Why Mental Health Awareness is So Important to Policing. 

As a country, we do an awful lot of talking. We love to talk. We talk about controversial subjects like racism, policing, and marriage equality. We like to pick apart the decisions of the latest YouTube sensation, watch cat videos, and over share memes that really aren’t that funny or were only funny for a very short time. Some people even log onto Facebook or other forms of social media to argue with complete strangers just for the sake of arguing. We do a lot of talking; a lot of counterproductive talking. 
I want to talk about a global issue. It’s not an easy subject. It doesn’t segregate based on sexual orientation, race, gender or occupation. In fact, it doesn’t segregate at all. It doesn’t prowl on the weak because they are easy targets and it doesn’t attack the strong out of jealousy or envy. It’s around every corner; sometimes lurking in the shadows and sometimes standing in broad daylight. What is this mysterious creature that is often so terrifying in silence? Depression. Depression and various forms of mental health disorders affect all of us in one way or another.
I was 9 years old the first time I ever considered taking my own life. As an elementary school child, with little understanding of my own mortality, I couldn’t find a way to combat the severe forms of bullying I was experiencing inside the walls of my school system. I found myself day dreaming of ways that I could make it stop. I could run away. I could just disappear and no one would miss me. As someone who felt so invisible, there was a very specific group of girls who reminded me daily that my existence was a burden to them. They would endlessly make fun of me for being a chunkier than average child, for looking like a boy , for having “ugly clothes” (News flash: it was the 80s. Their clothes were ugly too.) and write me letters in my locker about how I should just kill myself. Even more so, they hurt me physically and they did it every single day at lunchtime. 

I was silent. I didn’t tell my teachers because I thought it would make it worse. Part of me thought they always knew and just didn’t want to do anything about it. Why would they care about some nobody? I never told my parents because I didn’t want them to be ashamed of my weakness and even more so, I didn’t want them to hurt too. I buried my emotions so deeply that I managed to bury my hope alongside them. It landed me in a position where I felt like my only hope was to either disappear or to stop existing entirely. I was a 9 year old. I was a child; a kid with my whole life ahead of me and I needed help. I needed help and I was terrified to ask for it. And, I never did. I just shuffled through life hoping to someday get past all of it. 
It wasn’t until my adult life that I realized I was carrying around oversized suitcases of my past. I managed to overcome my obstacles as a child by hiding behind humor and walling off any emotional availability. I taught myself that I didn’t need anyone and that I was perfectly capable of paving my own way. And, that’s what I did. What I didn’t realize was that every single broken relationship, moments of failure, and a bleak outlook on myself was all in that suitcase and, as long as I allowed myself to be weighted down by it, I would never be able to reach the destination of my full potential. A lot of things have happened in my lifetime that have been hard and difficult. These are the things that I have only shared with one or two people. I was allowing my depression to turn me something into someone I never thought I’d be. I had allowed it to turn me into a victim. 

That’s where we allow ourselves to get depression wrong. We’ve created an environment where the mental health aspect of our very being is taboo. We wait far too long before we reach out for help and, even when we do, we find ourselves feeling like we have somehow inconvenienced someone else for not having it all together. People are terrified of being turned away, made fun of, or being chalked up as a lunatic because they are having a difficult time fighting the demons of their minds. They are afraid that they will have completely emotionally exposed themselves to a point of no return. This is why we are losing police officers to suicide every 20 hours. 
If you think about the aspects of being a solider or a police officer, they are expected to have it together all the time. As a society, we don’t allow them to be human. We don’t allow them to be flawed. We don’t allow them to be human. We have forced them to keep shoving more grief and more compartmentalized emotions into their own emotional suitcases until it finally busts at the seams. When they experience a life changing situation on the job, they are often only debriefed tactically and seldom debriefed emotionally. They don’t have the luxury of telling someone that the incident involving the loss of a 4 year old life is keeping them awake at night. They aren’t allowed to tell anyone that they are struggling extensively with processing the family murder/suicide they worked a couple of weeks prior to the point where they are having to self medicate just to numb the visions that keep flashing through their minds. We hold them to a high expectation, and we absolutely should, but that expectation should never dissuade them from seeking the help they are entitled to as a human being. 
Someone asked me why Humanizing the Badge chose to hitch our wagon to the Under the Shield Foundation. It’s simple. It speaks to me. When I heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I wasn’t just heartbroken because he made a decision he could never take back. I was heartbroken because I understood him. And, with that understanding, comes a huge personal responsibility that speaks to the very center of my soul. I may not understand exactly what it’s like to be an officer on the front line but, I do understand what it’s like to be their spouse. I understand what it’s like to struggle in complete silence. I know what it’s like to wish and pray for the opportunity to find someone who I could express myself to without judgment or persecution. 
Under the Shield is that place. It’s a safe haven for people who aren’t familiar with how to navigate their own mentalities. Susan Simons offers a sanctuary for the minds of those who are afraid of consequences that sometimes come with the decision to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. With complete anonymity, she offers a gateway for First Responders to combat the experiences that occur hand in hand with being a community servant. I can’t think of a better person or organization to join. I can’t think of a more worthy cause than addressing the very subject that is so often ignored. If we tackle the mental health of officers, we are helping the stability they bring to the streets. They will be better officers, better leaders, and better husbands and wives.
Under the Shield speaks to me. My prayer is that it will speak to all of you as well. 
  

