most routine to the most extreme do have danger. Risk is a part of life and we all could lose our life in an accident, being in a convenience store at the wrong time, or a burglar entering your home while you sleep. Those are the realities of life, but whatever risk you are involved in an officer will be responding to also. Their job is to assist you when your life is threatened. It only takes one time to lose it all. A police officer just has that element of risk every time they report for their watch. They call it a watch, because that is what they do. They watch over your safety and are willing to risk their own for people they do not know.
To live with the knowledge of the dangers of the job in a society that criticizes our men and women in blue is the silent pain I, and all police spouses, carry proudly!