Exactly 17 minutes after his change of shift is when I take my first deep breath of the day. My husband’s car door slams shut, and he walks into the house.
I hear that shink of the metal-on-metal slide as his 9mm duty weapon gets unloaded and locked away. After the heavy thud-click of the safe door latching, I hear the rip of the 6-inch heavy-duty elasticized Velcro bands torn from either side of my husband’s torso, and he has freed himself from the cage of lifesaving Kevlar.
He strips away the day along with the almost 50 pounds of gear, both safety and utility, that he wears around his waist and on his body as matter-of-factly as a salesman wears a suit and a nurse wears scrubs. The water runs and the hot water tank clunks as he washes the accumulated dirt of the day off himself.
Today I am not a widow, but so many others can’t say the same
Either he reheats the dinner plate we made for him hours ago, unappetizingly congealed in the fridge under plastic wrap, or he’s just tired enough to come right to bed despite a 12-hour shift without a break long enough to eat.
I am a veteran police officer’s wife with more than two decades of marriage and almost the same amount of time with my husband on the job. These are the normal, comforting sounds of my night. Our kids are asleep, the house is quiet, and my husband is alive. It’s a good night to be me.
Last Thursday night was not a good night to be the wife of Brent Thompson — the Dallas transit police officer who was shot to death by a sniper – or any of the four other Dallas police officers who also died in the shooting. Wednesday night was not a good night to be the girlfriend of Philando Castile. Tuesday night was not a good night to be the children of Alton Sterling.
Today I am not a widow, but so many others can’t say the same.
What it’s like to be a liberal police family
We are liberals.
Our family, especially our cop, feel deeply and strongly advocate for changes in social policy that help people when they need it, and to educate others so they understand that this is for the benefit of our country.
We support smart people who have the courage to take positions of power and prominence, figure out a better way for our society to go forward, and fight to make this law. We view freedom as freedom from guns, freedom from debt due to illness or education, and freedom from schools that preach ignorance and conformity.
Our politics put us in a minority among my husband’s fellow police officers and their families. We shake our heads at our misguided peers as they cling to the false security conservatism gives them and try not to become overtly hostile or involved in the circular logic that is cunningly fed to frightened people.
Our children don’t mix with others from the department; we are not in the "in" crowd, we have sought our social outlets elsewhere, and we generally try not to agitate anyone with our "crazy ideas" about how the very politicians who prostrate themselves in paroxysmal patriotic "thank yous" are actively voting for legislation that guts our benefits and culls our numbers.
That’s why I’m writing this piece anonymously and not identifying the suburb where we live – I don’t want to get my husband in trouble at work, or to or identify my children as targets.
According to my husband, if a politician says, "You guys are doing great!" and, "I am tough on crime!" they will carry 95 percent of the law enforcement community vote, even if it’s a Republican who in the next breath wants to cut cops' pay, eliminate their retirement plan, and leave them to deal with 10-year-old squad cars and the firing of the 10 to 12 newest officers, all due to budget cuts.
This drives my husband crazy. He passionately advocates for decriminalization, pardons, drug treatment plans, and generous public mental health treatment. He has hands-on experience with addressing the unfortunate outcomes that stem from these social injustices and inequalities, and can’t understand why anyone, including his co-workers, would not.
Gun safety is tremendously important to us
Our children are nearing adolescence and adulthood, and not one of them has held a firearm. We are gun owners, and even our adult children can’t access the safe unless we both die; we have disposal instructions with our attorney that we drew up when they were all minors.
Our gun hygiene is impeccable, and I will dismiss a person from my mental radar as being fit to socialize with if they allow even a single stray bullet into the washing machine.
It’s a cop wife trope — "ha ha, bullets in the washing machine" — and it’s a terrifying spiral into further ignorance and potential harm. Unloading the magazine and removing the bullet from chamber, putting a trigger lock on and, locking the safe doesn’t take more than 30 seconds.
None of our children has ever touched or held my husband's duty weapon. Why should they? In 21 years, he has only fired his weapon on the range.
If any of the children choose to become police officers, they can learn to shoot at academy, or they can go to the range after the turn 18 with their father if they are curious. So far, neither of the kids who have already turned 18 has shown an iota of interest in a weapon, and I am secure in what I consider successful parenting.
They are all strong, smart, able to start a fire without a match, change a tire and the oil on their cars as applicable, throw a punch, make a splint, and catch and clean a fish; they have enough AP credits between the older two of the four to have earned a degree. Our family motto is taken from a Robert Heinlein quote: "Specialization is for insects."