Until next time,
Elizabeth Shiftwell

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What Charleston Means to Me.

It has been a couple of days since a madman walked into a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina.  It has been a couple of days since he chose to make a decision, based on hate and division, that took the lives of 9 innocent black Americans who were studying God’s Word inside the walls of their sanctuary.  According to many people close to the investigation, his goal was to start a race war.  I haven’t been able to think about anything outside of Charleston since it happened.  I think about their families, that community, and everyone across our nation who is mourning the loss of these individuals and I can’t help but to find myself in continuous prayer for them.

I don’t have the words.  Before I sat down to write this, I prayed that God might speak through me.  I prayed that I would be granted a level of empathy that allowed me to write as someone who knew the people, who lost their lives to utter hatred, personally.  And, even though I sit here now, I know my words will still fall short.  The state of our nation has taken me through many emotions.  There are days when I am angry.  There are days when I am disgusted.  Some days I feel complacent and desensitized to the constant tragedies unfolding before us on mainstream media.  Today?  Today, I am completely heartbroken.

Earlier this morning, I took myself to a craft store that is local to my city.  I was on the hunt to find the perfect Father’s Day present for my husband.  As I navigated the aisles, I found myself standing in the center of the 4th of July decor.  I picked up and tiny wood replica of the American Flag.  The words “Land that I Love.” were written in the center.  My nearly 4 year old chimed in and said “Mommy?  What’s that?”  As I looked up, I was met with his piercing blue eyes.  They were predictably innocent, pure, and hopeful.  I knew that his little mind wasn’t ready for me to explain the concept of nations in a great big world yet but I entertained him by saying “This is the American Flag.  It’s something that mommy and daddy love very much.”

I’m not a woman that cries often, however, I found myself fighting back tears as I set the flag back down on the shelf.  I don’t know what our country will be like when he is my age in the next 20 years.  It’s a fear that could devour me whole and paralyze my mind if I allowed myself to think about it too much, however, I’m definitely not naive.  At the rate that we are going, I know I won’t be handing over a better world to him.  As a special needs little boy, I wish so deeply that I could set him free in a world that did not divide based on religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation.  But, that’s life and it’s my job to prepare him to meet the world head on with qualities like grace, kindness, integrity, forgiveness and acceptance.

What does this have to do with Charleston?  Everything.  When the news broke out on this unspeakable tragedy, I watched.  I watched the world respond on social media and I have to be honest, I was disgusted.  If you ever want to see the depravity  of man in it’s entirety, log into twitter after a horrific crime has been committed against a people group.  What people don’t understand is that evil doesn’t just come in the form of murder and other tangible crime.  Evil comes from words.  Evil resides in callous banter in the face of injustice.  Evil is division.  Evil is a machine that is easily fed and even harder to extinguish once it starts to burn in our hearts.  We are all susceptible to it.  We all have it in us.  The question is whether or not we will allow it to buy ownership within our minds and our hearts.

