Married to each other and law enforcement: Cop couple has mutual aid through tough times

Robert and Khalia Satkiewicz, parents of two children, desire to help people

McHenry County deputy Khalia Satkiewicz with her husband, retired Illinois State Police officer Robert Satkiewicz, at in their home in Spring Grove, on April 2, 2024.

Husband and wife, father and mother, Illinois State Police master sergeant and McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy.

Robert and Khalia Satkiewicz have embraced several titles during their 22-year marriage. With each title is a common thread: caring and wanting to help.

The Spring Grove couple recently reflected on their professions, including the good and the bad.

They said the worst scenarios in their careers have involved children who have been hurt, neglected, abused or have witnessed domestic violence. Tough calls also involved notifying a family member that a loved one has died, knowing, Khalia said, “there is nothing I can say to comfort them.”

“You can’t help but to feel their emotion, and how do you not as a human being?” she said. “It is raw emotion. …. Sometimes you are tearing up with them.”

Career highlights have included times they were kindly acknowledged and appreciated by the public for doing the work they love, being asked by strangers how they are doing, or seeing children smile and wave – times when they see people understand the police are there to help them. These times also include calls when the subject feels alone in their plight.

“The most rewarding thing is being able to help somebody in a situation where they feel like they have nowhere to go,” said Khalia, 49, a sheriff’s deputy for almost 29 years preparing to retire next year. “In most cases, that would be domestics or getting them mental health care, getting them involved with agencies or social workers that can assist them.”

Many situations police respond to involve people in the throes of a mental health crisis, maybe a momentary crisis or a long-term situation. But often the person does not realize they are in a mental health crisis, Khalia said.

“They don’t notice it is happening to them, and they don’t get the help that they need,” she said, adding that police social workers have been a critical part of such calls.

Robert, who retired in 2017 after 28 years with the state police, said that as a younger man, he aspired to be a wealthy business executive, wearing a suit to work every day and living in a fancy suburb. He attended college for business and worked for Xerox before going into law enforcement.

His life took a different direction, and he soon found himself working for state police in a special enforcement unit dealing with street gangs, drugs and guns. He has gone undercover to buy drugs, which is how he met Khalia. The two once acted as a couple undercover, buying drugs together, he said.

Robert worked in a “high-profile unit” with police agencies in Elgin, Carpentersville, North Chicago, Zion, Waukegan, the South Side of Chicago – “wherever they had a problem,” he said. He also worked in the traffic unit and warrants division.

It’s like where the profession chooses you and you don’t choose it.”

—  McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Khalia Satkiewicz

“I always knew how to talk to people, was always able to talk them into compliance,” he said, and, in most scenarios, the person he was dealing with would thank him in the end. Robert said he treated them with respect.

“As a person, that was always part of it,” he said. “As long as they were respectful with me. … You always try to de-escalate.”

But what solidified for him that he was in the right profession was an event early in his career – shortly after graduating No. 1 in the academy – while working the midnight shift. He responded to a call to assist a motorist, a mother taking her 6-month-old child to the hospital for a broken arm. At first, he was told it was an accident, but with a sergeant’s direction, further investigation and gut instinct, it was revealed it was a case of child abuse. He learned that the child had previously been taken to another hospital under the father’s last name and treated for a broken hip. The child was removed from the home, and the mother was sent for counseling.

“This was a very important part in my career,” he said. “I remember thinking to myself after that, ‘I just helped somebody, even though mom probably didn’t like it.’ ... But she got counseling, she got the help she needed. Maybe this saved this baby from [an abusive life], even death.”

Robert said he“never looked back after that night. Things happen for a reason. … I have no regrets. I had a great career with the state police.”

Khalia, one of the deputies injured when a Holiday Hills man opened fire on officers in 2014, said her parents – both nurses – had wanted her to go into the medical field.

