The family behind the badge: families of law enforcement speak out

An Op-Ed by Brooke DeLong, contributing writer

As law enforcement officers are under attack in several parts of our nation, many of us have been watching and praying. Lately, when I see the face of an officer, his or her badge, and the bravery and determination they embody, I envision the family behind them. Maybe a house full of kids waiting for their daddy or mom to come home safely, a wife cooking breakfast for her officer husband or parents fervently praying for the safety of their child who chooses to protect us, with his or her life if need be. How do the families and loved ones handle the stress and anxiety, especially in our current climate? What do they want you to know?

Officers risk their lives on a daily basis. This is not lost on their loved ones, and it shouldn’t be lost on the public, either. Tracy Burton’s father, Gene Wideman, served the Sapulpa Police Department for thirty-five years. She said, “When I was very young, I only thought of my dad as a hero and had the assumption that everyone else looked at him through the same eyes I did. As I got older…I had many moments of fear.”

Sergeant Detective Nathan Schilling, Tulsa Police Department, seen on “The First 48.” Submitted.

Debbie Rider’s daughter Chelsea Stout, is a Deputy with the Hughes County Sherriff’s Office, and she worries about her daughter’s safety. Debbie admits, “It takes a lot of prayer. She loves her work and gives it everything. I worry that some people think that all [officers] are bad and will try to harm her. Her heart is so big and her heart is so loving. All she wants to do is take care of people.”

Tara Simpson, whose husband Ken Simpson is a Tulsa Police Officer, explained the reality of his career: “…most of the stress involving the dangers of my husband’s job surrounded the potential for death/injury in a vehicle accident. Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death and injury for officers in the line of duty. Our officers must often operate on busy roads with many distractions and multitasking in dangerous situations. This is a danger that is compounded by physical exertion, mental exhaustion, and societ[al] conflicts. Now, these dangers are compounded with the current cultural view and distrust of police officers.”

Nathan Schilling is a detective with the Tulsa Police Department you may have seen on the television show, “The First 48.” His wife, Heather Schilling, said, “Fear used to grip me. I would let my mind run wild imagining different possible scenarios. Why?! One day, I just ‘got’ it. I understood God’s sovereignty. Me not believing in or trusting in God’s sovereignty doesn’t change the fact that He’s sovereign. He is completely in control. If something happens to Nathan, I know it has first passed by God’s hand. I have to trust in the fact that come what may, God will take care of me. I know Nathan is wise and takes safety precautions. At the end of the day, God’s got us. No amount of worry or fear is going to change what happens.”

In fact, each person interviewed said the same thing, prayer and faith are a necessity while support from their families, churches, and other law enforcement families also play a large role.

It’s not always the officers who are in danger.

The wife of a rookie officer from another Oklahoma law enforcement agency—who wished to remain mostly anonymous, only going by “M. Jones”—was recently threatened online, and she went on to say, “We have also had to park my husband’s police car in the garage because having it in the driveway has become a magnet for crime for many other officers.”

It seems ironic that the people wanting to protect us are being threatened.

Most officers are not putting on their uniform to feel powerful. In fact, some choose to use their pasts to make a difference in the world. When asked about her husband, Jones said, “[he] isn’t a cop to fulfill some type of power complex. He decided to become an officer because he grew up in a broken home around criminal activity. He didn’t want other kids to grow up [like] he did. He loves our community and truly wants to make it safer.” She has a desire for better access to mental health care for officers.

Heather Schilling described Nathan as, “…What you see is what you get. Who you see on TV is the same person you meet face to face, and the same person we hang out with at home. He’s compassionate and one of the most difficult parts of his job is making death notifications. Family is important to him and he leaves work at work the best he can. He sees the worst of the worst and protects us from more than we’ll ever know. When he said, ‘To Protect and Serve, with my life, if need be,’ he meant it.”

Being the family of an officer brings a lot more than just worry or inconvenienced schedules. Tracy said, “As the daughter of a police officer, my dad showed my siblings and me every day the importance of reaching out and helping people. He taught us to stand up for others when they cannot stand up for themselves. He instilled within us the value of looking beyond the perimeter of what touches our life and to be a service to others. He exemplified this every day on the job.” She went on to say, “My dad and all of the officers that I know truly are amazing people. For most officers, becoming a cop is answering a calling placed on their lives. The men and women on our police force really have a desire to help the people of our community. That’s why they put on the uniform every day, even knowing what it may mean that they could sacrifice. There are some people who wear a badge that absolutely never should. That is the exception, not the rule. The officers that I know are quick to demand justice when they hear of the actions of a bad officer. It burdens their hearts.”

Tara Simpson explains her interpretation of the meaning behind the “Thin Blue Line.” “Much of my LEO (law enforcement officer) husband’s work is dealing with non-emergencies, but getting those issues addressed often helps prevent crime and improve our community’s quality of life. This is what is meant by the “Thin Blue Line,” holding the tension between a helping hand for citizens and an arm that apprehends criminals.”

While they are called to be first responders, let’s not forget that they are human, with struggles, feelings, and families at home who share some of the burdens. They honestly see the worst of humanity, and incredulously, keep going back to work. Now, more than ever, please pray for our officers and for their families who whole-heartedly love and support their officers…and our communities.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

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