The Return Story

Photo by Ashland Police Department

I have been attempting to write this post for a long time, but I really want to be intentional about outwardly processing Tom moving back into law enforcement. For one it is not just my experience, and I need to be respectful of Tom’s journey to get to this place. And with being pregnant and having Walt, it has been difficult to have the brain power to find the right words to say.

One of the things I love about blogging though is that it is an opportunity to share stories and perspectives. There are a lot of emotions and opinions around police officers, and I am cognizant of what that means. I am not going to touch on all of it here today, but here is just a part of our story.

To give a little history, when Tom and I had our first date in 2007, he expressed his desire to be a police officer after we graduated college. It has been all that he has ever wanted and worked for ever since I have known him. He has had many road blocks to achieve this and spent many years adding different experiences to his tool belt in order to be welcomed onto a department.

In 2014, Tom left the Army and we moved back to MO for what we thought was his dream job as a police officer. What would transpire in the next three years became a nightmare instead of the dream that he always envisioned.

What he experienced with that police department was the definition of toxicity. He was not supported by other officers, and it was very much a “good ol’ boys” system. He attempted to change the dynamic in the community by building relationships and being out there in the streets but often was chastised by his colleagues for his proactive nature. He didn’t believe in doing things by rank and wanted to impact his town positively but was told repeatedly he was wrong. He would make suggestions for improvements or find trainings to approach things differently, and the negativity and backlash that he faced showed me that this department didn’t actually want to work for their community. This department made him feel like he was on an island because he didn’t fit their definition. He wanted to be better. I am here to tell you that this is the kind of department that many around the country complain about.

But never the less, Tom doesn’t half-ass anything. He was always trying to do good and learn more, and the job became all consuming because he felt he had to prove he was worthy of being there and more than just a rookie. His fellow officers though felt that there was nothing that this new guy could bring to the table and tried many times to break him. He was seeking value from people who could care less about him. There was a lack of respect, and they were constantly trying to beat the drive out of him with very childish and outlandish behavior from those who claim to be professionals with “high moral fibers.” What was happening among his colleagues began to affect our marriage and our home life tremendously.

In 2018, due to the apparent way that this department spit on him when he needed help, Tom made the decision to leave this “dream job” to work as a court Marshall, which was still law enforcement but with 9-5 hours. It was an opportunity for him to still be a cop but focus on our family a little more which was very much needed at the time since Daphne had just joined our family. It was a chance for him to step back and reevaluate what being a cop meant for him.

After working at the courthouse for some time, it was clear that this job was an illusion of law enforcement. Anyone who knows Tom is that he likes to be out where the action is. He likes to move and observe people out in the community. He was slowly losing himself at the courthouse.

But because of the toxic nature of the PD department he left, he was not sure he would be able to get back in to being a street cop. They had basically sullied his name in this area because he asked for help and tried to do things differently.

The reality though was that Tom just wasn’t himself. As a family we made a conscious decision that if he couldn’t be a street cop, he would leave law enforcement entirely to be able to just be a family man and help us to become more financially secure in a different job market. In the end, it was difficult for him to wear a uniform but not actually be able to do the type of police work he felt called to do.

So in 2019, he left law enforcement entirely to work an office job of selling mortgages to veterans. At the beginning, working at VU was really freeing. He finally felt valued, and his hard work was being praised. We had more family time than we had ever had, and we were able to focus on more of our family goals.

However as the months passed, we could all sense that there was something nagging at Tom. Working a desk job started having him miss what could have been as an officer. There was a lot of doubt and anger at what had transpired in his time as an officer. He felt as though he had given up on himself and his dreams. It was like he was reliving every decision that had brought him there over and over, which made for some dark months. Oh the conversations we had about regret, resentment, and such loss…

Then the pandemic hit and the protests happened last spring. These world events coupled with being stuck working in our makeshift basement offices provided a pivotal moment for him. Not having the ability to do something in the midst of what was happening in our world (whether it be due to the pandemic or the social impacts on the protests) really touched him. He was frustrated that he felt helpless and wasn’t contributing to the solution. It made him angry and bitter that he let some old “seasoned” officers force him out of a job that he loves because they were scared of the idea of what Tom brought to the table. He challenged the typical culture, and for that he was blackballed and eventually pushed out of that department.

