Vargas: Holiday cheer can turn family gatherings into nightmares


The holiday season had officially begun and for most of us it is a time to gather with family and friends, enjoy their company, reminisce and acknowledge how good life really is.

There were many Thanksgivings and Christmases when I kissed my wife goodbye, hugged the kids and told them I would miss them. I would then spend the next eight to 12 hours at other families’ holiday gatherings.

Joe Vargas

Joe Vargas

For the police officers who have to work over the holidays family gatherings can be a nightmare. Traditionally domestic violence calls go up during the holidays for many reasons — alcohol consumption, financial stress, old grudges. No matter what it’s the type of call that crosses all socio-economic boundaries and happens in every area of any city.

It is a rare domestic call where alcohol isn’t involved. My own anecdotal non-scientific observation would put it somewhere over 90%. Everything seems to start out okay and as the level of alcohol consumption goes up the probability of domestic violence increases.

The worst part is how it impacts the children who have to witness the yelling the screaming and physical violence. Cursing, bruised faces, drunken tirades and relentless tears will fill their holiday memories.

I can only imagine how tough it must be to see Dad or Mom arrested and taken away in handcuffs while the turkey is on the table or the unopened presents are still under the Christmas tree. For myself I made it a habit, when possible, never to handcuff a parent in front of the kids.

Most of the time calling the police doesn’t end up in an arrest but rather officers engage in lengthy referee sessions trying to mitigate issues in a few minutes that would take a professional counselor many hours to work out.

I’m sure the little eyes and ears of the kids caught every word.

You do your best just trying to keep the peace, getting people cooled down and hoping things don’t get worse once you leave. Then when you get back to the patrol car there’s two more calls just like it waiting.

I have been described as even-tempered patient and easy going. But after about the fourth or fifth family fight call of the night even I get a little edgy.

There have been many times I’ve wanted to chew out mom and dad for having ruined the holidays for the children. I’ve wanted to load the kids into my car and show them what a real family holiday looks like. The best I could do was give them badge stickers and pieces of candy I kept for just those occasions.

I just hope the kids I met on those calls over the years remember the police officers who came to the house that Thanksgiving or Christmas as the good guys who just tried to help.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him