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You’ve heard this line before. “Every day, I kiss my family goodbye, hoping I return the way I left.”

It’s just another shift, another day in the life as a police officer.

I walk out the door and head to my car. My mind already starting to think about the shift ahead. I’m in uniform, so naturally I’m in “police mode” as I drive to the station. I wonder what will happen today.

As I near the station, the stress settles in, I wonder what kind of internal nonsense will be thrown my way. Will it be internal affairs saying they’re conducting another investigation? Could my promotion be in jeopardy? Or will it be my sergeant with the latest policy changes or list of new “initiatives” they’re implementing. Which is code for “another hat to wear, more work to do, but no more time to do it.”

It seems every shift starts with a barrage of negativity from within, we need to do this, stop doing that, do more this, nothing positive, nothing but negative that rolls downhill. It just never ends.

The “beatings will continue until morale improves.” That t-shirt couldn’t be more true most days.

We wear many hats during our shift. We are police officers, mental health workers, social workers, civil dispute solvers, armed secretaries, accident investigators, and worst of all, “uniformed parents” for those who don’t know how to parent themselves.

Luckily, today was a good day. No scolding from the command staff, no negativity, just the usual information on recent crimes. No good news of course. We are police officers, so inherently all we hear about is crime, sadness, and people being harmed. It takes a toll, but we don’t admit it.

Finally, I’m out in the field. A small sense of reprieve washes over me as I enjoy being out in the neighborhood I patrol. I get my usual coffee and head to take care of the list of “checks” I was assigned from my supervisor. Drive by this vacant house, stop by a recently vandalized park, and check on a business that was robbed last week.

As I’m approaching my first “honey-do” item from my supervisor, an officer calls out for help on the radio. Shots were fired in the area and he’s in a foot pursuit. I’m not far away so I rush to his aid.

The “honey-do” list from Sarge will have to wait another day, surely I’ll hear about it tomorrow.

Driving fast with lights and sirens, I rush to help my fellow officer. His voice was elevated, as he was running and trying to talk on the radio. I round the corner and see the suspect running across a field with an object in his hand. My adrenaline is pumping as I get closer and closer to the suspect.

Before I know it, I’m on the ground running after a guy I’ve never met. I don’t know why he’s running, what he just did, or what he plans to do next, I can only assume the worst but hope for the best. I’m really hoping that isn’t a gun in his hand.

Before long, the suspect tires and is taken into custody without incident. It turns out he did have a gun. Thankfully he tossed it to the ground just before giving up and laying down.

The gun is reported stolen, taken in a home break-in the week before. The guy is wanted for aggravated robbery and happens to be a convicted felon. A great outcome all around.

A gun off the street. A violent person in jail for his warrant and new gun charge.

As we walk him to the squad car, we hear the usual appreciation from his friendsin the neighborhood. “F*ck the laws!” As they video us talking to their phones like reporters for the 5 o’clock news. Their account of what happened filled with embellishment and anger.

“Y’all are racist!” Another kid yells as he videos us defiantly.

We’re recording too. The entire thing is on video. What should be a rock solid case, could very well turn into more probation. But that is out of our hands. Sadly, we will see this guy again. “Criminal justice reform” they call it.

As I get back to my squad car, I notice a missed call from my wife. The kids are already asleep. I missed my chance to say goodnight.

The rest of shift is fairly uneventful. I even managed to grab a bite to eat with my buddy that works the same area.

We had a few laughs and talked about the latest changes made by the command staff. It’s amazing how much policing has changed over the years. I head back to the station nearly an hour before my shift ends. It’s mandated I download my body camera and squad car footage before I go home every night. I complete the required paperwork that once took ten minutes, now takes almost twenty.

I head home almost on time. I sneak into the house trying not to wake everyone. The dog greets me at the door and my wife is relieved to hear the sound of velcro as I take off my bulletproof vest.

To her, I made it home the way I left.

A quick shower and I hop in bed. My wife has already fallen back to sleep knowing I’m home safe. I lie down but can’t fall asleep. My shift plays back in my head as if it’s a movie. Did I do all the required paperwork? Did I forget to put anything in that arrest report? As I close my eyes, images from the dead body call just before shift end pop into my head.

