Vail Daily column: The strength behind the badge
According to CBS News, the number of police deaths for 2016 was 135 officers, an increase of more than 56 percent from the previous year, with nearly half shot to death. One-third of those shot were ambushed. According to Craig Floyd, chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, “These officers were killed simply because of the uniform they wear and the job they do.”
As you look up from the headlines, you see the love of your life leaving for work … dressed in blue. They hug the children as they walk out the door and secretly you wonder if this is the last time you will see them. Your heart goes out to those deceased officers who never made it home to their families at the end of their routine shift.
The life of a law-enforcement officer takes a toll on the entire family. Kids see news reports, and while most believe that it could never happen to their parents, they hear rhetoric about the “War on Cops” and wonder why anyone would want to kill their mom or dad. It’s up to the spouse to keep everyone calm and home life normal in an increasingly violent world.
Even in “Happy Valley,” Interstate 70 cuts across our communities, and while most travelers simply want a taste of the wonderful life we live here, there also comes a high degree of uncertainty and potential danger. That simple traffic stop, for a burned-out taillight, could quickly become a deadly encounter.
Yet, most days for officers are rather routine and pleasant. It is the 90 percent calm, with the 10 percent terror, that keeps everyone alert and cautious, and it carries back to home life. “Normal” in a law-enforcement household is, in many ways, like any other profession, but the underlying stress generates a unique family dynamic.
The sacrifices made by law-enforcement professionals are often felt by those closest to them. Given all that has happened recently, the pressure to go beyond the commitment to “protect and serve” is deeply held and shared by those closest them. There is a sense of pride felt by the families of those who have dedicated their lives to helping the community and insuring their safety at considerable risk to their own.
Wives and husbands must constantly suppress the worry that their spouse may be targeted by an inmate or that a total stranger with a grudge against anyone in blue will pull a gun and take away the most important person in their lives. When at the grocery store with your children, what do you do when someone who has had a confrontation with the law recognizes your loved one and decides to follow you home or stalk your children?
Will they know how your spouse often stays awake at night worrying about the future of someone they encountered that day? Will they see how they miss important family milestones to be available when someone in the community is in distress or danger? When others are celebrating holidays, will they recognize that their ability to enjoy the day is because an officer has given up their own?
Will they understand that while you take pride in the work being done, you are sometimes lonely and that you miss planning things with friends, and sometimes the kids want mommy or daddy, and they want them now? Will a stranger know all of that about your special partner or will they simply shoot? What do you do with that worry and fear? It is often quietly hidden behind the pride of being partnered with a person of utmost integrity, courage and caring.
The next time you run into a family member of someone in law enforcement, be extra kind. Thank them for their sacrifice. Your lives are better because they’ve got your protector’s back. They are the silent partners in maintaining the incredible life we share in Eagle County. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office extends its deepest gratitude to all of the families that make us who we are.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.