A letter to the American public: Why my family waves at cops
My husband has spent 20 years serving the public – I only wish that as a police spouse, I could carry some of the emotional burden that service has caused
By Jenna Golden
I remember it clear as day. The ceremony room with the fluorescent lights, the large, overly sweet blue and white cake in the corner and lemonade in paper cups. I remember the red, scoop neck blouse I was wearing and the long floral skirt, wanting to look nice for him on his big day.
I was bouncing our baby on my hip, trying to keep him quiet. The baby was chunky, and my arms were tired by the end. But I was so proud of my newly graduated police officer husband, freshly pinned badge shining on his chest and a huge smile. A new career! A big adventure!
The excitement and the tragedies
His first job was at a small sheriff’s office in a rural county. He started out working in the jail (every deputy did), but it was good for him. He was doe-eyed, 23 years old and full of trust. He enjoyed his budding career and quickly promoted out to patrol. He would come home and tell me about the excitement from the night before such as his first drug bust or catching the guy who fled from him after a hit and run. Or finding the DUI that had been called in as a REDDI report. He thought the job was fun – every night was different. Meanwhile, I hovered at home by the police scanner I had picked up listening to calls for any sign of danger!
With the excitement inevitably came the tragedies. Helping the coroner carry out the lifeless body of the 20-year-old man who put a gun inside his mouth and pulled the trigger. Or being unable to arrest the man who was molesting his teenage stepdaughter because the girl got nervous and recanted, eventually dissuaded by her own mother from pressing charges.
In the early years, when it was all fresh and new, the stories really struck home. Some will stay with me forever. I remember when he was still a deputy, we bought our first house in a rural, mountain area. The road we lived on was the gateway to a lot of outdoor recreation such as hunting, hiking and camping. Our house was visible from the road, and his patrol vehicle was parked out front, so people often stopped by our house if they needed help. Our car broke down, can we use your telephone? Can we get your help changing a flat?
Sometimes it was more than that.
Once he responded to an ATV accident up the road involving a couple had been riding together. The husband, who had had a few too many beers, drove the ATV headfirst into a tree. The husband was okay, but his wife was not. My husband held the woman’s skull together in his hands while they waited for the ambulance.
Another time, a couple of hunters picked up a desolate girl they found crying and writhing in the dirt road, and they brought her to our house. She was screaming and inconsolable, hair ravaged and brown tears streaking down through the dirt on her face. She had just discovered the body of her boyfriend hanging from a tree outside his home. Another suicide. I took our two tiny children into our bathroom and turned up the radio while bathing them, hoping the running water and music would cover the wild and grieving shrieks from inside my kitchen. “Why is she so sad, Mommy?" my older child asked.
When your husband is a cop, it is a family affair.
Another memory is the phone ringing at 3 a.m., the deafening sound of my heart throbbing in my head as I answered, noting the sheriff’s office phone number on the caller ID. It was the dispatcher’s voice on the other end of the line.
“He’s okay, he’s not hurt…but he’s going to be late getting home tonight. There was an incident.”
The incident was a suicidal woman who had flung herself into the Colorado river after my husband was unable to talk her off the ledge. He dove in after her, in full duty gear, into a rushing river swollen with spring runoff, and pulled her out. That incident earned my husband a medal of valor. I was just happy to have him come home unscathed. The medal meant little to a young wife, and I quickly learned that any unsuspecting night could be his last.
The job takes its toll
The years went quickly from there. He transferred to a larger police department in a college town. We lived in a cul-de-sac in a quiet area – no more panicked strangers knocking on our doors. He would help a neighbor occasionally with a VIN inspection or something simple, but we led a pretty quiet life. Two kids turned into four and our lives and careers blossomed. There were countless missed family dinners, bedtime tuck-ins, holidays, birthday parties, sporting events and even a niece’s baptism. Being a police officer is a sacrifice for your whole family. Ever proud, we took it in stride.