So why return to a job that did nothing to support Tom?

Again, if you knew Tom in person, being a police officer is just a part of him. For the two years that he wasn’t on the streets, you could tell that there was something missing. There was no doubt that we did have some great moments in these two years having more time as a family. However, something needed to change. He wasn’t fulfilling his purpose. And having gone through a professional crisis myself, I knew that just because our family life was good, we weren’t going to replace that feeling of purpose completely for him. Nor would I want to ask him to because I know that would cause more issues down the road for us all. I didn’t want him to continue to become a shell of himself or worse resent the normalcy that our life had become.

Tom did go to counseling for some time to help process all of this. Honestly, it was like the police department was an abusive relationship that he needed to heal from. There was a lot of shady things that occurred that I will not share here. Even now, two and a half years later, his old department finds ways to interfere with his professional life. At best it’s a bother, and at worst it has bordered on illegal. Before he moved on to a new department, he needed to put himself in a better position to not have those negative feelings of distrust.

Through the growth and self-reflection, and then seeing the events happening in our country, he was itching to get back to law enforcement. He wants to make our communities safe. He wants better for our kids. He wanted more.

Then a God thing happened. A position opened up in our small town, and it was like everything just came together. He was ready, and here was an opportunity for him to return in the town we live in! And the department was everything that the other was not, so we were hopeful for a fresh start for him.

It still was a lot for us to process as a family. Being a police officer’s family isn’t just a simple thing. There are a lot of emotions and things tied up in it for us as well. I still had anxiety from how our marriage was the last time, and here we were newly pregnant with our third kid. We had to be very mindful of how this time would be different for us and our family moving forward.

And the culture currently isn’t just something we could ignore. There is a lot to unpack here as a family who is choosing this life. This is not the post to address all the situations of privilege in depth because I wanted to set the stage of our lived experience. I hope that those reading see that by highlighting Tom’s desire to return to law enforcement, does not mean that we are minimizing how others are impacted by law enforcement. We know that there are not good cops out there. We have seen them first hand. It was the toxic nature that forced Tom out of the job in the first place. We know the way law enforcement is viewed and the impacts of that. We have many conversations about the type of police officer he strives to be. He wants to be part of the change, and we understand the realities and duty that brings us as a family as well. As much as we know that bad cops exist, we very much believe there are good ones, with Tom among those ranks.

Remember, when we first met, all he wanted was to be was a cop. I wanted him to have that again, and I know that he would not be himself if he didn’t at least try to get that back. When you watch a loved one struggle and you know there is an opportunity to fix that, you want to do everything in your power to make it work.

So last May he went after his dream again. After a long interview process, he was sworn in as an officer earlier this fall, and here we are months later.

Tom is different this time around. It is amazing what a difference some self-reflection can do. Couple that with a supportive environment, and it has just been amazing to see the stark contrast of how he comes home and the influence he has. He is surrounded by officers who value his opinion and actually listen to his ideas. While it’s a small department and different than what he had envisioned all those years ago on our first date, this has been the perfect position for him. It turns out that this small department offers many opportunities that a large department would never have done for him. This department hears him out and lets him be his unique self, which is really bringing the best skill set to the table. He is REALLY good at begin a cop, and to see that being noticed and actually respected by his peers makes things drastically different. He gets to be part of the solution, and that has been really cool to witness. I am proud to see it all coming together and that he is able to honor his values while in a position of service to our community.

We may have lost some of our family routines and our meal times together, however we got Tom back. He is much more present when he is home and happier than I have seen him in maybe our entire relationship. And to be honest, we don’t see his time away from law enforcement as a waste. The last couple years has helped put things in perspective of what is valuable for not only his career but how the right department can respect the juxtaposition of being a cop, having a family, and him as a human being. Because he moved to this department, he will have so many opportunities to engage in the community and schools where our kids will grow up. He gets to interact with them in ways we never would have gotten previously. He has goals for his career that are being invested in by his supervisors. He can actually be out there helping the community and getting to know their needs.

