Disclosure vs. anxiety
August 1, 2014 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm nearing the end of police academy for the largest police department in my area. An officer in a suburban department of my area was just murdered on a traffic stop. My fiance doesn't really follow local news and is unaware of the murder. Should I talk with him about it? Or should I continue to let it slide by unremarked unless he hears about it? What about the rest of my immediate family? If you were my family member would you want me to talk about this with you, or would it make you worried? Is it relevant that a LOT of the cops in my department have been in shootings or other critical incidents during their careers? I would honestly estimate that at least half the cops I've talked to have been involved in a shooting, keeping in mind that the cops doing training at the academy all tend to have 10, 15, or more years on. Is it relevant that my fiance has some general problems with anxiety?

Thanks for your help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
My husband is a cop and I know that this is the sort of thing that he would not bring up to me. And I'm glad of that. What is to be gained from mentioning it? It can only cause your fiancé more anxiety.
posted by amro at 6:47 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cops are involved in shootings all the time. Presumably your family members and fiance are all reasonably intelligent people and not critters who live beneath rocks, so it's likely that this is a fact of life they're aware of. I don't know why you would need or want to specifically crank up their anxiety by reminding them that your dangerous job is, in fact, dangerous.

As analogy, I present to you my week: I live in Chicago. Chicago is a violent town. People get shot in Chicago. A lot. It happens a lot. It is a fact of life that people get shot in Chicago. I've lived here for ten years, and it was only this past weekend that I actually personally witnessed something myself, when I drove past a drive by shooting as it happened. I chose not to tell my family members about it, because it would only remind them that hey, I live in a city where sometimes people get shot. But in reality, there is no difference between today and last week except for this time I was a little bit closer to it.

You're not hiding anything, you're simply not rubbing their noses in the dangers you face every day. That's a kindness.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I guess my question for you is what is your goal in talking about this incident? If you want to simply keep them informed about statistical risks of your chosen career, I would probably hold off. I'm sure that those that love you are aware that there are very significant risks involved in law enforcement, and also probably have at least a passing awareness of these types of incidents as they happen.

If you want to talk to your loved ones about this because you need some support, that is different. In that case, you should probably have a discussion about how to communicate with each other when you need to debrief and talk about the very real stresses you are facing.

Congratulations on nearing the end of your program. Your service is so important.
posted by goggie at 6:52 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh boy. I know exactly which metro area you are referring to, and which PD you are training for, and yes: Despite outsiders' perception of this region as a rural backwater you're going into one of the most concentrated urban areas in the country and joining a department that has a LOT of problems facing it. Despite your anonymity you are choosing to speak obliquely so I will respect that and continue in kind.

To answer your question you totally have to face these questions head-on and frame the discussion of this incident and the danger it illustrates on your terms rather than wait for your anxious fiancee to hear about it and create his own narrative on the topic. Establishing your bona-fides in this way has two benefits: You are building his trust that you are not sweeping these issues under the rug to avoid difficult conversations. That trust is a commodity you will need later on. You're also able to get ahead of your partner's fears and help direct his thinking on these issues into positive, constructive patterns rather than pointless anxiety.

The shooting to which you refer was a TOTAL freak occurrence and the officer who died was the very first from his extremely prosperous and quiet suburb's department to ever die in the line of duty. The department you are joining is MUCH better prepared and trained to avoid and deal with this kind of danger than many of its neighbors, precisely because the core city is at the center of the poverty and other dynamics that drive these crimes. The shooter in this case was from MY city, your city's smaller core neighbor across the river, and this incident was anomalous in many ways.

All that said you need to frame the danger in terms of numbers - you're joining a HUGE department and the number of officers wounded or killed on a per-capita basis is tiny. Cops train so cops WIN these shootouts way more often than they lose. THAT should be your talking point - yeah it's hazardous but you're learning the right way to stay safe. Strong people stick up for themselves, but the strongest stick up for others: that's going to be your job.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:59 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, there's a distinction between "doesn't really follow local news" and "lives in a cave." This story has saturation coverage on the local TV and radio - if he stands near any TV or talks to any other locals at any point between now and Monday he's GONNA hear about the incident. Even without that you should be talking about the dangers frankly and constructively anyways - everyone knows the dangers of your job and you need to hear how he feels about that and ensure he's dealing with it healthily.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:07 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Surely your fiancé is aware that you are training to become a police officer. Surely your fiancé is aware that law enforcement is, by its nature, a dangerous profession, and that police officers are more likely than most of the general public to be severely injured or even killed in the normal course of doing their job.

