As law enforcement officers, most of our training, discussion and thinking is responding to potential lethal threats from criminals and the mentally deranged. Throughout the police academy, the potential for death is a constant theme, as is the importance of stress management, including family relationships. I can still remember rookie school and officer survival training and through it all, there was nothing said about what happens when you aren’t killed in the lethal force incident or vehicle crash.

Even in the FTO training phase, the emphasis was on surviving to come back to work, nothing about one of the two big gorillas in the room that no one wants to talk about. One is officer suicide and the other is becoming disabled either through an on the job injury or illness that ends the career in law enforcement. While we do our best to train, reduce risk and manage our health, sometimes there are things in life that are totally out of our control and some of us become disabled.

I was a typical young officer that was the intense “Type A” personality, hard driving, controlling my environment and on top of the world. I LOVED my career on patrol and put everything I had into it, at the same time raising a handful of a son. Between the stress of rotating shifts, continually striving to prove myself and ongoing stress of family life, the fuse that would forever change my life was being lit.

One late evening at a side job for money to help make ends meet, I was significantly injured during an arrest when I was kicked up against a patrol car while arresting a guy instigating a riot situation. While I was checked out, I dismissed the injury and the doctors didn’t catch the compression fracture in my spine until years later. This trauma was the proverbial straw and my journey with rheumatoid disease, an auto-immune disorder began.

About a year and a half after this incident, I admitted to myself that could no longer safely back up my brothers and sisters on patrol. In one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, I requested a transfer to judicial security in an effort to hang on a little longer. For another five years I was able to manage to keep working but the pain, fatigue and inability to sleep was taking its toll.

I finally got to the end of my ability and it was the most devastating period of my life to acknowledge that I could no longer work. It took me ten years of unspeakable grieving to get to the point of being able to talk about it without crying, sometimes I still do. My heart still beats for the noblest career out there, as hard as it is today with the anti-cop sentiment.

So what is my point? It takes a special person to love someone who is in a career like law enforcement, just as for the military, especially for a female officer. It also takes a very special person who will stay and persevere through the incredible challenges of illness and physical disability. This does not happen by accident.

This journey from being a physically strong, healthy, independent and active patrol deputy to being a person in a constant fight with a chronic, progressive, crippling disease has taught me much. Without my faith, my family, my friends and a fighting spirit, the quality of life I enjoy in spite of “the disease” would not be possible.

It’s funny how the old saw “youth is wasted on the young” is so true. I can remember being given a heads up and warnings as a youthful officer that I shook off as being too emotional and squishy. Looking back with the wisdom from the school of hard knocks, had I listened, I would have saved myself a few of those hard knocks.

If I could, I’d go to every hard charging, driven young officer out there, be they rookies or earning the title “veteran officer” and tell them relationships are a matter of life and death. Not just relationships at home, or just at work, but all of them. Family, friends, fellow officers and relationships with them matter far more than the best bust of the year or the highest stats in the department.

The commitment to excellence is a very good thing; unfortunately, it is sometimes used as a substitute for having to deal with the messiness of relationships. Being able to endure the high intensity career that is law enforcement, learning that it is a marathon, not a sprint and the art of pacing oneself and prioritizing is an important skill to develop.

If you want to have a better understanding what is truly important, spend time thinking, really thinking about not being able to scratch your own nose or take yourself to the bathroom because of an illness or devastating injury. What if you couldn’t take care of or provide things that you’ve always thought of as important? Who would be there for you? If you can’t picture anyone there, now is the time to change that.

While it is vitally important to train to respond and survive lethal threats, it is equally important that we develop and improve our relationship skills and build a network of those relationships. On almost every call we take as patrol officers or investigate as detectives, we can see the devastation that results from failed relationships whether failed marriages, failed parenting or betrayal of friends.

It is so important that we are mindful of how quickly things can change forever, not just through death of ourselves or a loved one, but through devastating illness or injury as well. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that my value as a human being was not through what I did or what I accomplished, which could be taken away; rather it was that I gave and received the kind of love that endures through thick and thin.

Julie Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today