Law enforcement officers have tough skin. The job requires a certain level of tolerance of being the target of someone’s anger, frustration, even stupidity. In today’s society, officers can be convicted in the court of public opinion within hours of an incident, typically on social media where the keyboard warriors wage their battles from.
And while law enforcement must burden these attacks on their reputations, character, and mental and physical health, we often forget that their families often bear that same burden. Being the spouse, kid, or even friend of a law enforcement officer has come with a price these days. It’s not good enough that the supportive cast of our nation’s police must shoulder the fear of losing their loved one in the line of duty, now they must also navigate the growing attack on their own relationships, support, and love for those that wear badges for a living.
Targeting an officer’s family is nothing new. Every officer worth their salt has had their spouse, kids, parents, and even family pet threatened at one time or another. However, this was usually done in the heat of the moment by a spitting and sputtering drunk or domestic abuser in the back seat of the squad car on their way to jail. Now, an officer’s family and friends are finding themselves the target while at school, work, community events, and especially on social media.
Cancel culture is real, and we have some very influential people in our society who are working daily to cancel our police culture and target those who support it. School boards have voted to kick cops out of schools, despite the almost weekly reminder of the deadly threat that lurks from active shooters and gang activity that threaten students and staff. Cities have slashed police budgets in their attempt to defund their own departments, even while crime has skyrocketed on their streets. Large corporations to small town businesses have been forced to withdraw from sponsoring police-related events and support for fear of being targeted or losing business. And who can forget when the NFL put names of career criminals on their helmets in an attempt to pander to the anti-police rhetoric?
And while the tough-skinned men and women who continue to proudly serve can handle all of this nonsense, we should be asking ourselves how much abuse can our friends and loved ones take? Cancel culture is coming for them too. Bullying and ridicule for being related to an officer is taking place in classrooms, board rooms, and chat rooms across the country. There are also financial risks to the families of officers. Those who do spend their time going after police know that sometimes the hardest hit to an officer’s heart is against those they love.
To combat the growing trend of targeting family and friends of law enforcement, officers should be having frank discussions with those they love about the dangers that lurk for them as well. Here are some helpful tips on how to protect your family from growing anti-law enforcement actions:
Stay out of it. Avoid social media debates and rumors about incidents, cases, or actions involving law enforcement. A loved one may feel compelled to set the record straight or stick-up for their officer or their colleagues. The best advice is to not fall into the social media traps by not engaging in these posts and discussions. This not only stops those who are trying to find out who is related to who, but it also eliminates the potential for divulging of private information or personal knowledge that could be detrimental to an investigation or suit involving the officer.
Know your crowd. There once was a time that telling people you are the spouse, parent, or child of an officer was a sense of pride and respect. Today that information could be used against you by those with anti-police sentiment. By being careful when, where, and to who you divulge any relationship to police will avoid the potential of bias, harassment, and even physical harm. Tell your family it’s OK to be proud of your profession, just be careful that the manner and expression of that pride should be done in the right circumstances.
Classrooms are rough. From middle school bullying to a high-school teacher going on a rant against police, schools can be a tough place for an officer’s son or daughter to attend. Kids may have a difficult time understanding complex social and political bias against police, but they fully understand when they are being targeted just because their mom or dad wears a badge to work. Most schools have strict anti-bullying policies that can hopefully address student on student behaviors. When it comes to faculty or staff using anti-police language or depictions to create an uncomfortable environment for your child at school, it’s important to stay calm and investigate what was heard or said and why. Seek to have a meeting with the educator first, and if that doesn’t resolve the manner, take your concerns to the district administrator and be sure to seek a written plan of action of change as a resolve.
Blend in. When I was off-duty, I wanted to blend in as much as possible. Today, I see vanity plates or specialized plates that promote policing or only available to officers affixed to personally-owned cars. I see homes of officers flying the “thin blue line” flag, or “back the blue” signs in yards. While all of this may seem supportive and nice, I come from the philosophy that advertising you’re an officer is not something you normally want to do when you are not working. Advertising your profession on your home or auto, especially when occupied by your spouse or kids, is just not smart. Such promotions could lead to vandalism, harassment, or worse. Blending in to look like a normal every-day citizen when not working should be your goal, although I would also highly encourage a good CCW plan. Not advertising your job on your home or car is equally as important to keep your family out of the sights of those who prey on law enforcement.
Role playing is key. In training, law enforcement uses role playing and scenarios to hone their decision-making skills all the time. That same approach should be used when preparing your loved ones for uncomfortable encounters due to their relationship to you. Just like scenario exercises, start with some basic reminders of key things to do or say before you put skills to the test. Then talk through potential what-if’s to see how your loved ones would respond in a situation. Use both age and circumstance- appropriate scenarios to see what their reactions might be to verbal or physical threats or harassment. Guide them on their response and actions that aims to first protect them from harm but also gives them a respectful means to exit the encounter quickly.
Use professional services. Officers should be having discussions with their financial advisors and attorneys on how to protect their assets should they ever be sued or threatened financially. Family businesses in which the officer may have a fiscal stake in, no matter how small, could become threatened in a civil suit. Retirement benefits, inheritances, educational savings, and insurance policies may also need protection and isolation from any civil suit that results from police action. There are several documented cases of individuals and groups putting liens on the homes and property of law enforcement officers due to obscure property claim laws, even when there were no interactions between the officer and the individual. Officers should be proactive to protect any individual or family asset through legal and financial planning before any claim or event comes their way.
Keep your wits about you. The days of mental health services being taboo for law enforcement are long gone. A good family counselor can help keep you and your family prepared and protected against attacks on your collective physical and mental well-being. Using a qualified mental health professional with experience in working with military or law enforcement personnel would be ideal, but not necessary. The biggest factor in the success of counseling is finding someone your family trusts and believes in. Many times, your insurance coverage or employer will cover the costs of these services as a benefit of your employment.
Officers are told to have thick skin when insults and threats are hurled their way, but that becomes very challenging when those they love are attacked. Using these tips may save you and your family from undue stress and harm. It’s is also important to remember that the vast majority of citizens support and respect law enforcement. The small, but vocal and malicious, minority of those who are against police are often looking for confrontation and reasons to make your lives miserable. Being educated and proactive against anti-police methods is key to keeping you and your family safe and happy, which is exactly the opposite of what they want.
About the Author
Brian Landers is a former law enforcement officer and current professor of criminal justice. He also serves as an expert consultant and witness for police use of force incidents throughout the United States. He can be reached at [email protected]