The interwebs struck up an instant argument about whether or not this was a hate crime, a terrorist attack, called for gun control, and some people went as far as calling it as a “consequence for a pattern of bad behavior.”  If we had to choose a time where people are standing up and saying “enough is enough”, it should be right now.  Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Law Enforcement, Blacks, Whites, Christians, millennials, baby boomers, and everyone else under the same American sky, should be standing up together in a joint force.  A great friend of mine, who differs from me in many ways, once told me “People should be cultivating our similarities instead of exploiting our differences.”  He couldn’t be closer to the truth.  We don’t have to agree on anything in order to be kind and compassionate to one another.

We should never become so desensitized to the loss of human life that we lose our compassion.  We should never use tragedy to exploit our own personal agendas.  We should stand together.  When we all stand together, we stand to be something great.

I have this vision that’s very similar to what we saw in France after the terrorist attack that took the lives of many individuals.  Their citizens, politicians, police, and every other walk of life poured into the streets and they held up signs that said “WE ARE NOT AFRAID.”  They came together in the face of adversity and they stood up against it.  It was, by far, one of the most powerful images I have ever seen in my lifetime.  It will resonate with me forever.

Our biggest threat to our great nation is ourselves.  We are exploding from within.  We are killing each other, disrespecting each other, and drawing sands in the line that create an US vs. THEM mentality.  I refuse to ever give up my God given empathy that allows me to understand when it’s time to rise up.  And, the time is now.  Our churches should be filled with all walks of life this Sunday, whether you are a believer or not.  Law Enforcement should respond to this tragedy by locking arms with Black America across the country in demonstration that they will not let hate divide them any further.  Liberals and Conservative politicians can drop their differences, bow their heads, and honor the lives that are lost.  If you’re not willing to do that, I’m not sure that you’re truly interested in opening the dialog that could bring us together.

One of the most beautiful things about America is that we have the right to our opinions but, our opinions should never take away from our basic human respect for one another. When something is evil, it’s evil.  When, by the very definition of law, a hate crime happens, we should be collectively mourning that as a nation.  We should be collectively mourning that as a species.  If you’re not, the status of your soul and your heart may be in question.  A man walked in and killed black Americans because of a very deep darkness in his heart that should be despicable in the eyes of everyone.  

As for me, I will continue to teach my child to love regardless of anything outside a person’s integrity.  I will teach him to forgive.  I will teach him to educate himself and to challenge himself to be better every day.  And, I’ll remind myself to follow my own advice.  I’m not giving up on hope.  I’m not giving up on my country.  And, I’m definitely not giving up on my God.  There is much work to be done.  There is much healing to be had.  There is much grace to be received.  We are not afraid.

NOT AFRAID

Much love – Elizabeth

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5 Things Every Police Family Should Be Doing

After the failed ambush on the Dallas Police Department, my phone lit up.  The messages came pouring in from people from my hometown and from people across the nation.  There was one common element to each conversation.  “Dallas has really bothered me.”  I get it.  It bothered me, too.  I had to make the decision to focus on the fact that the officers involved responded to their training and kept every single person out there alive.  In an event that was designed for mass casualty, the Officers of Dallas, Texas responded and their response was like a battle cry heard across the entire nation.  “We will not be defeated.”  

There aren’t many days that pass without me getting a phone call or an email from concerned spouses, worried parents, or emotionally worn down police officers.  The emails range from questions about how they can help the current national climate of policing and then there are the emails that manage to give them a little hope because there is simply someone on the other end who understands what they are saying.

Every few days, we put up a Q&A on our Facebook page.  We hand the floor over to the Humanize the Badge followers and let them ask anything they want.  It creates a platform where many people, with similar circumstances, can share their stories and support one another.  There’s always one question that stands out to me specifically and it almost always comes from a new LEO wife.

What advice do you have for a new wife?  My husband will be hitting the streets next week and I’m extremely worried.”

I was thinking about that question last night as I was letting the hamster wheel of thoughts keep me awake.  I started making a mental list of how many thing we could actively be doing to make this life easier on us; all of us.  Even though my husband would disagree, I don’t pretend to know everything.  I am very much one of those people who analyze everything happening around me at all times.  As I was dissecting the many layers of the aforementioned question, it gave me motivation to write several things we could all be doing collectively.

