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Cops' Wives : Policemen's Life Partners Get Together to Share the Burdens on the Home Front

November 25, 1989|ELENA BRUNET | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Her husband told her not to be surprised if he got home early: He wouldn't be finishing his graveyard shift that night.

Anaheim Patrol Officer Jeff Mayer was calling his wife from the hospital to let her know he had been hurt. He and his partner had chased a man suspected of stealing a motorcycle, and in the ensuing struggle, the suspect, who was high on PCP, beat both Mayer and his partner on the head with Mayer's night stick.

The suspect wrestled with Mayer's partner. Mayer was forced to shoot when the man didn't heed orders to stop.

"I really wanted to be there, needed to be there for him," Linda Mayer said. But she was stranded in her house with her five children.

"You go through a range of emotions yourself. He has been hurt before but this time it really affected me," Linda Mayer said. "I have a lot of confidence in my husband, (but this kind of situation) leaves you feeling a little helpless.

"I worry now if he hasn't come home for a few hours. I get scared," Mayer said.

Fortunately, Mayer only received a concussion that required a few stitches.

Another time, her 7-year-old also started to worry when his father, due home at 3:30 a.m., was not there by 7. "I'm getting worried about Dad," he said to his mother. "Do you think he's dead?"

Television cop shows have familiarized everyone with the risks police officers face in the line of duty. Lesser known are the stresses and fears of the officers' spouses: the feelings of exclusion from his work life, the emotional armor that hinders intimacy with his wife, the difficulties in maintaining a family life with children or even celebrating holidays, the ever-present fear that he might get killed.

Linda Mayer shared her thoughts in a recent meeting of 26 women, members and female guests of the Anaheim Police Wives Assn. This group, in existence for more than 30 years, gives wives a chance to voice concerns among others who may have had to confront similar situations. They discuss how to cope with a husband's frequently changing shifts, how to explain a father's absence to the kids. (One wife switched jobs and worked as a cashier at a grocery store so she and her husband would have the same hours free.)

The Anaheim gatherings also give wives a chance to leave behind household responsibilities just one evening a month.

"It's my Monday," is how Becky Martinez, Anaheim Police Wives Assn. president, describes those monthly meetings. "It's so important that we have those couple of hours. . . (to) release a lot of tension. We like to socialize and have a good time. It's good for the kids; their mom is less stressed."

Psychologist Judith Neighbors attended the Anaheim Police Wives Assn. meeting earlier this month. The wives expressed concern about a number of recent shootings in the city. Neighbors, who is working on her doctorate in post-traumatic stress at UC San Diego, had been invited to field questions by the membership.

Tracy Jefferson told the group about how her husband was involved in a shooting. "It was 2 o'clock in the morning and the driver did not have on any lights. When a third officer tried to pull the man over he ran into a motel." Two officers shot because they believed he had a gun, but the man was not armed.

Her husband, who was on the graveyard shift, woke her up to ask if someone else could take her to work. She said she knew he might be shaken up and waited for him to come home so he wasn't greeted by an empty house. In the end he made it home and she was glad she'd stayed, "glad they had a chance to talk about it" in those 15 minutes as he drove her to work.

"You can live with whatever happens," Jefferson said. "He has to know everyone else is gonna rag on him but he can come home and tell me. People second-guess it. (It was a) split-second decision with limited information. It's important that the family can deal with it."

Linda Mayer said her husband, Jeff, confessed that he's still angry about the situation. "I should have killed him," Linda said he told her. "He'll be out on the streets." The man was jailed only for a few months and has already been released, according to Linda Mayer.

Communication is the key to bridging misunderstanding and nurturing intimacy in times of crisis, Neighbors said.

"Be supportive, interested, understand, but know you can't fix it. Talk about it (just to help him) to let it go," she said. Once officers start shutting off emotions to deal with the criminal element on the streets, they may carry that out in other areas, such as their home life, Neighbors said.

Police wives are also concerned about how their husbands are perceived by their children, their neighbors, the media.

One woman at the Anaheim meeting said her 3-year-old son had started telling his playmates, "My Daddy's a policeman. He shoots people." Or a variation: "People don't like Daddy. Why do they want to hurt Daddy?"

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