Updated: Jun 7
My name is Michelle. I am a daughter, a friend, a niece, and a cousin. I am an animal lover, a gamer, a reader, and a pretty terrible golfer. I love whisky, beer, and cigars. I am a veteran of the Army National Guard. I am a State Trooper. I am a wife. I am gay.
The uniform I wear and the title that comes with it help me pay the bills and afford my mortgage, but I understand it can also be intimidating, even scary to some. I know how images in the media can heighten that anxiety. I take pride in my uniform, but too often I’ve seen officer-involved videos that have made me feel angry to share a uniform with those involved. I have seen prejudice, sexism, and homophobia in many workplaces including law enforcement departments. I have seen unjust actions in the justice system and officers lose their cool and be downright mean to people. To be honest, I have had bad days and probably been that rude officer myself. I do not pretend that the job title I have is not intimidating. But you are not alone in the trauma you may feel from the job I do. I feel trauma too. I don’t do my work to be threatening, I do it to help keep you safe and to protect from harm those who cannot protect themselves.
Doing my job, I have arrested your friends, your parents, your kids, your family. I have pulled you over, cited you, or let you off with a warning. I have been the Trooper at your door to let you know someone you love isn’t coming home.
Just going to work as a law enforcement officer can also be scary. When I walk up to a person in a car I’ve pulled over, I never know if that person is going to hate me, try to hurt me, or will understand the work I do. I never know if I may have to fight with someone on the shoulder of a busy highway, be attacked in a parking lot like a trooper here in Coeur d’Alene in 1998, or be ambushed while eating lunch with my coworkers. I know that loving a law enforcement officer is scary too. My wife is also an officer with a local agency and it’s never far from my mind that one day she may not come home. I worry that I won’t make it home and what that will mean to my family, friends, and co-workers. I often worry more for my colleagues than myself, for the potential trauma we face each day from fatal crashes, domestic violence, child or sexual abuse calls. I worry about my friends and peers getting hurt.
I was 22 years old when I became a Trooper. I was barely old enough to drink alcohol, and sometimes, I wish I started later to bring more life experience to the job. But I bring the experience of a diverse perspective, one that helps my fellow officers and I manage and assist with the huge diversity of people and situations we find ourselves in. Like many professions, the more diversity of perspectives in law enforcement, the greater our ability to understand and be understood by the people we serve every day.
I wrote this letter to show you that I am more than the badge and uniform I wear. The job I do every day affects me. I’ve cried on my way home after seeing children killed in crashes or while attending the funeral for a fallen officer. I’ve had too many nightmares to count. I’ve pondered leaving law enforcement all together but I stay because I know I’m in a position to inspire and help others and make a difference in growing a stronger community.
And as a gay trooper, I wonder if our future children will have it harder because of what we do; what if our child’s friends cannot hang out at our home because we arrested their parent, or will our kids be teased because they have two Moms?
But then there are those days when the difference I make becomes real. I encounter someone of a different ethnicity, culture, or religion and I get to ease their fears and we have a positive conversation about the world. There are the crashes I go to where I am the calm voice of reason and hope to someone who has just been through the chaos. Then there are days when a little girl looks at me with big, bright eyes and says to her dad, “Look! It’s a lady Officer!”
My career in law enforcement has not always been easy and I never thought it would be. We see people most often during their worst times, and a lot of officers have probably had more bad days than good ones. Still, every day when I put on the uniform, I make my best effort to give not only myself but all law enforcement a good and honorable name. I know there are many more of us who do this job to better the world than to destroy it with negative biases. I have been able to do this job for almost a decade because of the good people in this community who keep me going; the person who offers to buy me coffee, a perhaps brief but positive encounter with someone in the gay or minority community, or the young girl looking at me who realizes she too could be a cop if that’s her dream.
We all have fears, anxieties, and traumas. But through it all, we each want to be seen and heard and understood as human beings no matter our ethnicity, religion, disability, orientation, gender preference, or job title. At the end of the day, I just want to be seen as Michelle, as human, just like you.