A couple of months ago, I called my dad to complain. I don’t even remember what I was calling to complain about. Before jumping into my tirade, I asked how his day was going. He said, with a big sigh, something along the lines of, “Well I showed up to the scene of an accident today where the victim was dead on arrival.” He wasn’t wearing his helmet on his motorcycle and according to my dad, “His brains were all over the street.” After telling me this, he tried to seamlessly transition into asking about my day. Suffice to say, I no longer had the heart to complain.
My dad is a federal law enforcement officer for the USDA Forest Service, former emergency medical technician, former SWAT team sniper and an army veteran. After we hung up the phone, I thought about what it would be like to show up to a scene like that even once in my life, nonetheless potentially multiple times as part of my job. I couldn’t imagine seeing somebody’s brains on the street, but I knew it wasn’t the first time my dad had. In the course of his career as a first responder and LEO, he has saved people from falling over waterfalls, hiked countless miles to find missing persons, dealt with domestic violence disputes and drug seizures, served warrants to violent felons and has put his life on the line for the sake of justice many times.
For most of my life, when my dad suited up and left the house in the morning, my family began to hold its breath, and nobody breathed a sigh of relief until he came home again at night. We rarely talked about it, but all felt it. When I was in middle school, we lived in Scioto County, Ohio, which was making a name for itself as a county at the center of the nation’s increasing opioid epidemic. We had the highest rates of prescription drug overdoses in the state and were fighting drug-related crime in almost every level of society, from upscale doctors running pill mills all the way to the young addicts robbing houses and stores for drug money. The more my dad enforced the rules and cracked down on illegal activity, the more hostile our environment became. People would drive up our driveway to confront my dad and even threaten him. They would drive by our house and fire shots in the air or into our barn. I remember lying in bed many nights far past my bedtime waiting to hear the sound of his car coming up the driveway so I would know he had made it home one more night.
All of this tension took a toll on our whole family. When my dad was off work, he was often irritable and unsettled. We weren’t allowed to wear jerseys to sporting events that had our last names on the back because it could potentially put us in danger. We were never to tell anyone who our father was, and if anybody asked about him we were immediately to call one of our parents. We weren’t allowed to answer the door or the phone at home and we went over multiple times where to hide in our house if someone were to break in.
The violence and threats against our family seemed to be escalating for some time and it finally reached its boiling point in my eighth-grade year. Someone had apparently waited on the hill above my dad’s parking spot at home to “put some lead in him.” They failed to follow through on this threat due to nothing short of a miracle. That very night as he arrived home, my dad realized he left something he needed for the morning at his office 40 minutes away. He turned around just a few minutes from home and because of this he didn’t make it home before dark. The next day a friend of the man who wished to commit the crime came in and told my dad of his friend’s plan saying the guilt had overwhelmed him and that my dad needed to watch his back from now on. Not very long after this incident, in one final attempt to commit violence against our family, this same man came onto our property and shot and killed our family dog, Pepper, just 10 feet from our front door.
After this, an investigation was finally launched and my dad was offered a “safety and security transfer” to another region. We moved to beautiful Ludington, Michigan at the beginning of my freshman year of high school in hopes of leaving the violence and hate behind us. We found the people in Ludington and the surrounding areas to be much more respectful of law enforcement in general, but just as the tides of fortune were turning in our direction, the politics surrounding the law enforcement community began to heat up. The cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown put the law enforcement community under intense scrutiny as the narratives of police brutality and racial discrimination began to rise to the surface of the political media spotlight.
The conversation around police brutality was obviously an important one to have considering the grievances so much of our nation was voicing. Yet, in the wake of the threats and violence my family had just faced, hearing so much vitriol aimed at the police community as a whole was often very hard for us all. When friends and acquaintances began to tweet about police being “pigs” and protests against police became more violent — with some fringe groups of protests even touting phrases such as “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” — it became apparent that the police community was undergoing a form of stereotyping that, as a police officer’s daughter, struck me as very counterintuitive in the movement for peace and justice. Instead of voicing general frustrations at the system, my father and other officers we knew began to face personal attacks that increased the tension of their work environments.
As these tensions have increased, so has distrust. As cases of violence gain national media attention, minority communities trust officers less and as instances of retaliation increase, police officers, in turn, trust their communities less. There is, therefore, work that needs to be done to better the relationship between officers and their communities. Police stations can do more to support the mental health of their officers. This will protect not only the officers but the public as well. Police officers aren’t blind to the problems that arise from a lifetime of police work. They experience bitterness that builds up over a lifetime of dealing with criminals on a daily basis and often times even post-traumatic stress disorder from extremely traumatic incidents. Additionally, both community members and police officers can do more to increase positive interactions in an attempt to rebuild trust in the efficacy of law enforcement. There are already examples of this sort of community outreach on the part of police officers, but unfortunately, the mainstream media rarely reports these incidents.
The truth is that, as a daughter of a police officer and a friend of many police officers and their families, I know that most of the men and women in blue I have met became police officers to protect and serve all of their city, county, state and nation’s residents. They don’t hesitate when called to crime scenes, they put their lives on the line to take violent criminals off the streets and they show up first to accident scenes more brutal than most of us could possibly imagine. They stand in solemnity protecting protestors and citizens at protests sometimes aimed at themselves. They wake up every morning to do a job that entails dangers and heartache that most of us can only imagine, and yet it seems that in today’s political climate, they are receiving less and less respect from the general population. I hope you take a minute to consider how so many great officers truly are a “thin blue line” who truly intend to “protect and serve” their respective communities.