“I knew I always wanted to help people, and in whatever capacity. I didn’t know when I was younger,” she said. “It wasn’t until I started watching the old police shows – ‘Dragnet,’ ‘Cagney & Lacey,’ ‘T.J. Hooker,’ ‘Miami Vice,’ that kind of stuff. I was like, ‘Well, maybe I can do that.’ It was something I was always drawn to, maybe led to do. It’s like where the profession chooses you and you don’t choose it.”

Was Robert ever scared on the job?

“I don’t know if I would call it being scared,” he said. “It is more of respecting the idea that you could end up in a bad situation, being cautious, keeps you alert, you never drop your guard.”

He said that when approaching a situation, he always would rest his forearm or hand on his pistol.

“It was very casual for me, not threatening, [but] there is always an inherent danger if you are going to arrest somebody,” said Robert, who in his retirement has been coaching football and track and field, as well as working as a substitute teacher at Richmond-Burton Community High School.

But the truth, he said, is it is not like on TV.

“The most dangerous times was not in narcotics. … Narcotics work is actually not as dangerous as making traffic stops,” he said. “With narcotics, most times we know who we are dealing with, and we just always have team members with us. A traffic stop, you never know what you are dealing with. He may have committed a crime, have illegal stuff in the car, you never know how desperate they may be. You always have to be alert.”

As for his wife being in law enforcement, Robert said he knows there are dangers, but he does not spend time worrying, even after the shooting. When Khalia was shot, Robert said if there was anything else she wanted to do for a job, to which she replied, “‘This is really the only thing I know,’” he recalled.

“I wanted her to know if she wanted to do something else she could … and that made me very, very proud of her. She didn’t let this dirtbag stop her from doing something she loved doing,” he said.

Working in law enforcement, has emphasized for the Satkiewiczes what their own children, Nicholas, 17, and Sierra, 21, need most – their parents’ time. Parents need to make the time, ask questions, know where their children are going, who they are with and what they are doing, the couple said.

There was a time when she found a teenage girl who had run away from home. Khalia talked to her for more than an hour and emphasized that no one else will love her like her parents. Khalia told the girl how blessed she was to have parents who love her, and the girl seemed to listen. She returned home.

From what Khalia has seen in her career, she encourages parents to stop and talk to their children.

How did Khalia return to work after the 2014 shooting?

Khalia said that although “it was tough to go back,” and her family wanted her to retire or take a desk job, she wanted to get back to patrol.

“I didn’t not want to go back,” Khalia recalled. “The first day back was a ... clash of emotions. I was scared, thinking, ‘Do I want to be here? I don’t want to be here. I can’t do this job anymore’ – all the emotions smacking into me. ... The only way I figured out how to get around it is to block those emotions and thoughts and go out and do what I have done every day before that incident. Otherwise, I could not do my job. I don’t think [post-traumatic stress disorder] will ever go away. I have to learn to live with it.”

Khalia did engage in some therapy after the shooting but she said, for her, the best way to deal – or not deal – with the incident was to put it in a box, tape it shut and never look at it again.

“I don’t want to pull it out, you know, but obviously, if something happens, the box opens,” she said. “The therapist said, ‘You have to talk about it. You can’t bottle things inside because it is going to explode. You have to get your thoughts out.’ But since I’ve never been a person who talks about stuff ... it is hard.”

Khalia said she finds her best comfort in talking to others in law enforcement – those officers who typically see the same situations and deal with the same scenarios and emotions.

The couple’s daughter Sierra said she has had “firsthand experience [of] what my parents are willing to do for people they don’t know.”

She said it upsets her and her brother when police officers are painted in a bad light.

“It is really hard to see a generalization and that these police officers don’t have families that care about them,” she said. “[They are] putting themselves at risk when they have families that they have to go back to.”

Sierra said she wants people to know that police officers don’t “have to do this job, but they choose to do this job. They also care about people in their community and, at the end of the day, they are really selfless people, and they do a lot that doesn’t [get] seen by the public. And they have families.”