1. Don’t Be Consumed.

My dad is someone who has constantly delivered me healthy doses of truth when I am feeling overwhelmed by external factors in my life.  I remember sitting on the patio with him while I was waiting for my husband to return from a rather dangerous SWAT call-up. I was pacing back and forth while my little boy played in his sandbox a few feet away from me.  My dad looked up at me and said “You’re missing that.”  Already annoyed with the fact that I knew a life lesson was right around the corner, I asked him what he meant.  “Your little boy is sitting there having the time of his life and you’re missing it because you’re consumed by something that is outside of your control.  Worry isn’t going to bring him home. His skillset and the good Lord will bring him home.”  And, he was right.  I was missing moments that were happening right in front of me because I was too busy wasting energy on worry.  It was then that I decided that I didn’t want to miss the things going on around me because I was consumed by fear.  

2.  Be Brave.

If they are brave enough to walk out the door every day and face a threat head on, we have to be brave enough to send them out that same door.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck sometimes.  It doesn’t mean that a little bit of your heart doesn’t drop when you see them pull out of the drive.  It just means that you’ve chosen to be brave.  Somewhere along the way. I learned my husband didn’t need to worry about me emotionally while he was on the job.  He needed to know that I had it together and I would strongly and consistently hold the fort down at home.  Be brave.  We don’t have another option.

3.  Get the Weeds out of your Garden.  

Don’t do it.  Don’t you dare go to the comments section on an article involving the police.  You know what you will find there.  Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into the muck.  Do you have friends and family on your Facebook news feed that bash the police?  Get rid of them.  When it’s no longer a fashion choice to hate the police, they are going to look incredibly stupid.  That’s their problem and not yours.  Simply put, disengage from people who are not of like mind as you.  It will only bring you down.  There are plenty out there that still believe in what our men and women in blue do every single day.  Find them.

4.  Be Better.  

If you do encounter someone who is committed to misunderstanding you, always choose kindness.  We represent each other in our day to day choices.  Usually before I comment on anything (which is rarely), I ask myself if I am making my fellow officer spouses proud by what I’m saying.  It doesn’t make any sense to engage in hateful exchanges with other people.  People who spend their time dwelling in the comments section and playing Monday morning quarterback have the time to do that because they aren’t busy doing anything to change the world.  Be busy making a difference.  Be busy proving people wrong.  Just like officers are held to a higher standard, we should hold ourselves in the same light.

bravery

5. Be Involved. 

Get involved!  Find programs within your local department in which you can volunteer. Ask national campaigns how you assist in their outreach.  Start a family support group for people in your community.  There is so much work to be done and there isn’t an end in sight.  There is something out there that everyone can do to help during this time.

So, that’s my answer.  That’s the advice I have for how we can make a difference.  We can make a difference by being different than other social media presences.  Being mad and hateful is easy.  I would even call it lazy.  Being so strong in mind that you can’t be brought down by those around you is what true strength looks like.  I’m not saying that we all need to join in a circle and sing in unison.  I’m saying we should always choose the stronger and the higher road.  Evil comes in all shapes and sizes.  It doesn’t have one specific form.  Do not allow the words of those who oppose you to take up residence in your mind.  We need to safeguard integrity, honor, and goodness now more than ever.

– Elizabeth

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So You Wanna Be A Cop?

“What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law enforcement, especially in today’s climate?”

Kevin James as "Paul Blart" in Columbia Pictures' comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Kevin James as “Paul Blart” in Columbia Pictures’ comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

This question is one of the more common one’s I am asked from our active Facebook Community Page.  While an exhaustive list of the steps to actually become a police officer could become quite lengthy, I’ve tried to boil my answer down into 5 key things that anyone wanting to become a cop should know:

COMMON SENSE WILL BE YOUR FRIEND
We all had ‘that guy’ in the Academy that ace’d every test and made the rest of us feel not so bright. Then, it’s not uncommon to hear that the same recruit is struggling in FTO or on the road or has become someone that no one really wants to work with. That, of course, isn’t the case with everyone who has done well academically, but it still stands that just because you can pass a written test doesn’t mean you’ll pass in the real world.