Police training and accountability varies dramatically from place to place
We are fortunate to live in a large suburb with superior schools, houses maintained either professionally or by dedicated DIYers; our demographics skew toward mostly four-year college graduates with a significant percentage holding advanced degrees. Our police department is funded well enough for the officers to not only afford to live in town but purchase their own homes here, and they are encouraged to do so. So we did.
However, a town that is able to pay patrol officers six-figure incomes demand the excellence that comes along with that expenditure. Our town puts forth an image of harmonious multiculturalism, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for any officer who displays racist or sexist behaviors either on or off the clock. Their ticketing and arrest statistics are analyzed constantly. They were early backseat, dashboard, and body camera adopters.
There are rigorous prescreening standards for the pool of officer hopefuls, and even after four out of a pool of a thousand applicants are accepted as trainees, the individual psychological, physical, and didactic training is intense. The continuing education is evidence-based and a yearly requirement.
The policymakers in the department and township are open to change as the science evolves. This culminates in a culture where officers are taught to think flexibly, quickly, and fairly.
An officer has to make a life-changing decision in a frighteningly short amount of time when the world is ending around everyone involved
Due to the zero-tolerance policy in the department my husband works for, it’s very rare for someone to make it past the initial psychological evaluation if they are even slightly biased in a way that could reflect poorly on the community.
This multiple-part test — oral, written, and small panel interview — is given over a course of a few weeks throughout the testing process. I’m sure it’s even been refined in the 22 years since we went through the process.
It’s draining, but so is standing on the witness stand having to explain your course of action to a grand jury, a judge, a lawyer, your boss, your spouse, parents, and children.
As in real life as well as "cop life," there is a huge disparity among police departments throughout the country. Small municipalities that pay their officers $12 an hour and require a GED provide their officers with minimal training in comparison to what I explained above, and their pool of applicants is limited by both pay and location. Anyone worthy of better has already left the area. These are not people who wish to understand the concept of meta-analysis and probably mock those who do.
Many people demand that the person who educates their child to carry advanced degrees but do not wish to contribute to the additional training and continuing education for the person who may have to make a split second decision whether or not to kill their child.
I don’t know about you, but I want someone who has studied and been screened and trained and reviewed and trained some more before even being allowed a weapon.
Liberals are correct about the fact that cops don’t want to talk to them about the decision-making process that led them to act or not act in any given situation. They have the reason completely wrong. Officers don’t want to speak for "all cops," because "all cops" are not hired, paid, or trained equally. They also may be prevented from doing so by departmental policy or legally depending on the situation.
Why courts give cops the benefit of the doubt
Police officers have no choice but to go and confront what is presented, under chaotic conditions, expected to react in a split second and to do so each and every time in a way deemed perfect by someone examining it from the comfort of a chair with all the background information. That is why courts give cops the benefit of the doubt.
That is why they don’t even bother explaining when the outrage occurs when a police officer is not charged with a crime, when all the information is gathered and it is perceived as "closing ranks" or a "good old boys' club."
An officer has to make a life-changing decision in a frighteningly short amount of time when the world is ending around everyone involved. This is why I relax when I hear the Velcro. This is why I have tried and failed to somehow defend the fact that my husband is not some sort of sociopathic monster.
Cops like my husband are exhausted by the amateur lawyers with 20/20 hindsight who feel they would do better at making a decision in an eighth of a second after they spent a few hours rewinding and replaying the video. Plenty of video is replayed and analyzed and picked apart frame by frame in a professional continuing education setting; the experienced 20/20 hindsight analysis by fellow professionals will be productive and contribute to the cognitive process that has to happen in a life-or-death situation.
They take this additional knowledge they gain from the input of their colleagues and superiors and trainers and continue to head in the direction of chaos and trouble, to save you or someone you love without checking to see if you have favorable opinions about the police.
The importance of gun control
On Friday morning, my husband sat on the edge of our bed and said, "Don’t check your Twitter feed or your Facebook page yet. There was a sniper in Dallas that killed five police officers."
I didn’t wake up a widow on Friday. I say this with a heavy heart and the weight of so many families, those of the Dallas five, the Sterling family, and the Castile family as well. To be human is to mourn life in such a terrible and senseless way. I blame the guns, not the cops. I look to my representatives in the federal government whom I trusted to keep people safe, and I ask them why. How many people need to die?
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