Every LEO, whether a rookie or a 30-year veteran, needs to learn emotional survival and how to prioritize their life. I wasn’t exposed to the concept until 14 years into a career and 15 years into a marriage. My career flourished and slowly over time my personal relationships suffered.
When I first got to Philadelphia in 1998, I was prepared mentally and had the necessary skill set to do the job. I was 23 and had found my calling. I was married already, but knew that I wasn’t ready for children yet. I constantly gave my wife reasons why we couldn’t have little ones. I continually responded to call outs, went in to work early for hits and then stayed late. I took long term temporary assignments to help open up new Task Force offices and work long term OCDETF operations. Holding off on having kids was the right decision as I couldn’t have been more ready and mature ten years later when we had our first child. The problem is that while my agency continually improved my skills and ability to do the job, it never taught me how to balance what I did for a living and my family. I essentially lived to work and didn’t work to live. The mistakes I have made have greatly impacted my family and especially my relationship with my wife.
In 2005 I was on assignment in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. I was called and offered a transfer to Fort Lauderdale. Again, my drive to advance my career drove me to accept the position without consulting my wife. It was an amazing decision for my career, but one of the decisions that will always be present in my relationship. I got to Fort Lauderdale and started making relationships with every agency in Broward County. After a lot of hard work I was able to be the one guy that almost every agency called when they had a violent fugitive, a kidnapped child, or a cop killer. I have arrested four of my agency’s top 15’s, one of mine I arrested in Jamaica. I was always available. I never said no. I cancelled leave, spent hours coordinating arrests on the phone while walking around Disney with my family, missed special events, holidays, and have been emotionally distant. I have had the highest of highs recovering kidnapped children out of Ohio from their abuser to the lows of working to find an infant taken the night before only to catch the subject and find the infant dead in the trunk. I have been woken up on Christmas Eve at 0630 by a task force officer telling me that a child was stabbed and sliced up by her mother’s boyfriend late the night before and spent until 4 am on Christmas day tracking him down to a cold trail. I went home to put the play house and easel together as well as a few other gifts. It was hard to explain the feeling of failure so I swallowed it. I eventually caught the man a month later. I again felt the rush of following all the way through the entry and putting my hands on him. I was still oblivious to the toll my job was taking on me and my relationships.
Learning about a good friend’s divorce and loss of his family, him openly speaking about it in a class he taught about survival and leadership, opened my eyes as to what I was doing. Not just to myself, but my family. Listening to his experiences, feelings, and the way they steered his life was hard not to see it as a mirror. Then I realized that it wasn’t something unique to my friend, me, or my agency. Below is a snapshot of what LEO’s, especially the ones that are out there doing it because they love it, deal with on a daily basis.
The average lifespan of the American male is 78. The average lifespan of the American law enforcement officer is 59. Every 18 hours an American LEO commits suicide. The biggest contributor to illness, to include cancer, is lack of sleep. The average American LEO gets 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night.
The LEO is Alive, Alert, Energetic, and Humorous at work due to hyper vigilance vs Tired, Detached, Isolated, and Apathetic at home due to the body’s response to the hyper vigilance at work. The effects of hyper vigilance should not be confused with depression. They are simply the body’s equal and opposite physiological and psychological response. The hyper vigilance doesn’t end at work. It drives our family crazy at the mall, dinner, movies, and basically anywhere in public. It drives my family crazy at home.
Ultimately your family has to be your priority. If you lose sight of this, you will lose them. I lived to work for many years. I had bosses tell me to go home, that I will catch the bad guy tomorrow. I worked more days off, more holidays, left dinners, and vacations to chase those that hurt children, murdered, raped, and were generally the worst of humans because I love it. It consumed me. Recovering kidnapped children, catching the murderer, making that entry, or vehicle assault was the biggest high. I still love what I do, but my girls have caused me to transition to working to be able to spend time with them.