Spouses Behind the Badge(published Article)

                           Spouses                                            behind the Badge!

ByElizabeth Angel

      The clock ticking on the wall, the soft chiming as the hour passes yet again, the knock on the door coming just after you fall asleep. There they stand- his partner and lieutenant in formal dress uniforms bringing you the news you fearthe most.           This is the worst nightmare of anyone married to a law enforcement officer, or LEO.  So how do the spouses make it through those long days of not knowing and the terrible nights when they put themselves in the position of spouses who have lived it? There are many uncertainties in life when you are married to Law Enforcement officers; you are greeted with those uncertainties daily. It is not easy to deal with the not knowing; there are times when it can be overwhelming,especially if you are not prepared for the life that you are going to be living.“That is an easy one for me.” Says Sassy, “I trust his skills and abilities and I help to make sure he has all the best equipment on his duty belt and has the time and money to attend the best training open to him. Worry is a virus and after you give into it you can lose sleep and overall quality of life. This is the work my DH ismean to do he is a professional LEO, who loves every minute of his work. Wehave an eow folder if the worst does happen, and we always kiss each other goodbuy.”
Sassy answered when asked how she dealt with the uncertainty. Interestingly, men who are married to female LEO’s have much the same outlook on how they deal with the situations that can arise from the job.  Jared a friend from my husband’s work is also married to a LEO said “We have a plan, everything is in its place in case one of us goes down or there is an accident, being in the field I know
the risks, and I try not to think about her being out there risking her life asI do mine.”
December1995, while on a domestic violence call, my husband Kelly, and two other officers encountered the suspect who had earlier in the day kidnapped his
estranged wife and raped her. During the second call, my husband and hispartners encounter the suspect who waved a gun at them then sped away in histruck. A short pursuit brought the truck and both patrol cars to a stop in a busyintersection. The man pointed his weapon out the window as the officerscontinued to try to get him to surrender. What none of them realized is thatthere was a jeep full of kids in front of the truck.The suspect left the truck and walked slowly towards my husband’s partner, pulling the trigger on the gun. For some reason he did not realize that revolvers hadto be cocked for them to fire, but he left the officer no choice but to fire onhim.The officer did not see the young man exit the jeep and try to stop the man- he had what they call tunnel vision- and when he fired, hitting the suspect, one ofthe bullets hit a bone in his leg, after exiting the suspect, the bullet structhe young man in the heart. The young man, they later found out, was thesuspect’s son. He died at the scene.                Because we lived in a small community, I always knew what side of town Kelly was patrolling, this day it was his side of town where the shooting occurred.Knowing that my husband was involved with this shooting was frightening becauseno one knew if it was an officer who had been shot or the suspect. I rememberthe lump in my throat as I waited to hear anything; I finally called thedepartment and spoke to one of his Sergeants who assured me that he was allright.The number of police officers who died in the line of duty from 2001 to 2007 is1,198; this includes the number of officers killed in the Work Trade Centerattacks, according to the Law Enforcement Officers memorial website. Accordingto the National Cops website, each year 140 to 160 police officers die in theline of duty. Sadly, they leave behind families, whether they are spouses,significant others, children parents or siblings.There is support out there for the families of the fallen officers, the spouses ofother officers, as well as support groups to help them get through the terribleloss and deal with the bureaucracy and red tape. We learn to deal with theuncertainty of the job. The consensus of most of the spouses asked byacknowledging the fact that it can happen and then putting it away and notthinking about it dwelling on the what if’s makes it more difficult tofunction.                “I have had to make myself switch off when he goes out the door. I used to worry myself sick and then when he arrived home at 5:30 am one morning and should
have been home at midnight_ he was greeted by me in floods of tears. He got
cross with me and told me that I had to accept that this was his job and that I
couldn’t let it affect me this way. It is not an easy way of life.” – Heather,
explained how she deals with the uncertainty    “ It is difficult for me to let her go to work at times, although she works in the same field as I do, I know what goes on behind the walls of a prison and I know what can
happen, I worry but I do not think about it constantly or I would never get
anything done.” Jason the spouse of a DO said about his wife working in a
prison setting.

