This might strike a nerve with some, but over the past year or so I have been hearing some concerning things that make me scratch my head and wonder why anyone who is not a police officer would want to know the intricate details of what we see or do on a regular basis. Most concerning to me is hearing police spouses going on ride-alongs and referring to them as “date night.” Personally, this makes no sense to me and concerns me because I believe it is an indication of the state of mind the officer is in when their idea of “date night” is taking their spouse out on a night shift. To me, that is a scary concept.
I’ve been doing this police officer job for nearly 30 years, with 27 of those on the street, and have seen my fair share of things and have been involved in countless traumatic incidents, so I believe I have a thing or two to say about this. What happens to me on the job does not come home to my family; those are my crosses to bear, not theirs. We, as police officers, have chosen this profession not fully knowing, but understanding that we will be the ones dealing with the wrongs of society and the horrifying, unexplainable tragedies in it. We do this so our families do not have to live and witness this side of society.
What happens to me on the job does not come home to my family; those are my crosses to bear, not theirs.
My wife used to ask me how my day at work was and my answer was and has always been the same: “It was just a normal day, nothing exciting.” There was no reason to tell her I was on a traffic stop during that shift and some bullets flew past me. She already knows the hazards of the job, so there was no reason to make it worse. That is an easy one to explain. Did I go into detail about the man I interrupted who was dismembering his mother and describe in detail what that really looks like when it is not done by Hollywood, but in real life? No, I did not. Those images are my cross to bear, not hers, and I surely would not want her to experience that on a “date night.”
Should I describe being in a hospital room for six hours with a murdered infant, and how over that period the body transformed to clearly show all the trauma that infant endured? Should I talk about what happens to someone who commits suicide with a 12-gauge shotgun, and the head is no longer there, but its remnants are? These are things for me, the police officer, to witness, not my spouse. These are my crosses to bear. Personally, I have never been a fan of spouses doing ride-alongs. We cannot control what is going to happen during the shift with regard to what comes to us. However, we can limit whoever is in the car with us.
Do you want to share with your loved ones what happens to a human body when it is run over by a car and how, at times, there is nothing recognizable as a human being afterward? I would think not. Do they need to experience the feeling of helplessness while rendering aid to a person as they take their last breath? Should they be there with you at a serious traffic collision that just occurred as you attempt to take the pulse of a trapped driver, not realizing the arm you are trying to get a pulse from is no longer attached to the body of the deceased person? Does your spouse really want to be there for that? Do they need to see a man cut his own arm off with a power saw, then douse himself with gasoline in an attempt to commit suicide? Should they have to walk into a house with you and see a beautiful 14-year-old girl, who may be the same age as their daughter, hanging from the bannister with an electrical cord around her neck? I say, “No. Those are my crosses to bear.”
What I am saying is that this job of being a police officer is not all lighthearted and fun as we sometimes believe it is. There are real dangers out there, and police officers need to be in the right frame of mind at all times. This job is unpredictable, especially in these times, and you never know when someone is going to walk up to a police car and shoot the police officers inside, along with whoever else is in the vehicle. I am not saying it will happen in Phoenix, but we know it is happening across this country. I will not put my spouse in that situation. Bad things happen in this line of work, and those crosses are for the police officers to bear, not their spouses.
I get frustrated hearing things such as, “Does your law enforcement officer (LEO) just sit on the couch and do nothing?” “Is your LEO lazy on their day off?” and “Does yours just sit and watch TV?” My response would be, “Give them a break, you do not know what your LEO saw or did this week.” For instance, do you know that before coming home this week they might have been sitting along the roadside scraping human brains from the bottom of their shoes? Or do you know that while they were assisting the medical examiner with a deceased person in an advanced state of decay the arm pulled completely from the body? They do not say these things because that is their cross to bear. In the current climate we are working in, what is the effect on an officer who has worked day in and day out for months, being yelled at by protesters with so much hate toward them? We do not know. Those are the officers’ crosses to bear.
I am not saying that officers might not need some help, but I believe the help should come from a professional, not a spouse or significant other. If that person sees their LEO has changed, is being withdrawn or is not the same as before, they should reach out to a person on the squad or a supervisor who will get their officer the help they need from a professional in that field. It is my belief that the details of the job and what we see or do are our crosses to bear. While we cannot forget what we have seen or done, I would not want our loved ones living with the heinous things we witness in our line of work.
As a reminder to officers, if your experiences have proven to be too overwhelming, please seek help from a professional. Our Department has an excellent resource with the Employee Assistance Unit (EAU) to help. Sometimes the crosses can become too heavy.