The situations you’ll find yourself in will require the application of “street smarts” and not just what you can recite from the books. Very often, it’s clear that the best cops are the ones that can think outside the box to resolve a situation using plain ‘ol common sense.

A SENSE OF HUMOR ISN’T OPTIONAL: IT’S CRITICAL
From Day 1, you’re going to need to develop some thick skin. If you don’t have it–you will, or you’ll be miserable. This starts in the station, not out with the public. Cops learn that being able to enjoy a good laugh is key to the job and that includes the laughter often being at the expense of one another. It’s generally all in good fun so learn to deal with it.

Then, once you get to start meeting the “customers” you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis, the only way to stay sane will be to laugh about it. You’re going to get called everything imaginable and some things that don’t even make sense and you’ll need to learn to not take it personally.

KNOW THE LETTER OF THE LAW BUT ENFORCE THE SPIRIT
Discretion is one of the greatest tools a cop has at his/her disposal. What you can do legally and what you should do practically are not synonymous. Laws were put in place for a purpose–that is the “spirit of the law.” You’ll often find yourself dealing with someone that has broken the letter of the law but isn’t going to learn the necessary lesson by simply responding with a citation or an arrest.

It is highly recommended to not only know the law but understand its intent so that you best know how to use your discretion in ways that help people, instead of make life needlessly difficult for them.

LEARN TO TREAT EVERYONE WITH RESPECT WHILE BEING READY FOR THE WORST
A seemingly normal situation can go sideways in a hurry. There is a truism in law enforcement about there being “no routine stop/encounter” that is too often viewed as cliche. The potential for violent encounters in this line of work is tremendous. Fortunately, most encounters do not go that way, but we must be ready. This skill will only be developed on the job or carried over if you’re becoming a cop from a similar background (military, etc.) So, we must learn, as Gen. James Mattis is quoted as having said:

Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.

HAVE SOME OUTLETS
Depending on the pace of your particular Department, after a few months to a couple years, you’ll notice that policing begins to change you and that is a guarantee. You’re going to see things differently and you’re going to have stresses arise that you did not and cannot predict. Every individual will find this happens and one thing you can plan for is having some outlets to deal with that stress. Generally, it’s best to have a physical outlet and a social one. Physically, cops do anything from working out to working on cars, but it needs to be something to physically engage in to reduce stress and preferably to help maintain a general level of physical preparedness.

Socially, you’ll find it difficult to continue to have friends that aren’t cops but resist the urge to push everyone away and be purposeful in maintaining friendships that will help you “get away” from the job and also help you maintain a sense of perspective on what normal is, because you won’t see it that often at work.

Those are a few things I’ve found helpful as I look back on my career thus far and think about what it takes to stay focused moving forward. Today’s anti-cop climate might be a deal breaker for some but I consider that a good thing in that it might weed out some folks that shouldn’t ever have entered this field. You’ve got to want this job deep in your gut because it’s going to take plenty of them to stay in the fight no matter what comes your way.

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You Are Entitled To Be Wrong

“I’m entitled to my opinion”…

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

…not a surprising line in today’s culture of unearned and unnecessary entitlements, along with the constant faux expressions of outrage or offense over ideas and situations that people, in reality, give very very little thought to outside of a cursory check of a headline they glance over in their newsfeed of choice.

While I would never begrudge someone’s interest in giving their opinion on a matter, the truth is that opinions can only be worthy of some measure of sincerity when they are based on some measure of reality.  It seems to me that many people making noise these days in the multi-angled “anti-cop” movement are only sharpening their ability to cherry pick words and rearrange them in ways that support their own presuppositions; which themselves appear to have been formed in a vacuum devoid of objectivity.

Such so-called “opinions” that shout tolerance to the masses have shown up to the masquerade party entertaining those who gaze on the elaborate costume that merely covers what they really are: tyrannies. You see, tyrants hate to be questioned but they know that they cannot lead the sheep astray easily by simple brute force, or they would scatter and be uncontrollable. Rather, they must be deceived through crafty re-construction of legitimate ideas; they must respond to common and objective sense through sleight of words and personal attacks.

