I once overheard an officer talking about the Huntington Beach Police Department Support for Officers’ Spouses (S.O.S) group. He said, “My wife is tough; she doesn’t need a group like that.” I began to wonder whether this was a common sentiment among officers and if this was part of the challenge of maintaining a law enforcement spousal support group. Are officers encouraging their spouses to seek support? Are officers acknowledging that law enforcement spouses’ roles are difficult? These comments and questions motivated me and fellow co-founder, Kirsten Knorr, to reach out to the families of the law enforcement officers in our area, because spouses do need support.
The Unrealized Need
People need each other, and people who face similar challenges often understand each other more deeply. As law enforcement spouses, often only fellow law enforcement spouses can understand the daily stress caused by canceled dinner dates, sleeping alone, missed birthday parties, or soccer games that had to be filmed because our officers were called in at the last minute. Law enforcement officers often build emotional barriers to keep their work lives and home lives separate. While officers think they are protecting their spouses, these barriers may have the opposite effect, driving wedges of miscommunication between spouses, creating feelings of isolation, and can sometimes convey the message that our feelings should be kept to ourselves to not compound our officers’ stress.
By sharing our experiences, the Huntington Beach S.O.S group is showing law enforcement spouses that they are not alone. That the group is available to provide a safe outlet for spouses and other family members of law enforcement officers in the Huntington Beach community. In addition to meeting regularly, the group continually communicates via email and a private Facebook page, building a groundwork of trust and adding an avenue of safe conversation for spouses who need support.
Fear of the Unknown
One of the obstacles the Huntington Beach S.O.S. group experiences is a lack of awareness of the group’s existence. There is a stigma around law enforcement that to do their jobs well and command the proper amount of respect they cannot show weakness. Officers may be anxious about their spouse attending such a group because they don’t want their families to appear weak. They may also be afraid of gossip or having their private home matters shared with others. As a result, many officers simply don’t tell their spouse about the group. Officers need to keep themselves safe, but we need to keep ourselves sane.
To help with these fears and strengthen the confidentiality of the group, we open all meetings by reiterating the main focus: how to cope with all the additional stressors of being a law enforcement spouse and family; and how to support one another in times of need. Additionally, the group supports police-sponsored service projects, first responders, trauma support teams, management, and police chaplains to demonstrate the passion the group has for the department as a whole.
Meet and Greet
The S.O.S. group seeks to host monthly socializing and quarterly discussions on relevant topics. By attempting to meet in this manner, we hope to see most spouses at least twice per year, building rapport and eventually earning trust.
Our group does face challenges. Some officers do not live in the city where they work, some live miles away, sometimes an hour or more. This makes it difficult to find a location that works for everyone. If there are little ones at home, it can add to the difficulty of finding a good time to meet.
One solution we have found is to work with the “Police Cadet” program, which is comprised of young adults associated with the police department looking to gain more exposure to a career in law enforcement. By coordinating with the Cadets, we are sometimes able to provide child care for our members at the police department. Another way we try to alleviate attendance problems is by varying the meeting times and locations.
We send the meeting invites to the department via the Peer/Trauma Support Team, who place the invites on the Wellness Boards located in the break rooms of each floor of the building. The Team also sends our invites via email so all officers are notified. If a spouse is not already plugged into the group, these communication channels are how the group reaches out to them and acquires new members.
Going forward, we plan on creating a Facebook Live platform, on our private Facebook page, so our meetings can be broadcast in a way that allows everyone to participate. We realize getting everyone together for monthly meetings is tough, but we are always seeking new ideas and new ways to offer support to our members.
Although many difficulties may arise, we are committed to supporting and strengthening the families that surround law enforcement officers, for families are the best safety nets.
For more information on law enforcement family resources:
- Read 10 Steps to Building Your Department’s Spouse Support Group written by fellow co-founder, Kirsten Knorr, for more information about getting a law enforcement spousal support group started.
- Consider attending the 2018 IACP Annual Conference and participate in the Companion Track.
- Visit the IACP’s Law Enforcement Family Resource
- Follow the IACP’s Facebook and Twitter for future resources and blog posts.