Being married to law enforcement is difficult, but I don’t need to tell you. Personally, I had no idea what I was in for when I sent my husband off to the academy. We had been married less than a month when he left. He got the acceptance call while we laid on Waikiki Beach on our honeymoon. Everything seemed so scary and unknown then. Little did we know that would be the easiest leg of the journey.
I learned quickly that whatever is asked, we spouses have to answer the call. Digging deep and picking up the slack because you just got the “I’m going to be late” text? Only about a million times. Finding some fancy gadget to heat a meal in the patrol car if they get stuck on a crash? Already in the Amazon cart. The darkest blackouts curtains money can buy so they can sleep even 30 minutes longer? Hung. Teaching yourself household repair because the kitchen sink broke and needs attention now- like right now? Yep. Arranging child care and clearing your schedule to hold your husband’s hand at a fallen officer’s funeral? Unfortunately, yes. There are so many ways we bend and bow to adapt to a life married to law enforcement, and we are being called to the most important challenge in current times.
There is a need in the law enforcement community, and it is a call only us the spouse of a law enforcement officer can answer. I have seen the ways law enforcement spouses have mobilized in other times of need, and we harness that energy one more time. We are experiencing a time of unrest, unlike anything our generation has ever seen. This is the stuff that was in our history books, not in breaking news. Our country feels so perilously divided, and it seems like the lines are drawn between blue lives versus black lives. Too many times in the last decade, our country has seen Black men and women die at the hands of police brutality.
I believe your husband is a good cop, and I do believe that he would never kill an innocent man or woman of any color. Yet, here we are. Again. I have sent my husband to do crowd control for protestors demonstrating against police brutality more times than I can remember in his 10-year career. The consensus I hear among spouses is that we are tired, and bone-weary from being on this roller coaster ride. I’ve heard said so many times “I’m tired of doing this again.”
This really struck a chord with me, because I too feel the fatigue of it. I am right there with you feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted every time there is an instance of police brutality that further divides our country. When this happens, departments typically go on some kind of emergency or tactical alert, which generally means 12-hour shifts with no days off. The shifts rarely end at 12 hours on the nose, officers are standing in formation in riot gear (and masks because we are still in a pandemic!) for hours with no breaks, on little sleep, just to go home for a few hours and do it all again the next day.
We law enforcement spouses carry the brunt of it on the home front. Our anxieties and worries go into overdrive and we spend half the night tracking their location and deciding if enough time has passed since we sent the last text and it would be okay to send another without bugging him or her. It’s long days spent trying to keep kids quiet and occupied while dad or mom sleeps, and wiping tears because they don’t understand why they are headed out to work again. In my experience, it’s often a Murphy’s Law breeding ground and anything that can possibly go wrong does. And on top of all that, you are left sorting through the emotional weight of why the department is on tactical alert in the first place. It is survival mode in its purest form.
My heart feels heavy for how hard my husband is working, but more than anything, I recognize that this is a fraction of the stress that Black families in this country face daily. If anything, it should strengthen our law enforcement community empathy for their struggles, but all too often those among us weaponized it to pull us further apart.
But this time, as I reflect back on the time my husband spent responding to the George Floyd protests, and the political aftermath, I feel something different. I also want to stop doing this, but I am aware of the larger national perspective and their definition of this. We are all tired of doing this. That’s why protests have erupted across the country. If you aren’t having a visceral emotional reaction of any kind right now, you aren’t paying attention. But, what if we, as a law enforcement community, we tried something different this time? What if we all stop ignoring the problem and start leaning into these really uncomfortable feelings? What if we started listening to these claims being made against the men and women we love? What if we are the generation to face racism head-on so we don’t have to do this again?
My reaction has evolved each time a Black man or woman was killed by law enforcement. When it became apart of the national consciousness, at least for my husband and I, was in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. My response was the reflexive, “Yeah, but not my husband!” I see so many of you making still today.
Of course, that was not what anyone from the Black community wanted to hear. I got defensive, and while there was always this little voice in my head that told me it wasn’t right and conflicted with my core beliefs of social and racial justice, I let it harden me and I took comfort in the fact that so many from the LEO community, who were now prominently in my social circles were echoing my same sentiments. Surely, if they were all saying the same thing and justifying my feelings, it was correct. I thought to support my husband, I had to defend all members of law enforcement equally, fiercely, and tirelessly against anyone who spoke even a whisper against them.
I was always shocked when I spoke out to people outside of the law enforcement community and got push back. They would challenge my ideas, I would get defensive and end the conversation. I felt like no one understood the complexities of living the law enforcement life. If only I could explain the challenges of this life, then people would understand. Surely, that would cajole them to take a softer look at us, have some empathy for our struggles. In my mind, the problem was with them, not law enforcement.
I used to believe that if the Black community had more information about policing, we could create peace. I now see that the opposite is true. People of Color don’t need to hear more about what law enforcement is doing to “help” them. Speaking in sweeping generalities, they don’t care, and I don’t blame them. They’ve seen enough. They experience policing every single day.
So here’s where you come in as a law enforcement spouse. You are the heart of your home and you champion law enforcement every chance you get. I know this to be true and I see it in so many different ways. I understand the pride of being a law enforcement family, but what we need right now is humility. You do not have to create an echo chamber in your home for your officer to feel supported.
I will say it again because it took me almost ten years to learn this. It is okay to challenge the general opinion, perspective, and actions of everyone in the law enforcement community. In no way whatsoever does that degrade my support for my husband. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I have so much respect for him and what he does, that I see it as my obligation as his wife to expect the absolute best out of him. Why? Because whenever one of these “bad cops” acts out, they are all called to the carpet and villainized. When one of those “bad cops” none of us know murders a Black man in the streets, every cop in America becomes a “bad cop”.