As I type these thoughts, people around the country (and perhaps in many places around the watching world) are re-working a group of racist, assaultive, disrespectful and distasteful criminals into sweet, innocent and harmless pool party loving kids.  They are taking fine men and women (one fine man in particular) who daily take on a risk few embrace in order to serve; to serve the communities they are sworn to protect, to serve for the sake of their families and friends, to serve for the greater good of a society watching what they hold dear slide away like a California mudslide, to serve and protect even those who would seek to destroy others–they are taking these police officers and turning them into vengeful fascist pigs seeking to target people who aren’t like them and “mow down” innocents at every turn and opportunity.  The tyrants are tempting you to believe that cops will stop at nothing to ruin your freedom by simply taking your life on a whim.

Pause and consider the utter absurdity of that concept.

You see, the fact of the matter is that each day, tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people encounter the police and emerge unscathed from the encounter.  Perhaps they were stopped for a traffic violation; perhaps they called to obtain a police report; perhaps they needed help and didn’t know where to turn; perhaps they were just on the other end of a friendly wave. While I’m at it, perhaps they were being walked around at Christmas time by an officer assisting a child buying gifts for their family; perhaps they were being encouraged in their school by an officer to stay on the straight and narrow and follow their passions in the future and succeed; perhaps they are writing a thank you note to an officer for saving their brother or sister. Not surprisingly, even those arrested by the police overwhelmingly walk out of their jail cell or their court date without any animosity over the matter.  How many millions of encounters with the police are positive and ultimately unremarkable? Here’s a hint: almost every single one of them.

But how can this be true if cops are just a cog in the institutional racism machine? How can this be true if cops are going wholly unchecked in their need to exercise their authority with raw brutality? How can this be true if cops are too militarized and blatantly unconstitutional in their response to crime?  It can only be true if you altogether ignore objectivity in favor of a self-serving agenda.

Early this week, my partners and I responded to a gruesome scene of a double homicide, involving a child. No details are necessary but suffice it to say that this is the stuff nightmares are made of. Thanks to the efforts of many officers involved, the suspect was apprehended within hours of the initial response. He was taken into custody without incident; without fanfare; without violence or loud voices. He was transported to a police station where he was photographed, fingerprinted and placed in a cell with a blanket. He wasn’t beaten, he wasn’t taunted, he wasn’t mistreated in any way.  This man, accused (and confessed to) of murdering two people in vicious cold blood did not receive what any human with a functioning moral compass would want him to receive. No, we will leave that to the due process of law and pray that its execution will be swift and severe. In response to the unthinkable, and unfortunately not uncommon in this world, it wasn’t savagery that this miserable man was shown, but restraint.

Now, what was it someone was saying about there being a rampant problem with cops abusing their authority again?

I welcome disagreement, even spirited debate, but only when it’s between people trying to actually get at the heart of the matter; only when it’s about digging for what’s truly underneath and not when it’s simply a means to justify one’s own foolish thoughts and endeavors.

So yes, dim witted cop criticizer, you are “entitled to your opinion” but don’t forget: you’re entitled to be wrong.

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The Weight of Two Worlds: An Officer’s Dilemma

There is a man dancing in my living room right now.  No, I’m not hosting a bachelorette party.  I’m watching my husband make my little boy giggle so hard that he isn’t able to make any noise.  Our son doesn’t understand who his daddy is when he leaves home in the mornings.  He doesn’t quite understand that his father is a policeman. To him, he’s the guy who gives him a bath that always involves toy airplanes and the most elaborate sound effects.  He’s the guy who picks him up off the ground, dusts him off, and kisses away his latest self induced injury.  It’s tough being stuck in a little toddler body sometimes.  Even though he doesn’t know who his daddy is when he is away from home, he already knows one thing to be certain.  His daddy is his hero.

Let’s rewind to a few days ago.  My husband received a phone call that no officer wants to hear.  An officer had been shot while responding to a domestic dispute call.  He was part of the team that responded.  Here we are, several days later, and he still hasn’t talked about it.  And even though he hasn’t said a word, I can’t stop thinking about it.  I’m a visual person.  I imagine everything I write, everything I read, and everything I hear.  I’ve read the news account of what happened and it plays through my mind every single time; except the difference between me and the common reader is that I picture my husband on that scene.  I imagine what his mind was thinking as they approached the home of the suspect.  I imagine what he felt when he saw the blood of one of his brothers in blue on the ground.  I imagine what it’s like to feel that kind of anger and sadness while managing to maintain self control.  Throughout our marriage, I have put myself in his shoes time and time again and no matter how many times I try to truly understand, I always wind up with the same conclusion.  I’m incapable of understanding it.