At each point, it has not been an easy decision to move and pivot as things happened along his career. One thing that has been important to Tom though is how this has impacted us as a family. We have talked this through every which way at every step: when to go to the Army, when to apply for many PD jobs, when to step back and when to try again. Ultimately for me as his wife, everything came down to what is going to make Tom feel full. It has not been an easy road. The decisions have put us to the test on more than one occasion, and there is a lot on the line. There has been a lot of growth for both of us on how we want to navigate this as a team.

However, I have known from day one that loving him meant I would be a police officer’s wife.

Photo by Ashland Police Department

The Phone Call I Don’t Want

As a police wife there are things I encounter that most spouses do not deal with on a daily basis. There are all the dry cleaning bags all over our spare bedroom along with all the gear. There are the weird shifts that keep him away some nights. There are the stories of child abuse at the dinner table.

But the thing I fear the most is a knock at the door. The knock on our door that tells me that something devastating has happened because of his cop life.

This is not a foreign concept to me because of our time as an Army, family.

But at the same time it was different.

It was different because there is this illusion of safety and normalcy because he comes home every night at some point. I was lulled into a sense of normalcy and became naive to the idea of danger.

Key word being was.

Last fall, I was reminded that we don’t live a normal life when Tom was in an accident at work.

It has taken me awhile to write this post…obviously. I was filled with sadness, despair, and so much anger. I needed some space from it, and I have written and rewritten this post at least once a week since that day in October. So bear with me and my randomness if you so kindly choose to read on.

There were some feelings about the accident that were “normal” and foreseen.

When I received the call, my heart stopped when I heard the words hospital. I fell to the kitchen floor in tears and thanked God that he was ok. I felt guilty for not answering the phone the first time I heard it buzz. I felt panicked when I couldn’t go to the hospital because I had just put George to bed.

What I wasn’t expecting is the anger towards the community.

Here is what happened. Tom was responding to a violent call (with lights and sirens) when a driver stopped at an intersection, panicked, and then stomped on the gas. There was no time for him to react, and neither car won that. Both cars had to be towed away. The driver of the car walked away unscathed, but Tom was knocked unconscious, had burns on his arms from the airbags, and was sent to the hospital.

The news picked up the story within minutes and started reporting just the headline “Officer involved in crash.” They had the headline and the location of the crash. That was it.

From there, the community just ate this up and spit out hatred and lies. Within an hour, there were pages of comments, before Tom was even close to being released from the hospital. The things that were posted were hurtful if I read them about any cop, but to know that my husband was the “one” they were referring to was devastating.

There were comments about how he aimed to hit her, how he was going 100 miles per hour, and how he was just going fast to go fast and abuse his power.

There was a lot of name calling and vulgarity that really had nothing to do with this situation but seemed to serve as an opportunity for hate and pointing fingers. I get that there may be cops out there who do this, but this was MY HUSBAND they were now talking about.

The reactions on Facebook made me want to punch people and scream from the rooftops in his defense. I wanted to literally walk around town to defend him and let them know how much of a good person he was, and slap anyone who said differently. I also wanted to throw the camera equipment in the garbage for starting this sharade. Instead I kept my composure, and I didn’t really talk about it much until now.

First, whenever a situation like this happens, the police department will not respond immediately to the media. Generally, they will wait to watch tapes and do a full investigation on the incident. Unfortunately, this gives plenty of time for people and the media to fill in the blanks.

Second, you may never know what call they would be responding to. Just know that this call he had, you would want him to be going 100 miles to (even though he was not). Just saying.

Third, Tom was going 23 miles per hour when he was hit. The dashcam proves this. 23 mph. A far cry from 100.

It was a harsh wakeup call that while my husband is out there to serve and protect this community that he loves, that feeling is not generally reciprocated.

