Late last week, a fellow law enforcement wife created a viral post on social media. She relayed the story of her husband, an administrator in a state law enforcement agency, and his attempts to get dinner after a 13-hour day. He drove to a fast-food restaurant in his patrol unit while wearing his uniform. This officer paid for his food at the first window of the drive-thru. The young man at the second window refused to serve the food because the man was a cop. In fact, no one would give the officer his food at first. Finally, one other employee silently passed the bag through the window.
What an eye-opener! The great irony of this story is that the officer is leading this agency toward more diverse policing and hiring practices. This law enforcement organization has established defensive tactics maneuvers designed to keep officers and their constituents far safer. Officers who serve in this agency volunteer diligently in their communities, some working with thousands of youth throughout the course of their careers. In short, this officer and his agency is the complete opposite of all the stereotypes that I assume infuriated this young man and his colleagues at the drive-thru.
No one can deny the tragic loss of many young men in several high-profile officer-involved shootings in recent years. Nor can we deny the tragic loss of well over one hundred law enforcement officers in the last year, many of whom were executed while sitting in their patrol vehicles. Now we sadly must own the tragic loss of unity among Americans.
Often, we try to solve the complex social issues that divide us through rampant finger pointing. Placing blame on one group or entity grossly oversimplifies the problems we face. I do not know what it’s like to grow up fearing police, so it would be wrong of me to speak against that experience. I am, however, the wife of a cop. What I do know, then, are a few reasons to pass that bag of food through the drive-thru window with a smile, a thank you, and maybe a discount.
Those DUI check-points may be a pain, but if they keep you and your family safe this summer, thank a cop. People are more likely to designate a sober driver when they know certain areas will have guaranteed check-points.
Yesterday, my own husband pulled a 14 hour day policing an on-water event with multiple agencies across the area. Hundreds of boats raft up to party on the river on this particular weekend. Operating boats under the influence of alcohol has been a dangerous problem as have boating accidents and other injuries. Up until patrols increased, there were fatalities every year.
When my husband came in at 12:30 am last night, he was exhausted, but jubilant.
“This is the second year in a row with no fatalities and no boating related injuries,” he told me proudly.
He also shared that more boats than ever had designated operators. This was a win.
Emergencies Come First.
When distress calls come, officers go. No matter the time, weather, or birthday, our LE spouses answer those calls. It’s easy to use the “It’s your job” argument. There’s more to this lifestyle than that. Our police husbands and wives have run out on countless birthdays, anniversaries, and school programs with lights and sirens blaring because someone needed help.
My husband doesn’t just leave family events because law enforcement is his job. He does it because it’s his calling. He can’t not come to another family’s aid when someone needs help. In that emergency, the family in peril is more important than his. We’re safe. You, the constituent in need, are not at that point. Our officer’s primary concern at that moment is your safety. As a law enforcement family, we get that.
Public Safety Comes First.
My husband and his colleagues have been recognized for their countless acts of valor by numerous state agency heads, a lieutenant governor, a governor, and the President of the United States.
The first commendation I remember happened after a distress call came about an alleged sinking sailboat. This boat was supposedly going down in a series of vicious thunderstorms we had the night of our oldest daughter’s 7th birthday. My husband rushed out as another storm approached with a boat in tow and sirens blaring. Four officers nearly died that night as one of their own boats capsized during the search. Luckily, all the responders made it home. Turns out the distress call was a false one. Someone got a good laugh while my oldest two kids went to bed wondering if they’d ever see their dad again.
There’s No Storm Too Big.
I’ve spent every hurricane for the past 17 years trying to keep the house tied down by myself. During one particularly devastating tropical event, my husband received a call via radio. A mother and six children were in a rowboat tied to the roof of their flooded home. Since we had no phone or power, he tried to raise other agencies via portable radio to help him with the rescue.
One federal agency refused to come out since all those people had been warned to evacuate. Knowing many people didn’t have the means to leave, my husband took off with a Mustang suit and a jon boat hooked to his truck in 125 mph winds. His fellow officers left their families as well. The the local National Guard unit brought deuce-and-a-half trucks to bring people to safety. With waves breaking inside their military vehicles, the officers were able to get to many people in need. Most of those rescued were kids under 18.
A few days into our 15 day power outage, the President showed up to shake all the officers’ hands and personally commend them for their valor.
We Share Community Tragedies and Heartbreak.
Last winter, we had a freak outbreak of tornadoes across our state. That day, my husband was patrolling in an area where he was met with frequent glares and cries of “hands up, don’t shoot.” As the sky darkened that day at lunchtime, he headed down a path about a quarter mile away from the populated area. He would usually eat his packed lunch somewhere outside of town where he was less exposed. His decision to move out there definitely saved his life.
He heard the rumble and the howling wind minutes before the tones for the tornado warning went out. Without thinking, he immediately sped back to town. He came upon a woman screaming for her baby in the street amidst a flattened home and overturned vehicles.
It was just after that moment I called him while I was traveling to a teaching conference. My tire had gone flat on top of a foggy mountain about three hours away. I only added this because in the seconds I spoke with him, I heard the absolute panic in his voice. It sounded as if he were searching for one of our own kids. For the first time, I felt like I was on a call with him.
During a later phone call, long after I’d fixed the tire, he explained more. He told me how he’d followed the trail of children’s toys to the lifeless little boy. He ran the child back to rescue personnel. The first responders tried to revive him even though they all knew there was no hope.
In addition to losing her baby, the woman in the road had lost two other family members. My husband’s fellow officers found them nearby as well.
A few days later, we saw the woman on the news at a vigil. We prayed for her. My husband left the room whenever a diaper commercial came on TV for weeks after the tragedy. Despite the animosity the community showed my husband and the other police before and after the tornado, the loss of that family will always haunt these officers.
Human tragedies are our law enforcement family’s ghosts.
These are images that will forever be with our officers.
Whether the community loves, hates, or merely tolerates their local law enforcement, our officers will continue to serve with dedication and valor. Maybe now, instead of refusing to serve a cop his dinner, the young man might engage in conversation. There are two sides to every story. This one is too important not to meet in the middle.