Frustrated, I toss and turn for 30 minutes and finally drift off to sleep. It’s not a restful sleep. My dreams are vivid and unfortunately, I’m at work again. I can’t escape it as I’m in a yet another foot pursuit, only this time the guy turns quickly and shoots four times. I stop and squeeze the trigger as hard as I can, but no matter what I do, my gun won’t fire. The bad guy keeps shooting and I’m panicking. What the hell is wrong with my gun!? Eventually, a bullet slowly rolls out of my gun and I wake up in a panic.

My wife asks me if I’m okay. I lie and say, “Yes, just another dream.” She’s heard it before.

Physically, I made it home the way I left, but with each shift, I’m forever changed.

Thank an officer today.

The Officer Next Door

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32 Comments »

  1. As a LEO for 20 years, this Is 100% on point and exactly the way I feel, think and work. So true. Thank you for writing such an actual and factual description of what an officer goes through.

      • Loved this article! It was on point and helpful to know I’m not the only one.

        One part that should be included… The wife asks how the day/shift was and you say, “It was fine” or “just a normal day” because you don’t want to burden her with it all.

        That said, thank you for putting this article together!

  2. This article needs to be shared 🚔👮
    I could feel every step you were taking. In my opinion our law enforcement should be paid more than they are and when a loss of life or disability Their family Should be 100% Taken care of!!! After all Officers put their lives on the line daily For all of us.
    Thank you fir your service and sharing Truth

  3. Spent 10 1/2 years in uniform on the street before moving on to a different profession. My wife still says the sound of velcro will always sound different and have a different meaning to her.

  4. What a realistic portrayal of a police officer! It adds greater appreciation and admiration for all that you do and live with. Thank you for sharing and giving us a much better understanding of our protectors and peace keepers.

  5. I feel like thank you is the d
    Bottom of the barrel for all you do for people that are so uneducated not to mention under appreciated on the every day things you and your family do for us dally I know it’s not much but thank you for being you and putting my family before your I appreciate and acknowledge your every day sacrifice you and you family make for my family please rest assured that my children are made aware and appreciate themselves what you do for us I know it’s not much but you are a welcomed prayer request for safe travels and the armor of God to protect you in your fight for safety in are nightly prayers thank you for being you

  6. Thank you for what you do. I am working on a project that addresses the wellness of officers. Would love to let you know about it. So far, all the chiefs in San Diego county are supporting it.

  7. This is such an accurate account of how Police Officers and Dispatchers of law enforcement are effected mentally every day. Dispatchers do not deal with the physical aspects but they fully face the mental. Dispatchers are right beside officers more than they realize, the difference is many times dispatchers don’t get the closure of what happened or did not and dispatchers do not physically risk not coming home. Officers are under appreciated and often the lack of understanding what their job implies often makes their jobs so much more difficult. Officers do not do their jobs because of the great pay, the convenient hours, or for the notoriety. They do their jobs because it is in their blood, they do it because they truly love their jobs, it is their calling to serve people and protect them. Their family’s sacrifice holidays and birthdays and time with their loved one, and sometimes their loved ones do not come home physically. So thank your law enforcement, be it a Police Officer, or a dispatcher behind the scenes who sat patiently by while thier officer performed CPR on a 2 year old that was pulled lifelessly out of a pool, waiting for EMS to arrive, listening to the fear in the voice of the officer, hoping and praying that the child just breathe………people do not choose this job, it chooses them!

  8. Sir, I’m sending you and your family prayers that you come home to your family after every shift. Thank you for your service and my god watch over you and protect you during every shift you work. And again thank you for your Service

  9. Very well written and with great accuracy. My story is some what different but I’m happy to say I’m here, doing good and enjoying life. Never give in, never give up.

    I am a former Toronto Police Officer, a former Ontario Provincial Police Officer, and most recently a former Firearms Instructor at the Ontario Police College. I was injured in the line of duty on April 2, 1982, as an OPP Constable, while I was pursuing a number (5) of wanted criminals on foot through a wooded area in Northern Ontario. During the foot pursuit I fell through crusted snow and both my knees smashed against a fallen tree under the snow. Both my knee caps were injured from the impact. I received immediate medical treatment at the local medical centre in Hornepayne (Ontario). However, the diagnosis of the injury failed to identify the seriousness of the initial injury and has resulted in an ongoing deterioration of both my knees. I have endured numerous medical procedures and surgeries since the initial injury, ultimately resulting in a very limited ability to walk, and rely on a motorized scooter for mobility.

