Two extremes exist every day in the life of a police officer. The problem is, if the officer and family are not aware of the hypervigilance cycle and its potential destruction, they can’t be expected to take the appropriate corrective action and avoid the devastating effects on both their personal and professional lives.

 Dr. Kevin Gilmartin[i], former cop and behavioral scientist


Michelle sat on the bed, watching Greg dress. She chattered away, recounting a conversation from dinner with girlfriends the night before. Irritated, Greg looked at her with that cop-look in his eye and scolded, “Not the time.” He shoved his gun in the holster and walked out.

How many times have we witnessed a form of this scenario? They’re getting ready for work, and we’re enjoying their last few minutes at home. But somehow we innocently manage to irritate them. It took years for me to understand that when my husband puts on his uniform and weaponry, he has to put on his mind armor as well.

What he does requires body and mind, even a little of his soul. It’s a war mentality to steel his mind to deal with whatever will come his way that shift. Even harmless chit-chat can be irritating as he’s putting on his game face. He must be on his game mentally.

Understanding His Mentality

To be a cop is to be many different occupations all at once. He has to be an athlete, a soldier, a scientist, a researcher, a paramedic, a NASCAR driver, a gun expert and marksman, a counselor, a chemist, a diplomat, a wrestler, a runner, a mechanic, a writer, and a lawyer. He must have a mother’s intuition, the nose of a bloodhound, the patience of a farmer, the compassion of Mother Teresa, and the tenacity of a 2-year-old. He must make peace out of chaos, comfort the anguished, discern criminal behavior from stupidity, and make split second decisions that may have life-altering consequences. He’s expected to be polite when verbally abused, keep people safe in dangerous situations, respect those who disrespect him, and understand the intentions of those who are misbehaving. He must constantly confront evil, and remain unsullied. He must be quick to respond, though sometimes the calls stack up. He must be able to speak police shorthand on radios that may be difficult to hear, especially when in heavy or fast-moving traffic. He is constantly second guessed on his actions, criticized for his demeanor, mocked for his diet and feared for his authority. He’s a threat, a target, a punisher, yet is a rescuer, a protector, and in some cases, a savior.

Given these considerations, society’s expectations on our law enforcement are just short of impossible. But day to day, they report for duty, not knowing what the shift will offer. They put on their badges and try to do the best they can to fulfill the expectations of those they serve. With these pressures in mind, it’s our privilege to be not-so-silent partners behind the badge. Our influence backs them up where they tank up, gear up, and man up to be who they need to be and to do what they’re expected to do.

[i]     Kevin M. Gilmartin, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, (Tuscon, Arizona: E-S Press, 2002) page 50.

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