Budding family support group publishes Officer Down Planning Guide to aid law enforcement families in crisis

Tom Kennedy

Until you become familiar with their purpose you might chuckle when you learn that the Houston Law Enforcement Officers Family Support Unit has developed a membership list almost as long as its name.

The acronym is rather daunting – HLEOFSU – but don’t let that detract from the deeply committed purpose of this group of spouses, relatives and strong community supporters whose highest priority is helping law enforcement officers in need in times of events such as being wounded in the line of duty.

The aftermath of these traumatic developments can be devastating when an officer’s family members are caught unprepared to make what often proves to be life-altering decisions. ‘

The family support group’s president, Jennifer Bates, wife of Officer Michael Bates, said the membership of the group she leads is growing and, at the present, is touting the emergence of its 32-page guidebook known as “The Officer Down Planning Guide.”

The guide, similar to those put together by other family support groups, emerges as a helpful ready guide for helping to plan for the worst (a line of duty death) or injured-in-the-line-of-duty situations that could result in extended recovery period.

Bates oversaw the compilation of the booklet in cooperation with the HLEOFSU board and HPD liaison Capt. Wendy Bambridge.

The group’s president constantly stresses details and practicalities of the family support group’s purposes. For instance: “We want to provide services in the future when officers are injured and they can’t mow the lawn because they have an injury that prevents that from happening. If the injuries and the resulting situation is more serious, we want to help.”

Bates and her cohorts have handed out copies of the Officer Down Planning Guide to the families of HPD cadets during family nights at the academy. She also said she has pdf copies available through email. You may email her at hleofsu@gmail.com.

She and the organization have tried not to leave out any detail regarding any situation in the wake of a serious on-duty injury. “We don’t want it to happen but if it does happen we want you to be better prepared,” Bates said.

“Officers are large targets nowadays with the protests and riots. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, not in this life.”

The booklet contains some basic common knowledge and poses questions and blanks to fill in.

“A wife that is going through a tragic situation might not remember what credit cards you have and if there is insurance that pays them off in case of death.”

Other information that families might assume they either know or have no need to know is in this booklet. Examples: military background and benefits, extra job information, vehicle information, your will and/or living will, organ donation information, funeral planning, trust funds you have in place, the pall bearers you want in case of a line-of-duty death.

“Some of these we don’t want to think about,” Bates said. “But it’s better to be prepared and we believe this informational and planning booklet will greatly help.”

The organization, founded several years ago, is open to family members of law enforcement officers – not just their spouses and children but fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles. That’s not the membership limit. “We have a few members who are just community members which don’t have the same voting rights as family members but bring a great support for law enforcement to the table. You don’t have to be a family member of officers in this department to join us.”

As a matter of fact, noted Houston area policing advocate and strong supporter Andrea Schmauss was named the family support group’s chaplain. She has well defined duties which she is graciously ready to undertake when the circumstances demand.

“If an officer is in the hospital, we will be taking a care package in a tote bag to the hospital,” Schmauss explained. She said the unit will work with Assist The Officer to make sure that helpful duties aren’t duplicated or come forth in untimely fashion.

Careful thought and planning has gone into every care package. There will be notepads and pens to keep track of visitors and other “listed” needs, bottled water and granola bars, quarters for vending machines and other items designed to “make their initial stay in the hospital a little more comfortable,” Schmauss explained.

Schmauss is fond of reciting the group’s moto, which is recited on the back of t-shirts for sale on the HLEOFSU Facebook page: “Not a family through bloodlines. A family not born from a bloodline, but bonded in life by a blue one.”

Inspiration for the formation of this family support group – as you would expect – grew out of a shooting incident involving HPD officers about three years ago. As Bates tells it, “Two officers were on a call and Officer Wesley Fikes got shot in the arm. They got the suspect. When they got the call, Michael Bates and his partner, Daniel Dodson, were the first to show up on the scene. Luckily it was just an arm wound and Wesley survived.

“I knew his wife and we reached out to her and wanted to provide meals. We and others provided gift cards to the family. She’s got kids trying to take care of kids and her wounded husband.”

The experience prompted Bates and other HPD wives to think about how they would want to be treated in circumstances like these. What evolved was the Houston Law Enforcement Officer Family Support Unit, a name recommended by former Police Chief Charles McClelland.

President Bates said the group numbers about 100 members. Families may join for $40 annual dues, while community members pay $25 annually. The HLEOFSU is an official non-profit organization that plans to host “bonding events” at the academy and possibly other venues throughout the year. They will have a booth at the Nov. 12 HPOU Family Picnic, Bates said.

“This organization has a lot of promise,” Schmauss said. “We’re trying to find every way we can to get the word out that we’re there. People are aware we’re there and we’re getting our name branded. Let everyone know we’re there so we can start to do great things.”