The key for many spouses on the wivesbehindthebadge.org when asked the same question answered preparation. If you are prepared for the event and put it out of your mind, then you don’t think about it so much. Some wives prepare a file with allthe information that they need, in case something happens they are prepared todeal with what they need to do, whether it is the funeral home, military benefitsor insurance benefits.One incident sticks out in my mind as life changing for my husband, Kelly. Occurred in March of 1996 I remember the day was normal-no sinking feelings- it was alovely day; I spent it with our one-year-old running errands before I had toget Kelly up for work. He was working graveyard this particular night. He andhis partner Dennis (Dennis was a County Attorney by trade and reserve officer),were on a domestic violence call when they heard a loud banging coming from thehouse next door.Kelly and Dennis went to investigate the noise coming from the garage Kelly knocked on the door, standing directly under the outside light. The man came to thedoor, in his hand a .357 pointed directly at Kelly’s chest. After identifyinghimself he tried to get the man to put the weapon down, Dennis called out fromaround the corner of the house for the man to drop the weapon, which distractedthe man, turning his attention to Dennis long enough for Kelly to try to getout of the line of fire. As Kelly was moving toward the shadows, the man turned back and pulled the trigger on him. By the grace of whatever deity you believe in, the primer was bad inthe bullet and Kelly was safe.  The man was arrested, however, because Dennis, now also a victim of this crime, was on scene the case was handed off to another county which would not prosecute the case involving Dennis, so in the end the charges were dropped and the man got off, but the ramifications were far reaching emotionally for both men and our families. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) happens with police officers at an alarming rate. When you put the type of work they do with the emotional toll it takes intheir lives, it can lead to serious emotional issues that arise not only atwork but at home as well. Kelly is a good man and has never in our entiremarriage done anything to make me afraid of him, except once. He hurt me,although he did not mean to, and I knew that it was PTSD at work. While my caseis a mild one, many times the “civilian public” does not realize that they aresuffering until someone points it out to them. They deal with the dregs ofsociety and the effects of crime on good people every day, it is important thatthere is support system there, some place where they want to go and let it allout.Some of the spouses when asked how they deal with the things their husbands share about the job.  Some don’t want to hear about the things the men deal with on the job; others, like me, listen because oftentimes there is no one else for these guys to vent to, no place to let of the day and find peace again.                When asked, “When is sharing the information about what he does and sees too much? And how do you deal with it?” Manda one of the wives from thewivesbehindbadge.org website said, “Only one time has he been so upset that hewouldn’t talk to me. He has seen many horrible things. But he has to talk aboutit. I will listen no matter how horrible it is. I hold him at night after hesees someone die, because he will always have a nightmare. He rarely dreams,and when he does, it is usually not good. He says they are all friends, andwhen he adds another one, he sees them all over again. There are a lot ofthings I wish I didn’t have to hear, but I appreciate the fact that he trustsme and feels comfortable enough to share everything with me. I think it helpshim a lot.”Jason another co-worker of my husband’s said “ I insist on sharing it helps to bring closure to intense situations, It is not always comfortable to hear about my wife being man handled by someone and frankly can cause intense emotions but if I don’t let her talk about it somewhere down the line I lose her.” PTSD affects 5 in 10 police officers in this country, since the WorldTradeCenterattacks; it has become an important issue with in departments across the country.Insuring that their officers are mentally fit to continue the job after atrauma is important not just for the officers but also for their spouses, whoknow them far better than anyone else.The summer of 1999, much like other summers was eventful. But that summer while on duty, Kelly answered the call of a distressed wife. She and her husband apatrol officer with the reservation police department had split up and he wasthreatening to kill himself.The officer held up in a local hotel, then left the area, leading the officers on ashort pursuit and ending in an intersection where he drew his weapon and aimedat the officers. They were forced to kill him.For 780,000 police officers in the United Statesthe sad fact is that suicide hasbeen considered and is an occupational hazard. These staggering numbers are theresults of job stress, alcoholism, marital discord and the availability offirearms.Police Officers are commonly referred to as high-risk group for suicide. So far no comprehensive review has been published about epidemiologic studies amongpolice.  An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry systematically explores the occurrence of suicide in police.None of the recent nationwide studies slows elevated suicide rates among police. Others studies show inconsistent results. Conclusively, it is not documented thatthere is an elevated suicide rate in police. A particular problem in previousresearch has been methodological short comings. There is need for furthersystematic research, and this review points out some strategies of research.It is an important part of being the spouse of a police officer to be able to bethere and give them that support system that they need. Whether an officer ison duty or off, the public must remember that they are people first. This seemsto be overlooked by the public in general, who doesn’t see them as people withfamilies but as the machines that enforce the law and protect them from harm.The spouses of police officers are the ones to pick up the pieces when things gobad, and they are the ones who keep it together when things go right. Beingmarried to a police officer is a full time job. We do more than cook and cleanfor them, we raise their children, often times feeling very alone in theendeavors because their job takes up so much of their time. Especially whenliving in the small community, it is impossible to keep that part of theirlives separate from the family and the off time of their job.In 1998, Kelly and I were expecting our second child; we lived in the town ofGlobe, Arizona with a population of approximately 52,000 gives or takes. Wewent out to dinner. Our oldest son John was only three at the time. We had justsat down and were looking at the menus when a commotion started at the cashregister.                The owner saw Kelly, and knowing he was a police officer, came over to ask Kelly to intervene. A woman at the register was upset about her order and becomingincreasingly hostile. Kelly went up to see if he could calm down the situation.The woman became even more hostile, taking a swing at Kelly. Now normally Iwould not get into the middle of something like this but my three year old sonfollowed his father up to the counter and when the woman swung at him, shealmost hit my childI learned I move quickly for a pregnant woman, grabbing my son out of the way while Kelly proceeded to handcuff the woman and call for a patrol unit to pickher up.It is not always bad. We are part of a larger family, part of a group of people that when the times are hard pulls together to support each other. We share in thetears of the families of the fallen and in the laughter of the occasionaloddity. When one is in need we are there. The support system is all that getssome families through tragedies that they suffer.In late 1998, Kelly being the wise guy that he is, decided it would be great fun to play a practical joke on his sergeant, was going to be godfather to our secondson. In his brilliance, he told Ray that we were expecting triplets. Now itwould not have been so funny expect that Ray, who loves Kelly like a brotherwas afraid, would not be able to provide for the little ones, so he went acrossthe street to the city manager and told him we were expecting triplets.By the time the truth was known the whole joke had snowballed into a quest to make sure we could provide for expanding family. The city manager convinced thelocal Wal-Mart to donate baby furniture and diapers and strollers and formulafor three babies. At the time no one laughed, but looking back on it now, weall laugh about it.

This is our family even in times of great need we are there for one another, closer than most because we know that tomorrow it could be any one of us who has to
walk that final walk and hear that Last Roll Call.

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