Right before the holidays, I had the privilege of being interviewed by John “Jay” Wiley for the nationally syndicated Law Enforcement Today Radio Show and Podcast. The interview was aired Saturday, January 18, through Friday, January 24, 2020. The podcast link can be found on their website.
About forty minutes into the interview, Jay Wiley challenged me with a powerful invitation: “Vicki, tell America what you really want them to know!”
Before that moment, I thought our conversation was going smoothly. I wasn’t nervous, (well, maybe a little). After all, being interviewed by the influential John “Jay” Wiley with Law Enforcement Today was quite an honor!
We’d spoken about the challenges of being married to a law enforcement officer. I shared a few of my experiences with the audience, including what it feels like to be rejected and isolated from others simply because my husband wears a badge. How difficult it can be to balance life with an officer and life in society. Neither side seems to know how to comfortably communicate with the other. This dilemma puts the officer’s spouse right in the middle.
We’d also addressed the pitfalls that may occur due to the badge. I spoke briefly how my husband, also named Jay, experienced his biggest police-related pitfall—being “too serious.” Then the discussion turned to a relatively common pitfall–– the “authoritative, commanding voice” that sometimes surfaced in our home.
I felt confident and sure my answers were spot-on for the broadcast audience until I heard his powerful question, “What do you really want America to know?”
Yes, I knew the answer. I’d lived with my husband, a law enforcement officer, for forty years! We’d experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly side of law enforcement. We’d experienced firsthand how society’s view of law enforcement can affect the officer, the officer’s family, and the community. I knew what it feels like to witness the media and politicians talk poorly of police. I’d found myself screaming back at the television, wishing the people on the screen could hear me counterbalance their malicious and damaging comments.
Yet, at this time in the interview, I stumbled over my own words.
John “Jay” Wiley is an excellent host. He recognized my struggle and offered a lifeline in the form of words that moved the conversation to the question officers often face, which is, how many people have they shot? Wiley continued with his personal response, “Why would I want to share my worst experience with a total stranger?” I returned to my talkative self and remembered a time when I had to answer that question for Jay.
Unfortunately, some people imagine officers spend their days with guns blazing. That image is unrealistic. Politicians, media, and Hollywood should feel somewhat responsible for their distorted portrayal of police officers.
For weeks after the interview, I found myself pondering the question, “What do I really want America to know?” It haunted my nights, and yes, even in the midst of the holiday rush, it occupied my mind. Why was this question so difficult for me to answer? It was because my mind was pinging on so many things. It was hard for me to narrow my thoughts to just one point. At last my mind settled on the answer.
Well, here goes, America!
I want America to know how proud I am of my husband, the law enforcement officer. He has collectively spent forty years protecting and serving his community and the courts.
I want America to know how much I thank all officers for their service. My heart breaks for the officers and their families who have paid the ultimate price, giving their lives to protect and serve others.
I want America to know how its perspective of officers and their police department can have either a positive or a negative impact on the community. When Americans support their law enforcement officers, the officers and their families can feel it. Officers deal mostly with criminals, the unlawful people of their communities. Positive support from law-abiding citizens helps counter-balance the negative views too often expressed in the media.
I want America to know that the law enforcement community understands that a small percentage of their officer’s “misfit” the uniform. With that said, I want America to know that the vast majority of officers have integrity, strong work ethics, and their hearts are in the right place.
I believe when a generation is misguided and taught the opposite, what ultimately happens is fear or disrespect towards the police. This mindset has an adverse effect on society. In my opinion, the unjustified fear or disrespect for law and order is dangerous to the citizens and the officers (war on police officers).
Lack of support can bleed into an officer’s home. The officer’s family, including the children, are affected. Wives of officers are often fearful of sharing what their husband does for a living for fear of rejection or worse, retaliation. Sometimes protecting the children is more important than revealing that a spouse is an officer of the law. Children of law enforcement officers, even at a young age, can often feel rejection and isolation because their parent wears a badge.
I want America to know that there are hearts behind the badge. Most officers choose this career because they want to “help” others. They have a desire, or a calling, to protect and serve.
When officers are called to an incident where people are injured or have died, they are affected as well. Their hearts are saddened by what the people or victims experienced.
I want America to know that law enforcement is a difficult, emotional, and physically demanding job. It isn’t easy to protect and serve. Community support is welcomed and needed.
Support your local department. Please thank the officers for their service.
Lastly, I want America to know how grateful I am for the many amazing Americans who do support the men and women in blue. Thank you!
Vicki Gustafson is a law enforcement officer’s wife and author of His Badge, My Story: Insights for Spouses and Loved Ones of Law Enforcement Officers. Speaker and Certified Christian Life Coach.