Behind the Shield

The life of a law enforcement officer is one of service. It’s complicated, challenging, and even self-sacrificing. We will never fully understand what it would be like to stand in their shoes. Not even their spouses can fully comprehend their lived experiences and complex emotions. But in talking with Sandra Mueller and Jennifer Braunschweig, two wives of local law enforcement officers, we can expand our empathy and demonstrate greater support for area law enforcement.

Jennifer: While dating my husband in high school, he mentioned that he planned to be a police officer. We had an argument about it because it was such a dangerous profession. At that time, I was focused on the physical danger, not even considering the mental toll it would take. I was not prepared for the reality of that. I was not equipped to have the difficult discussions around his experiences and how to cope with the emotions he would go through. 

I read a book entitled I Love a Cop when we were first married that I’d recommend to any law enforcement spouse. It helped me better understand what they go through. They are paid to be in charge, and everyone expects them to solve issues. As wives, sometimes we just want them to listen and be a sounding board, yet they want to fix things. That’s what they are trained to do. When the roles are flipped, and they are talking, we don’t always have an answer, but we make sure we are always available to listen and show our appreciation for all they do. That is the biggest takeaway for the community – we just don’t understand what they’ve gone through, but what we can do is offer love and encouragement to their daily sacrifice of protecting and serving.

Sandra: I always ask about his day. I’ve learned from his responses that sometimes he leaves some things unsaid, and I don’t push. It is not because he’s trying to be hurtful or keep things from me. Sometimes, he just needs to process the events of his day before he shares them with me. I would encourage new law enforcement spouses to ask questions and, together, figure out a system that will work best for their families. What works for us may not work for others. Our spouses see difficult things. When they talk about it, we can’t begin to fully understand their experience. They lived it with all their senses. It can be intense. Sometimes, I don’t know what to say but can listen. I can relate, yet I cannot relate. I show empathy but feel the frustration of not knowing if what I am saying is exactly the best thing to say at that moment. It can be difficult to hide my emotions, but often, I try to keep them to myself because I do not want to add to his stress.

Moment of Reflection:

  • Many probably don’t realize the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of law enforcement spouses. We may not wear the badge, but we certainly are walking this line with them. Leaning on other spouses is a comfort, but knowing that our spouses are supported and respected would provide a much-needed peace of mind.
  • Spouses are committed to being a source of support for their spouses. However, the nature of the job has changed drastically, and the scope of danger has increased significantly. Spouses must balance showing support and managing their emotions. The stress of the job can take its toll on the family.

Jennifer: The one thing I say a lot to him is, “You can’t do it all. You can’t fix it all.” Even though he goes above and beyond, and at times, to a fault. I also remind him that someone didn’t just wake up and decide to commit a crime. They deal with people when they are at their worst. They may not stay that way, but that is where they were at that moment. It helped that I did ride-alongs with my husband early on in his career, and he could explain to me what he was doing and why. I was able to understand his job better and see how careful he is when he’s on duty. But now, in this climate, I am worried. There are many more calls with mental illness accompanied with addiction while the police force is understaffed. Our officers need our respect and support.

Sandra: We want people to remember that although our husbands wear the uniform, they are people first. And, yes, they may be having an encounter with law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean that law enforcement officers are bad people. Again, they are enforcing the laws. The entire profession has been painted with a broad brush. The actions of one suddenly changed the way people viewed all officers, and it was unfair and untrue. The narrative has changed, and there is this anti-police sentiment, which makes their job more dangerous. I think we are lucky in Sioux City that our community is more supportive than other communities. You shouldn’t have a problem with them if you are following the law. Unfortunately, sometimes, people would rather blame the cop than take personal responsibility for their actions. Now, if you don’t like a law, work with your legislators to make a change. But our officers are law enforcement. They are simply enforcing the laws. They just want to do their jobs, serve the community, and make it home safe to see their family at the end of the day. I feel like people forget that. It takes a special kind of person to do this job. They are committed to us and our safety. It is hard work. Regardless of how they are treated, they still work to protect all of us. Who else would do that?

Jennifer: Every single thing they do, they have to be prepared for the worst. A simple traffic stop could cost them their life. It is one of the most dangerous things they do. Can you imagine that?

Sandra: Can you imagine that somebody would not value another person’s life, that they would rather kill someone than get a ticket or get arrested? Officers arrest or issue citations for a reason, whether it is speeding, running a stop sign, warrants, or drug or alcohol-related. When I see a patrol car with a car pulled over, I say a prayer for that officer’s safety. There is no such thing as a routine stop anymore. Their jobs have become increasingly dangerous. 

The sight of a police car causes some people to quickly tap their brakes or make sure they come to a complete stop. For many, it is just another cop trying to meet their quota. They see a cop whose salary they pay. They see a pig, as so many disrespectful people refer to them. They view the police as the enemy. They blame the police for the consequences of their poor choices.  

For me and many other spouses, the person in that patrol car is our life. They are the other half of our hearts. They are the people we love most in this world. They are a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter. Every time I drive by a police car, especially when they have someone pulled over, I don’t just see a cop. I see a human being who chooses every day to show up for a thankless job in a world that continues to spiral further into chaos. I see a person who most likely hugged or kissed their loved ones on the way out the door, not knowing if they will return safely to them. I see someone who shoulders so much responsibility and has pledged to protect those who often hate them or would not care if their lives ended today. Yet, they put that badge and uniform on every day. When I see a patrol car, I see something most people don’t see. I see the person. I see a hero. I see the heart behind the badge and pray that they get home safely at the end of their shift. I wish people could see what I see.

Jennifer: It is a really dangerous job, and they are often judged and disrespected. But they choose to do it, and they come back to it every day. I just want to hear the sound of Velcro at the end of his shift. The sound of him taking off his bulletproof vest. Then, I can breathe knowing he is home safe. My husband has mentioned to me many times the level of responsibility he feels he owes the community. He feels that his role is a privilege, and I see his devotion to all of us.

I want to use this positive platform and share with everyone how meaningful the Thank You Law Enforcement billboards are to our law enforcement and their families. (Picture of billboard) I always get emotional when I drive by one.

Sandra: While we all get to sleep safely in our beds at night, these men and women deal with difficult and life-threatening events we are not even aware of. They are the line between us and potential harm. They are committed to doing their job and doing it well. They love their jobs and their community. The narrative must change. The hate and divide have to end. We are fortunate in this community, but there is still work to be done. Our faith and trust in their training help ease our minds. We want to thank Unity in the Community for helping to provide a bridge between law enforcement and the community. We want to encourage everyone to get involved.

Events the Police Department does within their Community:

Neighborhood meetings

Annual Town Hall meetings 

Cones and Pops with a Cop

Ice Cream Cart – they take out into the community 

High-five Fridays – officers go to elementary schools and high-five kids as they come in

Bike Rodeos – officers teach bicycle safety

National Night Out – officers go to various locations to meet the public

Unity in the Community Annual Block Party 

Unity in the Community Annual Forum 

Career Fairs at various College campuses

Citizen’s Academy

Bicycle Patrol on trails and underserved neighborhoods

Youth Academy 

Junior Youth Academy

Shop with a Cop at Christmas

Police Trading Cards

Police Museum Tours

Multicultural Fairs

Crime Prevention Presentations

And many more 😊

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