According to statistics reported to the FBI, 89 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019, with 48 occurring as the result of criminal acts.
In 2018, 55 peace officers died in the line of duty as a result of criminal incidents, FBI data revealed.
If those statistics don’t create enough stress for spouses and family members of officers, new anti-police sentiment, exasperated in part by the media, appears to be at an all-time high in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
“The whole environment for law enforcement professionals has changed because of the narrative we are seeing on TV,” said psychologist Heather Williams. “The media is not helping when we do not see the positive stories of police officers saving lives or making a difference in the community.”
Williams, a doctor of psychology, is the founder of Premier First Responder Psychological Services, which provides services to first responders and their significant others.
Williams previously worked as Regional Peer Support Coordinator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, where she coordinated a team of over 100 OCSD personnel, provided crisis counseling, and coordinated an emotional wellness campaign.
Williams formed the group in 2015 to bring significant others of peace officers together to create an opportunity to talk about the unique stressors associated with being in a law enforcement relationships. This is needed more now than ever before, she said.
“I’m in a law enforcement relationship too, so I’m living it and feeling it,” Williams said.
In the meetings, Williams discusses coping strategies and offers ways to talk about the current climate with children and other family members.
The group, which is open to all partners of law enforcement officers, is meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40 participants turned out for a recent session.
“When we see the rioting and looting on TV we don’t know exactly where that is going to happen and for how long. This unknown creates vulnerability and fear because we have no control over it,” Williams said. “The anti-law enforcement sentiment has been devastating for the significant others and law enforcement professionals I’ve spoken to.”
The hateful climate has gotten so bad for some in law enforcement relationships that they are deleting their social media accounts and taking other measures to avoid the vitriol aimed at men and women on the job, some of it coming from their own friends and relatives, Williams said.
One of the original members of the group, who wished to remain anonymous, is married to a now-retired officer who started his career with the Los Angeles Police Department and worked during the Rodney King riots.
He lateraled to an Orange County agency that has come under attack by the public and the media.
“Your husband is out there and you see the things happening on the media and you fear for their safety,” she said. “It can be such a crazy time. You’ve got people saying all kinds of crazy stuff and posting crazy stuff on social media … Most police officers have huge hearts. Most are into the occupation because they want to serve. Unfortunately, there are those that do things that they shouldn’t.”
Another member of the group, who also wished to remain anonymous, is married to a police officer who is also a member of a SWAT team in Orange County.
“The first reason I joined this group was because I was never trained for this,” she said. “He was trained to go out there and do whatever is necessary, but I was never trained to cope with what’s happening around those situations. That is your daily life. When you think he may not come home, that is a very real threat every single day and that is something at some point you have come to terms with, in some way, shape, or form.”
To contact Williams’ and learn more about the support group for significant others of first responders, visit www.premier1stresponder.com.