Support Behind the Badge

Stephanie Erb shares her story of support or lack of support that we all need to learn from.

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Imagine you sustain an injury on the job as an officer, an injury that takes you out of work for a while. Now, imagine what it would be like if no one in the department called to check on you. Imagine being that spouse who is taking care of the officer, still needing to work, picking up all the household duties, and still trying to physically take care of your spouse while emotionally addressing their needs. I don’t know about you, but if I were that officer, I’d feel betrayed, and if I were the spouse, I would feel lonely and overwhelmed. This week, Stephanie Erb, a medically retired officer and founder of the LEO Wives Club support group, shares her story about support or lack of support that we all need to learn from.  

 “One day I had a badge and the next day I didn’t.”

In 2008, after 9 years in the career, Stephanie had her second back surgery that required a multi-level spinal fusion, meaning she could no longer run, jump, or lift more than 25 pounds. With all these physical actions needed in law enforcement, she found herself in a position of medical retirement. Upon retirement, she immediately lost the support of her partners with whom she shared the same shift for almost a decade. This loss of personal relationships and shared experiences can create a sense of grief and abandonment due to circumstances beyond your control.

“Now, here I was, isolated on some desert island by myself, and it was extremely devastating. The support that I lost and needed so much was from my department and my partners.”

In the culture of law enforcement, offering support due to retirement, an injury, or the daily struggles officers face can be difficult. It’s hard to show up and express emotion when the impact of the career has created a conditioned response to not talk about uncomfortable feelings but rather shut them out. Support is about checking in on someone and digging deeper to find out how they are doing and what they really need.

Stephanie’s experience helped her realize there was a void in supporting officers and their families.  She now works to help create community through her Facebook group and mentors others on creating support for officers or in their community.

Showing up as a community and within a department

Humanize the badge

Emotions and feelings may not be expressed while on shift.  A little support can go a long way in helping officers feel safe and encouraged to express what they may be feeling or holding on to. Acts of support can be shown in several ways, such as a simple gesture of handing out a dear officer card, attending a National Night Out for Police, or simply saying “thank you.” As a community, showing appreciation by supporting the law enforcement community is a valuable reminder that a human is behind the badge.

Since publishing my book, I tend to keep half a case of books in my car in case I need them for a client or event.  One week, an officer was running traffic in my office parking lot.  On day 3, I got brave and walked up to the window, introduced myself, and handed him a book.  There are other times when I will leave them randomly on Denton P.D. cars.  I’m always careful when I approach, and I usually ask before getting too close.  I actually had a few officers email me asking where they needed to park to be gifted a book.  HA!  It’s also great to have a cooler of water in the trunk if you see officers working traffic.  These small acts of kindness go a long way to reminding them that we SEE them as human.

Departmental support

As a department, don’t miss out on opportunities to connect your officers with one another and their families. Maybe it’s a tour of the police department if circumstances allow, or it could be a potluck dinner. Create situations to open avenues of connection and support.  Don’t rely on the annual Christmas party or award banquet as the only source of interaction among each other.

Families of officers need to plan events outside of the department. Plan something fun to increase the chances of people going to the event and make people more comfortable. We all need that connection, even if it means somebody has to get uncomfortable to host. If shit hits the fan, you want somebody to stand by you, who gets it and understands, not a stranger delivering a notification who doesn’t even know your first name.

Officers need to make this happen! You know each other’s spouses, so when you need someone to check on your family or offer support, your spouse doesn’t want some random person showing up. Think of this as a safety issue and pass on the continuity of care to someone they are familiar with as another way to protect your family.

One way we did this as a couple was to host events after the holidays when families and officers were available to get together.  Forget Thanksgiving, we had Friendsgiving!  We honor Independence Day but commonly had a cookout on July 3 or 5, depending on when city events were being held.  These were regular events that people knew to plan for at our house and were a great casual way to meet people and their kids.

Offer support within your department and other local departments and national organizations when needed. If you see something going on with an officer or if you know one who needs support, it doesn’t matter if they’re injured, on leave, or having a bad day. Reach out because IT IS needed.

As a spouse, you have to connect. You cannot do this on an isolated island alone. Your officer’s career does and will continue to impact you. Don’t wait until you are 10 years into the career to reach out for help. If you cannot connect with somebody in your community, try reaching out on your own. There might be something you can initiate. “Find a sense of community and support and if you can’t find it, create it.”

Stephanie is a 24-year Northern Illinois public service professional. She spent nine years as a police officer before a back injury forced her to the other side of the radio as a dispatcher for seven years. Her career path led her to be an accreditation manager and training coordinator for a local police department. Stephanie is the wife of a local police sergeant. She saw a need for the support of law enforcement spouses so in 2015, she started the LEO Wives Club, a successful support group on Facebook. She is a domestic violence advocate, sports fanatic, and crazy bulldog mom.

Facebook: LEO Wives Club  

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Support Behind the Badge

Stephanie Erb shares her story of support or lack of support that we all need to learn from.

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