A police spouse may be the closest person when it comes to understanding our people in uniform. At the end of the day, I’m not certain that we even come close to scratching the surface of what they feel while being required to force it to the back of their minds.  If they don’t, the world will devour them with it’s brokenness.  They would be incapable of functioning without the constant elements of grief and fear.  The world is so hellbent on taking away the human element of who they are. Regardless of how great they become at choking down the emotions that come with a child abuse call or the multiple fatalities of an accident, they still feel.  When we get upset, we are allowed to cry, be angry, and show our emotions.  They are not. Unfortunately, they still do but they just aren’t allowed to show it.  They are courageous but that does not mean they do not feel.  In the words of the great John Wayne, “Courage is being afraid but saddling up anyway.”

Tonight, my husband is the man dancing in our living room in order to receive a few laughs from his son.  I don’t know who he will have to be tomorrow.  That, in itself, is not something that I am able to process.  I think of the few times in our marriage where he nearly didn’t come home and I know that another moment like that is always lurking around the corner.  For some, it won’t be a “nearly’ any more.  It will become a “did happen.”   I can’t emphasize enough how much they need us right now. I don’t feel like I have enough words to properly illustrate how much we need to raise our voices. They have a responsibility to two different worlds; the world of their occupation and the world of their families.  It’s hard lending my husband to the protection of those who do not appreciate him.  But no matter how much I hate seeing him walk out that door sometimes, I cannot change who he is.  I can’t tell him to not suit up.  He will do it anyway because, whether or not you do, he still believes in his purpose.  He still knows his contribution to this world.  It’s more than a job.  It’s more than a uniform.  It’s a deep rooted calling that cannot be caged.

Lightning-8

He knows he might not get to come home.  So do I.  The very least you could do is not minimize that by saying “he signed up for the job.” and, instead, reach out and shake his hand.  Tell him thank you.  Tell him you’ve got his back.  It’s that kind of moment that makes suiting up worth it.  And even if he doesn’t require it to do his job well, that doesn’t mean I can’t want it for him.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it.  It’s Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.  I hope you did your part because I assure you that our men and women in blue most certainly did theirs.

With the recent and tragic events that have occurred in Paris, France over the past 48 hours, I found myself thinking about the incident in Sydney, Australia that took place in December 2014.  It made me realize that it’s not just law enforcement that is being attacked; it’s the concept of goodness.  Evil is attacking goodness. Evil doesn’t like those that will stand up against it.  Evil wants us to be afraid.  Fortunately, there is more goodness.  There is more integrity.  There is more perseverance in those who rise up against evil.  I’m thankful for the men and women who willingly do this every single day.  They aren’t ever going to stop fighting for us.  We should never stop being thankful for them.

“Where there is evil, goodness will rise about against it.”  – Megamind

– Elizabeth Shiftwell

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Lessons in Losing a Brother

edwards-matthewdl1

News of an officer involved shooting cut through the rest of the morning talk-radio chatter on the drive to work.  Most of the other officers at the department had also heard the news, but the disposition was unknown.  We all hoped for the best of course, but sharing a common in-car messaging system, several unanswered messages began to increase concern. Eventually, a voice on the other end of the phone from the Taylor Police Department (Taylor, MI) confirmed that in an early morning situation, an Officer had been killed in the line of duty.

The next few hours, although I remember much of them in detail, still became a blur. When I returned to the Department, guys took my gun belt off and loaded me into a car to get me where I needed to go and stayed with me as long as was needed. I will forever be grateful for all those officers during those hours.  You see, losing a brother in blue is never easy under any circumstance, and the feeling of loss extends beyond the borders of any jurisdiction.  But long before Cpl. Matthew Edwards was my brother in blue he was…just my brother.