He doesn't need any painful reminder of that.

I wouldn't bring the murder up unless he hears about it in the media and brings it up to you.
posted by tckma at 7:25 AM on August 1, 2014

For the record, I know where you are as well.

I'm of two minds about this. I have two degrees of separation from someone who was killed on duty. It was shocking and horrible for the family, but it was something they all understood could happen, even if they wouldn't have envisioned the exact circumstances. So part of me thinks you don't have to bring this up because, like others have said, your fiancé isn't stupid. He surely understands that you're not going into a department where everyone goes their entire career without drawing their gun. On the other hand, from my second-hand experience, I'm guessing this shooting is a really big freaking deal in area law enforcement. If you're not going to this funeral, you're probably going to go to one sooner or later. And therefore, maybe you should bring it up with your fiancé on the grounds that it's good to mention things that are big freaking deals at work to your partner.
posted by hoyland at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2014

The police aren't the only profession at risk - mental health professionals too for example, dealing with potentially unpredictable situations etc... and to a more limited extent anyone working with the public.. strange breed that we can be. It kind of goes with the territory I think. I would guesstimate most people will have at least one incident of some sort in their career. I've had 2 (one I got out of) and have chosen to keep doing the work.

All you can really do is follow protocol, assess risk, work not alone where possible, project a 'united front' with your colleagues, (you are each others greatest allies), wear protective clothing and de-escalate when you can. A firm but calm (or projected calm) approach can go a long way in a lot of crazy situations. (The whole legal gun thing is pretty alien for most Brits, but ofcourse we have the illegal kind). Do you have supervision in place? Maybe take it there instead if you are worried it will put boyf on edge.
posted by tanktop at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2014

Well...I think we might all be ignoring a huge question here...do YOU need to talk about this? It's okay if you do. You're going into a job that clearly has dangers. If you do need to express this, then yeah, I think you should mention it to someone you love and trust.

Otherwise, it's needless. He knows it's dangerous. No need to rehash it. If he needs to talk to you about it, he hopefully will.
posted by inturnaround at 9:41 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Inturnaround has it — from your question it's unclear if YOU need to talk about this, or if you're concerned about your partner's need to know about this. If YOU need to talk about this and your concerns over it, DO NOT keep your fiance in the dark. Some of the times I've been most hurt in my own marriage is when my husband refuses to confide in me about his own emotional needs. This is what partners are for. Do not hide from yours.
posted by Brittanie at 12:04 PM on August 1, 2014

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you all very much, I think I just needed my initial instincts confirmed.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:05 PM on August 1, 2014

I'm in a dangerous profession, and the discussion of the implications has evolved over time between my wife and me. I won't go into it here but you're welcome to memail me if you like.
posted by itstheclamsname at 8:04 PM on August 1, 2014

Itstheclamsname and I work the same kind of job, close relations to the PD, public safety profession. I've responded to injured officers. I wear a ballistic vest at work. Memail me if you want to hear my experiences with workplace violence as it relates to discussion with SOs, or if you just want to talk shop. Congratulations on being so close to done with the academy. It's hard work!
posted by skyl1n3 at 9:29 PM on August 1, 2014

You fiancé anxiety may not be the most important consideration here. Talking shop would be different from discussion about how you are feeling about the dangers inherent in your job. There is no single answer that fits all.

When I went from my job as a rigger to work in a LRRP platoon, I didn't tell my mother, because I didn't want her to worry. She found out anyway, and I had to deal with her thinking I was not honest with her. I tried to tell her that I only wanted to protect her from worrying, but that didn't work, for reasons that should come to you if you give it a bit of thought. I realize that my military experience isn't a direct match, but I believe the principle is the same. You need to share your life with your SO. He needs to share your life. If you want to talk about certain things, you should go for it, and let him cope. To do otherwise is to begin to create a distance between you, and really, it undercuts your faith in your SO's ability to deal with your life. Maybe he can't cope with your job. Now's a good time to find out: are you going to quit if he gets too upset about what you must deal with daily? When you make a dangerous stop, at night, in an iffy situation, are you going to worry about what he thinks as you approach a car?--or are you going to concentrate on what you must do?

Cops have demanding jobs. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone can be a successful SO to a cop.
posted by mule98J at 12:37 PM on August 2, 2014

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