In weeks like this, police and their spouses wonder: Is it worth it?

Eric Mullins and Diana Dugan talk at the police memorial in front of the Tampa Police Department. Both are married to law enforcement officers.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Eric Mullins and Diana Dugan talk at the police memorial in front of the Tampa Police Department. Both are married to law enforcement officers.

TAMPA — In families whose daily lives orbit a gun and a badge, mothers and fathers looked long and hard at their children this week.

It was the other identity of slain Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts — as a husband and the father of a 3-year-old boy — that has magnified the grief and shock felt by other police families.

Police officers and their spouses can't help but ask: Is it worth it?

Many have posted their fears on the leoaffairs.com law enforcement Web site: "This is the reality we and our families face each and every day, 365, 24/7," said one posting, signed "Tampa PD Wife."

At the Tampa police headquarters Friday, near a mountain of flowers left by mourners, two spouses of Tampa officers — one a husband, the other a wife — talked about the fears they've fought and about the long looks they've given their kids.

One thing they emphasized: You don't ask your husband or wife to quit. You don't make them choose between family or job. You may think it in weeks like this one, but you don't ask it.

• • •

It's an old stereotype, said Brian and Diana Dugan, that police families hang out only with other police families. The fact is that officers have come to understand job stress, they said. They've learned that one of the best ways to deal with it is to develop other interests.

Brian Dugan, 42, is a patrol lieutenant, a cop for 20 years. He and Diana have been married 14 years. They have a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. He does not spend free time with other officers.

"I bury myself in my kids," he said.

Diana likes to help him talk things out, but there's only so much he wants to say about his job — especially within earshot of the kids.

Children of police tend to grow up with a greater awareness of danger than other kids, Diana said. As a little girl, violence didn't exist in her world. "My parents worked for corporate America." The Dugans work as hard as they can to protect their kids' innocence.

"There are certain things you don't want them to know," Dugan said. "There are things we see that no one should ever see."

Dugan got a text message at home Wednesday night. He walked into another room. The children immediately sensed trouble. They wanted to know. He told them an officer had been shot.

The children saw their father in tears. "Our son really struggled."

No one in the house slept that night. His fifth-grade daughter was up at 5 to say goodbye to him.

Dugan got into police work for the excitement and to do some good. "All that got old."

Diana said she wouldn't ever tell him to quit. She reminds herself about the good he has done. You don't just turn away from a life of accomplishment. "My role is support," she said.

This week, Dugan keeps thinking about the 3-year-old boy left fatherless. He thinks about Christmas coming.

"I'd be a liar if I didn't admit I think about quitting."

Dugan wiped his eyes.

"Even if it's for 10 seconds."

• • •

Eric Mullins has recently sent his wife, Deanna, back to work. They have two sons, 15 and 8. The boys were 12 and 5 when a drunken driver smashed head-on into Deanna Mullins' patrol car at 2 a.m. in December 2006. The crash crushed her leg and broke her ankle and seven ribs. Now recovered, she is back at work as a Tampa robbery detective.

The night she was hit, he and the boys were asleep.

He heard a knock, got up, looked out the front door, and saw Deanna's friend, Sarah, a fellow officer. At first he wouldn't open the door.

He finally let her in. Then he tried to think. His mind whirled. He had to go to St. Joseph's Hospital. But he had the boys. He couldn't leave them with neighbors. "They needed family." He got them up and drove them to his mother's house. All he could tell them was their mom was hurt.

He is thinking this week about that knock on the door he got three years ago.

It's different for him now.

"I realize it can happen, and it will happen. People who send their loved ones off to war have a heightened expectation that something can happen. But police officers may come home safely every night for years, and you forget."

When an officer is killed, the reality slams home like a bullet.

"It's the realization that every time they stop to talk to someone they don't know, it can happen. They all realize, 'It could be me.' "

Mullins would never ask his wife to quit. She was eager to return, could never sit behind a desk.

"People like her choose. They choose to put themselves in a dangerous place to protect us.

"I know my wife too well," he said. "We're a part of her life. We're not her life."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2258.

In weeks like this, police and their spouses wonder: Is it worth it? 08/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 1:52am]

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