RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Police academies may do an excellent job of training peace officers, but that training does not often translate into peace off duty.
“As a profession, we lead the world in divorce,” said Ray Nash, president of Police Dynamics Institute, Inc., a law enforcement leadership program based in Summerville, S.C.
Nash reported the dreary statistics to the third annual Law Enforcement Summit at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center Oct. 5-7.
Police also have the highest rate of alcoholism, highest rate of suicide, and one of the highest rates of domestic violence of any other profession, said Nash, a former police chief.
While out protecting the public, police officers learn to build up their own defenses, what Nash calls “walls of hostility,” resulting in a burned-out, cynical, pessimistic, ego-driven attitude of mistrust. They brandish their tongue as their weapon of choice, and it isolates them from every support system they have, including their families.
Internal departmental tensions, from disrespect to the media, to rumors, to lack of promotions can create mistrust in officers, almost as much as responding to murders and rapes, said Rutherford County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Department Chaplain Tim Eldred.
“Don’t meet with the guys and get drunk,” he said, noting the most common inappropriate response to the job. “It doesn’t make it better.”
Rather, Eldred offers a simple recommendation: Pray.
“God put the officer in the position of holding individuals accountable for their actions,” he said. “The officer’s personal actions must be accountable to God.”
Consultant Tim Hawsey, who retired from 30 years in law enforcement, 20 as Scambia (Ala.) County Sheriff, said the Bible is the most important standard operating procedure manual officers have at their disposal.
“Nowhere in the Bible does it say that your work is more important than your family,” even despite the exciting demands of law enforcement, Hawsey said.
While studies show that one of two marriages fail in the general public, the divorce rate could be higher than 75 percent among police officers, Hawsey said. For officers to keep the job in perspective takes action-preventative action.
If the kids have to know all the 10-codes to communicate with Dad; if the family car has two scanners, an AK47 under the seat and a bazooka in the trunk; or if the family pet takes commands in German, it may be time to do a spiritual check-up, Hawsey cracked, his trademark wit getting to the serious crux of the matter.
“Officer, Satan is after your family.” Hawsey said. “Don’t let him win.”
His wife, Diana Hawsey, led a group of wives in discussion groups where they could vent about the unique challenges of a job that infiltrates family life. Some talked about their constant life-or-death worries about their husbands’ safety. Some complained of lack of time spent with children or not hanging up the commanding police persona with the uniform. Other stories illustrated the drama and danger that invades their daily lives.
One wife told how her sniper husband killed the ringleader of a methamphetamine lab in a shootout that happened to be in the officer’s neighborhood. The criminal’s children attend school with the officer’s children.
Diana Hawsey said communication is a major concern. Spouses, she said, must provide a soft place to land where the officer can shed the psychological armor that protects him on the street and in the squad room.
“The family takes a back seat, and the officer begins to bring home the angers and frustrations of the job and take it out on the family,” she said. “Husbands have to be spiritual leaders to their families. But wives also have to be ministers to them, too.”
Conference attendees — both officers and their spouses — went away with a challenge to count on God’s Word to dictate the S.O.P. of their homes.