Recently, I was reading an autobiography of a state trooper. He talked openly about his experience with PTSD after two on-duty shootings and facing a lawsuit brought against him by the father of one of the decedents. His writing was gritty, angry and full of emotion. It was all him and all his point of view—until the end. The last chapters included observations from others, including an interview with his wife. What struck me about her segment was her sentiment that she knew her husband carried a gun. She just never thought he would use it.
My initial reaction was to wonder how she could think that. When you have a significant other that is a law enforcement officer, it is a given that they have certain duty equipment, for example, handcuffs, a bullet-proof vest, a baton, sometimes a Taser, pepper spray and a gun. He or she could use any or all of these items at any moment. It is unrealistic to think that someone with a lethal weapon will never actually use it. As I pondered this, I realized my thinking was erroneous. My mind wandered to my own husband. Thankfully, he had never had to make the choice which led to the death of a citizen in the line of police duty, but this doesn’t mean he had never killed anyone.
As soon as this thought struck me, I understood exactly what the Trooper’s wife meant. It was really only a façade that I understood deadly force could be used at any time. Let me explain.
Killing in the Name Of…
“So, what happened?” I asked my former-Marine, current law enforcement officer husband. Although I asked the question inwardly I cringed and didn’t really want to know. My husband spent eight years in the Marine Corps serving over-seas in a variety of capacities. One of which including walking a perimeter in Somalia.
“He wouldn’t stop,” my husband replied. “He just kept coming towards me.”
I don’t remember why we started talking about his time in Somalia and I certainly hadn’t had a specific outcome in my head when I asked that question commonly asked of combat veterans, “Have you ever killed anyone?” After his response, we just sat there in silence. I didn’t really want to know anything else and he didn’t seem to want to elaborate. Throughout the rest of the evening as we went about our lives, I found myself just looking over and catching glimpses of him. “He killed another person,” I thought to myself as I’d look up at him. I’m not sure what I thought I would see but in my mind I was having a hard time reconciling the person who he was before I knew this detail and the person he was afterwards. It was as if I expected him to look different. More like a killer I suppose.
I wondered what it felt like to take the life of another human being no matter how necessary and how justified. I literally could not imagine how he felt. All I knew is that somehow, deep down, I felt differently about him. It wasn’t necessarily a negative change. It was just a change. I viewed him in a new light. After years of psychoanalyzing my viewpoint, I realize I had developed a cautious respect for him. Regardless, I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the fact my gentle, soft-spoken warrior was a killer.
Deaths Affect the Whole Family
“Critical incidents can traumatize the relatives and partners of the officers involved just as severely as the officers themselves,” The Counseling Team International explains in “Law Enforcement Stress Program.” “Family members’ fear and shock are compounded by their ignorance of the event since they were not on the scene.” It’s hard to believe our loved ones may have to kill someone let alone when they have to do so. When a family member finds out their LEO has been involved in a critical incident, I imagine there is a certain amount of relief that comes when he or she finds out their loved ones was on the right end of the gun. It’s the myriad of confusing, often contradictory feelings after the relief that can be stressful. Then as a significant other is trying to reconcile and work through their own feelings about the incident, they are needed to help their officer recover from the event as well.