I understand that people are angry. Hell I am angry. There are indeed a lot of injustices happening. I hear stories nearly every day from my students of things they are going through that make my heart ache for them.

What I don’t understand is why people won’t take the time to learn the truth in ALL situations. Perception and reality are not always synonymous. It was so easy for people to jump to conclusions that were not based in the truth of this situation. I hope that people take the media for what it is-headlines.

Please take the time to do your research and ask questions before pointing blame. There are families and people behind these stories. Real people are being affected by these words and accusations.

I think about what if George had overheard or read those remarks about his dad. How would that conversation go? And this was a pretty easy situation in the grand scheme of things that Tom could get involved in. I now know a conversation like this is inevitable in this family.

But how do I explain to a child that the world hates his daddy? How do you frame that hatred when all his dad is trying to do is make this world a little safer? How do I protect him from hearing these things? How do I encourage my son not to be angry at the comments and to forgive those spitting hate? How do I teach him to let those things slide off his back, when I feel the weight of it every day?

But honestly, how do I assure my son that Daddy is safe when I am not so sure of that myself? How do I keep him from being scared? This is a real question because I have no idea what I will say.

That is something that haunts me every day. I have the illusion of his safety because he has been coming home every day, but he is not unscathed. The truth is, no matter how hard he tries there is a chance that he may not come home.

This accident was a reminder of that.

I am happy that he is in the job that he is in, but I do wonder if other people realize the gravity of this job and the weight that is put on the officer and their family day in and day out. I wonder if before their quick judgments they wonder what decisions an officer has to make to protect someone’s life. I wonder if they ever attempt to put themselves in an officer’s frame of mind.

I am not looking for sympathy, and I understand that we chose this life. You just learn how to deal with it because you love your spouse and it’s just something you have to do. This job makes him happy, and so we are happy with our life.

What I didn’t choose is that people would not be supportive of those who serve to protect. What I didn’t choose is the hatred. What I didn’t choose is feeling like I have to hide the true story because someone is out to prove us wrong regardless, so what’s the point. What I didn’t choose is my voice to be lessened because I am on the “wrong” side of an issue.

There are many people out there who do support the police, and I do see that. However, often times it seems like it is pulling teeth to see that. And as a police officer’s wife, that community seems very small these days. And when you go through a situation like this, you feel very alone watching the community unfold.

It is sad that I feel like I have to censor myself around people or feel like I can’t talk about certain things like this on my blog because of the way it may look when I talk about police things. I see how people react when they learn my husband is a cop. I fear that George is going to have deal with those stares and uncomfortable silence as well. People who say they have an open mind often do not want to hear this side of the story or they feel that I am trying to silence other stories by bringing his to light.

It’s sad that people shout about equality and injustices but yet aren’t willing to hear the whole story or every story. I just don’t get it.

Well, I am here to advocate for my husband and his life, so I couldn’t keep this story to myself any longer. This article says my thoughts exactly right now. Please take a moment to read it.

“Being a police wife to me, in today’s society, means being the biggest advocate and supporter I can be in order to give him the encouragement and strength to fight his way back home, alive.”—Melissa Littles

Yes. Yes. To the Yes.

There are injustices happening on so many fronts. It is sad they are happening everywhere and my heart breaks for those people and communities. And I do truly believe that we should be doing something about them. I will stand right beside you if you can show me all the facts and all sides of the story. I don’t believe you have to just pick one camp to stand in. I feel that you can have compassion for many issues and people. I am a big proponent of human rights and people having opportunities. I wouldn’t be in education if I didn’t believe those things.

But to be completely frank, today and every day, I am concerned mostly with whether my husband is going to come home, alive.

 So I encourage you to have an open mind when you see news stories. There will always be pieces that you don’t see. And most of all, spread kindness around. If I learned anything from this is that hate is just fuel for more hate. The quick remarks of hate made me angry for months. I don’t want to be angry, so I have to let it go and understand that I know the truth and to control my own attitude. I can keep being open about what we experience so we can humanize the badge. I can keep advocating for my husband and be his positivity here when he needs it the most.