Over time, I began to see the career chip away at my husband. It is challenging to deal with people on the worst day of their lives. There is an emotional toll. And my memories during this period changed their focus. I remember less vividly the stories of others and focus more on the effects on my husband – the hollow-eyed stranger in my house for weeks following the call where the couple went to bed high and smothered their newborn baby in the bed next to them. I noted the gray in his beard that came too early, the introspective days where we walked on eggshells. And I began to understand why the life expectancy of a cop is only 57 years (almost 22 years younger than the general population). And don't forget the high divorce rate of cops. The job takes its toll. Officers are only human.
Flash forward to 2020, my husband is a 20-year veteran officer. The current anti-cop sentiment that has been building for years has come to a head. Now, when meeting a stranger, I am wary of telling people about his profession. How will it be received? Will they hate me? What used to be a proud proclamation (“My husband is a police officer!”) now brings unease and misguided shame.
Earlier this week, my oldest teenage daughter approached me visibly upset. She had been up until 4 a.m. the night before scrolling through social media, reading anti-cop posts by her friends and her peers, crying herself to sleep. This was a rare phenomenon, as she is usually confident and sharp-tongued. As a cop’s kid, she had easily developed the thick skin and slightly twisted sense of humor needed to deal with perpetual tragedy. All our children are experiencing a new mourning.
When your dad is a cop, it is a family affair.
Our kids love cops – they were raised around them. When most people are driving and see a cop car, they try to avoid them, but we did the opposite. We would always speed up or slow down to get beside them, to see if we knew them and try to catch their attention and wave. I would tease the kids that whoever it was probably changed their diapers when they were little. So, this public attack on cops is an attack not only on their father but on every good cop they’ve ever known.
Standing up for the heroes
I am scared. The kids are scared. They hug their father every night as he leaves for work, as if for the last time. I make sure every door in the house is locked tight and that only the second story windows are left open overnight. I know exactly where the AR is located and how to use it. I regret I have not yet taught my daughters how to do the same. I must do that. Police families are being targeted and attacked.
I realize I have grown resentful over the years. I look back at his medal of valor with anger. That he risked his life, risked making me a widow in my 20s, with two toddlers in the house and a baby in my belly. And I wonder, would he do it again? Even though he has been demonized by the world, would he jump in to save her? Of course he would – he is a protector with a hero’s heart. Which brings me to the question: When will enough be enough? What happens when all the good cops are gone? What will happen when they get out of the business or stop caring? What happens when their bravery is replaced by complacency? When they only do the bare minimum because of liability? When their hands are tied?
There will be no more heroes.
Yesterday, my kids and I drove by the police department because we like the coffee shop next door. There was a group of protestors on the street corner in front of the building. We paused next to them as we waited for the stoplight to turn green. My youngest son is 12 and he asked if we could roll down the window to yell at them to say, “My Dad is a good cop!” My middle daughter wants to flip them the bird. No. I say be quiet. It won’t do any good. And the silent anger and grief in my stomach churns and sours. I realize my silence is perpetrating the problem. If the good won’t stand up for the good, who will?
So, I am standing up, and I am speaking out.
To the young people who are sharing, tweeting and Snapchatting messages of hate such as the only good cop is a dead cop, ACAB, blah, blah, blah...you are being a lemming, STOP.
To the media who continue to spin a story and twist the facts to fit a narrative, you are perpetuating the problem, STOP. Tell the truth in an unbiased way.
To the police departments who are kowtowing to the squeaky wheels and throwing their officers to the wolves, STOP. Grow a backbone and stand up for your officers. They need you right now.
To the bad cops who have become so bitter and jaded that you aren’t fit for the job, STOP. Get out while you can. Find a new career. You are giving one of the noblest professions a bad name.
To my husband, I know I will never understand the reality of the job you do day in and day out, but I wish I could take part of your burden and carry it as my own. From the depth of my heart, I am honored to be your wife, proud of all you are and grateful that you provide for our family despite a world that seems to despise you.
To the other police officers out there, I see you. My children see you. We are right there, in the car just behind you and one lane over. Can you see us? I am stepping on the gas, trying to catch up. The kids have the windows down, hair blowing in the wind, arms out the window waving. Frantically. Just hoping you will notice.
About the author
Jenna Golden is the proud wife of a veteran police officer and mother of a United States Marine. With three school-aged children at home, she juggles the busy life of a mom and a full-time career in real estate. She moonlights as a writer when especially inspired.