The bond connecting LEOs is our common fight to take on adversaries of the badge and everything they represent. It is a shield which forges through carnage to secure safety for citizens. As we combat those who harm others physically, emotionally, and economically, we do so with like-minded professionals. We work together as teammates regardless of schedule, shift, or jurisdiction. When our true goal is public safety, not individual feathers in our cap, the synergy illuminates light in darkness—a constant in the sea of humanity gone foul.
A tightly-connected group among other law enforcement professionals are those we call “partners.” Our partners might be peers who work the same shift or squad. Admittedly, there are personality differences preventing a tight bond with all. However, in general, these are the ones we go to battle with. We fight crime with them using the best our organizations have to offer. At the end of the shift, we high five, backslap, fist-bump, or otherwise verbalize victory over another day.
But there are also those we call “partner.” The singular term used for a select few. In my career I labeled 6 individuals as such. Our laughter was frequent and conversations were safe. We exercised catharsis—unfiltered communication—in almost every dialogue. When catharsis was exercised, there was no fear of reprisal, regardless of rank.
I had the privilege to work in a small, 5-person special investigations unit for 10 years during my career, first as a detective and then a sergeant. We had some of the loudest, cathartic sessions behind closed doors. Oftentimes those working outside our office said the walls appeared pressurized as they expanded like a balloon being filled to capacity, but they never popped! At the end of every conversation, we stacked hands and pursued the bad guys with precise calculation and a touch of reckless abandon. The people in our office were indeed my partners—plural—but a few of them became a lifelong professional partner—singular.
The link I experienced with each partner was a shared judgment in philosophy on how to take calculated risks in pursuing crooks. We were not always of one mind, but we had one heart. The cathartic process in working through our differences and then catching the fish—big and small—allowed me to reap rewards for which I am forever grateful, I know our community was better served because of it.
As a result of the Gulf War, the Iraq War, Operation Enduring Freedom (War in Afghanistan) and the ongoing global War on Terror (regardless of what politicians call it), many former military service members entering civilian law enforcement have combat experience. With rare exceptions, they have become some of the finest police officers I have seen in the past 30 years. I tip my cap to each one of them.
I am especially thankful for a lifelong professional partner, Detective Bob Gallaugher, who was also a sergeant major in the Marine Reserves. He was activated and deployed by the USMC during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in order to free Kuwait from the clutches of Iraq and then dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Years later Bob was activated for deployment during the Iraq War. He had been sick but still reported to receive his medical inoculations in preparation for deployment. Later in the day after receiving his shots, we received a 911 call from Bob’s home. Our officers responded and found Bob asphyxiated in his vomit caused by the illness. Responding officers performed lifesaving efforts but to no avail. He was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
One of my partners, Jim Perry, and I had the regrettable duty of notifying his estranged wife, Helen, and two sons, Robby and Stephen. My heart mourned for them as I witnessed their reaction to the news, especially his sons. Instead of seeing Bob deployed for the Iraq War, we saw him buried. The events were so sudden, unexpected, surreal, and sad. I was grateful Helen gave me the privilege of sharing stories of my partner at his funeral. I am thankful that Bob knew how much I appreciated our relationship before that fateful day.
May I encourage partners everywhere to remember the true enemy is outside the organization. Stack hands in mutual agreement to fight side by side and appreciate the sacrifice made by each person on the team. Five team members working in unison will accomplish more than 10 people working independently. If you are in a position to exercise cathartic communication, do so. But it only works when pride is checked at the door and individual accomplishments are shelved. If you have that relationship with a partner or two, you are indeed fortunate. If you have it with more, you are in possession of rare treasure. Let them know!
Jim is the author of The Spirit behind Badge 145. He worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-seven years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. During his career in law enforcement, he worked with, supervised, or managed every element of the organization. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations. Jim is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or view his website www.jimmcneff.com which is geared toward helping officers.
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