    In February 1972 my father, Detective Michael Irwin, was fatally shot in the line of duty (along with his partner, Detective Douglas Sinclair), as Toronto Police officers. My mother, Barbara Irwin, was left a young widow, with 4 young teenagers to raise on her own. Our family has proudly served and protected the citizens of Ontario for many years. My 2 brothers, 1 retired, a niece and a nephew are serving Toronto Police Officers, my sister is a civilian employee of both the Toronto Police Service and the OPP, and my brother in law is an retired RCMP officer.

    As a family we have lost our father to make Ontario a safer place. As an individual my injury not only cost me: my career, my mobility, my benefits, my pension but worst of all my ability to earn a living to support my wife and children. All to keep the citizens of this Province safer.

    I willingly and knowingly accepted my Oath of Office as a police officer, in and for the Province of Ontario, to serve and protect the citizens. I performed my duties to the best of ability at all times, in a fair and unbiased manner. I was and still am very proud of my time spent in the line of duty with the privilege of serving on the OPP.
    Michael P. Irwin

  10. Wow what an amazing article and extremely 100% on point. I’m on my 18th year in law enforcement and everything you’ve said is so true and very real. The things I’ve seen over the years haunt me in my dreams. Of course as a police officer, you can’t say anything because we think they will take our gun or people will se us weak so it’s typical for us just to say everything is okay and move forward. Thank you for writing such a great article.

  11. Brother this article resonates deeply. I recently retired after three decades in uniform. Worked all over the State and it was very similar no matter the duty station. Those dreams don’t do anything but accompany you into retirement. The Velcro was a great touch because most of us get it. On day shifts my kids always ran to help me with it. My prayers go out every day for all still behind the badge and for those who have retired. The thoughts, memories, pain and pleasantries are forever etched in our souls. God bless you and our brothers and sisters as we try to deal with life (controlled chaos). Thank you again. God bless and be safe.

  12. I’ve volunteered for my department for 3+ years, helping a few sergeants and lieutenants with proofreading, spread sheets, drafting memos. And baking for patrol. Lots of baking. The internal stress is pretty awful. Lots of talk of Procedural Justice, but none of it inside. I wanted to volunteer because our officers get so much grief, from without, AND from within. Along with all the other stressors are the basic health hazards from lack of sleep, poor eating habits from having to grab and go, inadequate hydration because who the hell can take a pee break during a critical incident, constipation or diarrhea or both. On the best day, this is a tough, tough and often thankless job. But they soldier on and hope to get home safe another day. I see the dysfunction in my department, I know people aren’t perfect. But most are doing their best, and I consider it a tremendous honor and privilege (as overworked as those terms are) to be a little part of their world.

  13. Totally true story for all of the Officers I know! I worked in the jail, as a matron, and the dispatch area for our county years ago, so I’ve known how the other side works. Dispatching, being the only line of help for my only guy or two working the road. We have a large county to cover too! Many years later I married one of our cities officers. He has been serving 25yrs thus far. When on midnights, I knew when it was a super terrible night. As I would wake to my alarm for work (that was shortly after his shift ended), and he would sitting quietly and numb at the end of my side of the bed. I listen to the scanner from time to time, to stay in the know of what he’s dealing with. As sometimes he’s too upset to dare bring up what he had to see and deal with. The most recent tragedy that I know bothered him greatly, was where a father sat on the face of his young son, smothering him to death. A child close to our youngest child’s age. A innocent poor baby! I heard the call dispatched, I dreaded that end of shift as well that day, as I heard him arriving on the call first. Sadly it was too noisy on station when the father called in to say he just killed his son. My hubby thought it was a child needing help, maybe just routine kinda medical call, so he didn’t have a few minutes drive to prepare himself for a child murdered! Those weeks after weighed heavy on him, as calls like this do to all officers, they are humans! You can turn it off the emotions when needed most times out in the field, but once home, it all comes flooding back. The officers have hearts, minds, and are human! So thank you for sharing this article, that is so spot on!

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