As I type this, it has been 4 years and 112 days since Matt’s murder and I continue to be changed by that event and have tried to understand what I can learn from it in order to make me a better person and a better officer.  I wanted to share a few of those things I’ve learned along the way so far. Perhaps you too have learned similar things or maybe something altogether different and I’d love to hear your stories as well.

Reasons to do this job must run deep
Not surprisingly, my kids didn’t want me to return to work as a cop.  There were many conversations about the need I had to stay the course and continue to do what I set out to do in this career–that it’s what “Uncle Matt” would have wanted. There were late nights of trying to explain how our faith in God is what must carry us through as I looked into tearing eyes of kids struggling to find their own child-like faith.  My wife, ever supportive, knew that no matter what she said that we both knew what decision I would be making.

Shortly after I returned to work, I learned that there had been a debate as to whether I’d actually stay a cop. I was told that it was understandable if I quit.  But to me, there was very little question (if ever) that I would return to work and continue to fight for the same things that my brother fought for and in the same way: with integrity, service and honor.  By no means is this meant to highlight my own character.  It’s to highlight the fact that every single officer that has given his life before and after Cpl. Edwards and everyone that has stayed or signed up for this job knowing the risks have something much deeper moving inside of them that provides the strength and courage to serve their communities.

There is one primary reason any good cop does this job and it’s the most cliché: to help people. Cops learn to joke about this because the hard exterior necessary to do the job must be exposed, yet it is that weakness that is our greatest strength and fuels us with our greatest motivation to overcome the fear of losing our families and ourselves in this job. You come to see the purpose of law enforcement as greater than yourself, greater than any one individual.

This job isn’t meant to be done alone
Grief has a way of making us feel alone; almost as if it pushes us there and doesn’t want us to get out of the corner. But when you lose a brother in this profession, you realize you gain a million more.  The year after Matt’s death, I had the opportunity to go to National Police Week in D.C. (an event every LEO should attend during their career).  In a few short days, I was able to hear the experience of other officers from here and around the globe.  There is something quite fraternal about this job and it’s encouraging to know that you’re not alone in the fight.  We cannot replace our fallen brothers and sisters, but we can find unlimited support from law enforcement’s extended family.

No matter how hard someone may try to do this job alone, they will soon realize they are dependent on their fellow officers. They may not like one another outside of work (or even at work) but they better learn to have each other’s backs; we depend on it.  Together, we hold the line and should be willing to fight for one another down to our very last breath.  And contrary to popular opinion in the ranks of social media, good cops don’t like bad cops any more than you.

bannerThe Thin Blue Line Separates Us from Them
I was in the court room only a matter of feet from the man that shot my brother in cold blood and I was armed; not just me, but dozens of other cops.  The thought crossed my mind about how easy it would have been for myself, or any one of them that had served along side Matt, to put an end to this killer’s miserable excuse for a life.  Yet, no one said a malicious word to him; no one so much as threatened him.  In those difficult weeks of the trial, the thin blue line began to make sense to me. It was that restraint that existed in those suffering officers that separates us from them.

Oh that doesn’t mean none of us wanted to take our own revenge—cops are human.  But surrounded by a court room of others who stood on the right side of the thin blue line, I was reminded that our true character is revealed not in the moments when all is well, but when life becomes difficult.

It Never Gets Easier But You Can Get Better: FIGHT ON
This job comes with its unique stresses and its unique joys. The daily prospect of finding yourself in the fight for your life or helping your fellow officer in that same battle is always present. It never gets easy to do and nor should it. That ever-present danger helps us keep our edge and our focus. Two departments later, these lessons have all proven to true through my experiences.

To help fight on, we need to learn to process all that we see and do by channeling that into positive outlets: having greater devotion to family and spending time together with them, hanging out with other officers outside of work that we get along with and are a positive force in our lives, exercising to keep our bodies healthy and ready for the job, and enjoying hobbies that keep us refreshed and reminded of the normal world out there.

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Personal note:
I never intended to write about this. Hell, I most often find it difficult just to think about. I definitely did not write this to bring attention to or for myself, but because I wanted to help others move beyond the experience of loss to learning from it in a way that would honor those who have come before us. This was my inspiration for designing the “Not in Vain” challenge coin as well.  If you need someone to listen to you, please reach out to a trusted friend or feel free to contact me. Thank-you (Mike)

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