Ensuring my husband is a good cop starts with me as a law enforcement spouse. I hold him accountable and have high expectations because I cannot and will not have his image and name splashed across every media outlet in the United States, or have one more Black mother hear her child was murdered by a police officer. So get comfortable being uncomfortable, fellow LEO spouse. Please start listening, having hard conversations, and doing the work on your privilege and bias. This is the only way we can surround our officer with fellow good cops. It’s a tall order, but LEO spouses always rise to the occasion.
What modern policing needs right this very minute is for the law enforcement spouses to challenge their personal beliefs, lean into uncomfortable feelings, break the walls down, and examine biases. Because once you do this with yourself, you will be able to facilitate it in your home. Have the tough conversations. Challenge them to think differently, because we need them to be better. You know how to speak to your officer’s heart better than anyone, which makes you the perfect person to deliver this message.
I know you think he is the fairest, most just cop in all the land. He would never put his knee on a black man’s neck for eight minutes and forty-five seconds in broad daylight. But, what would he do if he was on scene with an officer who was doing exactly that? Would he stand on the other side of the vehicle and pretend not to see? Now is not a time for complacency. We need the good to be excellent from now on, and the question I have for you, law enforcement spouse, is what are you doing to ensure excellence?
Law enforcement has an impossible job, I cannot deny that. They are asked to enforce laws where they intersect the lives of the people bound by them. They are social workers, therapists, addiction specialists- all while having to enforce law and order. And they’re probably being recorded while they’re doing it too. No pressure, right? We all know laws are written with the best of intention (at least I’d like to believe that), but that is not always how they play out in the real world, especially for People of Color.
Are your officer’s biases and privileges interfering with their ability to see a human being, or are they only seeing the product of a broken system? The criminal who must be detained? Everyone will deny they are racist, but every single one of us has biases. It is just human nature. Those biases are even easier to maintain when you encounter call after call of a citizen experiencing the worst day of their life. Good cops openly acknowledge biases, and then actively work to undo that hard wiring in their brain.
But, I’m not just talking about blatant acts of brutality or racism. There are many unique characteristics of law enforcement life that contribute to a “bad officer.” We know the stressors of the job better than anyone because they take up so much space in our homes. We have experienced how the long shifts with little sleep at strange hours of the night can turn our happy-go-lucky spouse into someone we hardly recognize. Is this affecting how he or she is engaging with the public? Sleep deprivation and eating at odd hours can all have a negative impact on an individual, which then starts to affect how they interact with the public and do their job. If we start to see these behavioral changes, it is on us to speak up and push them to ask for a day off, or to get a vacation scheduled. These day to day stressors build up over time and prevent our officers from being their very best selves.
Even worse, these symptoms can build up over time and negatively contribute to an officer’s mental health. If you are truly honest with yourself, do you think your spouse is doing enough to steward his or her mental health? I’d bet that falls on you, and I’d also bet you feel unequipped to handle that because that’s how I feel very, very often. Interacting with our society’s most down and out every single day and absorbing their trauma takes its toll. It can harden the best officer over time. We don’t do nearly enough to mentally support our nation’s officers, and that lack of care is playing out in the streets in tragic scenarios every single day.
There is a culture amongst law enforcement where these kinds of conversations around racism, mental health, and speaking openly about real issues aren’t allowed to be had. Complaining abounds, but conversations centered around real, meaningful change rarely happen amongst the average officer, or it’s seen as a managerial duty. Most officers are too proud to empathize with the community they serve or even take their concerns seriously, and that is to the detriment of law enforcement. We need to start these conversations at home so that this attitude will permeate the rest of the community. It is on us spouses to start these conversations and give confidence to our spouses to go have these conversations in the workplace. We, as a community, need to shift from operating from a place of defensiveness and blame to one of humility and healing. I am adamant that the only way to heal this divide is for law enforcement to make a change to build trust and respect within the Black community. If they want the respect required to properly and effectively police a community, it’s time to take the high road and actively work to earn it.
I see it as my duty as a law enforcement spouse to continually humanize society for my husband so that the people they encounter every day aren’t just another booking number or report to write. They are mothers, fathers, friends, employees, sons, daughters, all just trying to make the best decision they can with the hand they’ve been dealt. It is my duty to ensure that the job doesn’t swallow him whole and become his identity. Law enforcement is his job, our family’s job in a lot of ways, but it is no way who we are as people, and I refuse to let it define us, and I sure as hell will not let it define our thinking. When all of this is said and done and he retires, I want my husband there, not some shell of a human gutted from service to others.
I now see that the best way to advocate for my husband and all the other good cops is to advocate for Black lives. It would go a long way for the Black community to feel seen, heard, and safe in this world. It would go even farther if law enforcement leads the charge. It won’t fix things tomorrow, or maybe even in our generation. If nothing else, do it so that we don’t have to send them to work 12+ hour shifts with no days off in riot gear, so that their job is safer and our worries less. Do it so we can stop doing this.
I am not a LEO spouse but this was wonderfully written Heather. I think if all humans recognized their bias and empathized with each other we could get so much more done as a country.
Thank you for using your platform and voice to make a change in your social circles. I’m trying my best with mine.
Thank you! I agree we need to start at the micro level with our personal circles to have any kind of large scale change happen. We can do this!!
I am not a LEO spouse. I am highly critical of them because I belong to the people they most often abuse, humiliate and kill. But this is a good read and good advice. I hope others in your LEO community/family take your call to action to heart. It is possible to heal the divide and make real change. We have to or I fear for what’s going to happen next.
I couldn’t agree more, and I think your criticism is entirely valid. But if those in “power” can’t be highly critical of themselves, I don’t think they deserve either power or respect.