The breaking point.
At Roll Call a short time ago, one of the guys on the CopBlue crew put it out there, “With all of the bullshit going on out there, a lot of our brothers are getting near their breaking point. We should do another series on cop suicide in an effort to head off some of the stress.” This article is Part III.
So, here we are. As of today, July 12, 2020, 90 (NINETY) of our brothers and sisters have taken their own lives this year.
Two days ago, I learned of the most recent: Officer Brian Pilaski of the Orange City (FL) Police. Veteran, he had about two years on. It’s a small group of about twenty cops. They lost a female sergeant to suicide just a couple of months ago. Can you even imagine the mental condition of those who remain at working there today?
THE PURPOSE OF THIS SERIES is simple. I hope that those who read this will look around themselves – at roll call, in the locker room, on scenes and any other place cops are together and ask this simple question: ‘Is anyone acting differently?’
The may be angry … or happy … or depressed … or a million other moods that humans can have. It’s not that the mood is bad. Rather, it’s the fact that it’s different than what you’ve come to expect from this guy.
Then, what do you do? THAT is the question.
This, then will be a very different approach to cop suicide. It is NOT meant for the cop who is struggling; it is meant for the cops who surround him every day – most often, at work.
We must recognize the horrible pain a suicidal cop inflicts on those he cares for the most. Certainly, there is his blood-family. But for me today, it will be his Brothers in Blue who will suffer in horrible ways that cannot even be discussed or measured.
It will rip their guts from them. Some will be angry. Others will feel sadness at a depth previously unknown. They will be confounded, confused, puzzled, embarrassed and yes – pissed.
I hope to help shed a light on the path that leads to self-destruction. Even more important, I hope to show other cops how to use the skills they’ve honed on the street to sniff-out an upcoming tragedy. And prevent it.
We’re not perfect. But, we can do better. Let’s start now.
Reading Parts I & II first may cause this one to make more sense:
Do I Smell Something Burning? CLICK
Hearing the Silent Screams for Help CLICK
AN UNUSUAL APPROACH will be taken in this article. I will talk in detail about Sergeant Josh. A few years ago, he came into focus for me as someone who might need a shoulder to lean on. You will learn what happened – from both of our perspectives.
MORE IMPORTANT: Josh agreed to contribute what the experience was like and what it meant to him, in his own words. His words will provide some very profound insight into what goes on in the life and mind of an officer who may be on the path to his own demise.
I hope you will take it to heart. You may have someone right under your nose who needs you very much, as well. God be with you.
It seemed to me that Sgt. Josh might be in a bit of a tough spot. NO, that didn’t jump up and bite me. NO, I didn’t approach him in the hallway saying, “Word is you might be considering capping yourself.” Nope. Nadda. Nicht. Uh-uh.
I recall thinking, “… Josh is in a bit of a tough spot; maybe doing something small to lift his spirits would be a good idea.” We had lunch at one of the local hangouts on a quiet Friday. He told me that since he was off the road, he didn’t very often get a chance to hang out with the other guys for lunch or beer. (File that tidbit away)
Almost immediately, one of us was calling the other on most Friday mornings. “We having lunch today? Where/when?” It was always the same place. Hey, the food was good and the ladies were pretty. On top of that, they gave us a cop discount, too. Does it get any better than that?
READ MORE: IF I HAD CHOSEN SUICIDE
On a different front, my wife grouses about how I accumulate cop magazines and they seem to overflow the night stand. (Seems to me like a good use for an otherwise useless piece of furniture.) Every couple of weeks, I would take them to Josh when we met for lunch. “Put this in the roll call room or keep them for yourself,” I offered.
I moderate COPS-L (an email group of about 1,000 cops nationwide), I offered Josh the opportunity to become part of the group. I figured it would help him connect with other cops outside his own agency and help keep him up-to-date on current events in law enforcement. He jumped on-board.
Josh and I talked about family. He has a wife and two young daughters at home. Learning this, my wife jumped into her “craft-making” uniform and whipped up some clothes for the girls and picked out some small trinkets at the dollar store for their playtime.
One Sunday afternoon, we visited Josh and his family – gifts in hand. The girls were thrilled. Josh didn’t need to say a word – I could see his reaction in his eyes.
THE HEALING POWER OF BEING CARED FOR
I know: there’s not a damn thing in the list above that would be called special, spectacular nor would it make Fox News. I was just listening – pure and simple. When I was unsure about what to say or do, I would pray about it.
Occasionally, it took all I had to avoid starting a sentence with words like, “Josh, if it were me I would …” No one wants to hear those words.
Especially a cop.
READ MORE: COP SUICIDE – WORDS FROM A MAN ON THE EDGE
Instead, I would offer thoughts like, “Josh, did you consider …” (offering an alternative). Never pressing a position. Decisions had to come from Josh. He didn’t need a father. He needed a friend.
Over time, Josh opened up to me even more.
- The medical care he was getting from the Workers’ Compensation assigned doctor was woefully bad.
- Josh’s medical condition was not improving.
- The chronic pain in his neck and spine along with the cancer left him struggling to be the good employee he had always been.
- The side effects from his cancer medicine made life damn near unbearable.
In sum, Josh was telling me that life was shitty and there was little hope it would improve.
POW! Right between my eyes.
That woke me up. It was clear: I needed to do more.
I arranged for my chiropractor to see Josh for five visits to determine if his condition would improve. (Thanks to my wife for increasing my allowance to pay for it.)
The next week, at lunch, Josh told me that the chief took away his ‘take-home’ car. No warning. It just happened. Only days later, Josh called me. He was nearly in tears. The chief had taken Josh’s gun away.
Can you imagine: you are a working cop. In the course of just a few days, you lose your take-home vehicle and your weapon. The chief could have kicked him in the balls at the same time to finish the job. Josh felt humiliated, angry and questioned his own future as a cop.
The work comp doctor then determined that Josh could no longer work as a cop. Josh then applied for disability pension benefits so he could take a medical retirement.
All of this happened in September, 2015. Josh continued working on the CALEA accreditation and his latest assignment as the I.A. Sergeant.
In late January, he was suddenly sent home with the explanation that there was no longer any ‘light-duty’ tasks for him to perform.
In February, Josh was summoned to HR. Without any forewarning, he was summarily terminated. Suddenly, he had no income and within the month would lose medical insurance for himself and his family.
The timing for the commencement of disability benefits could be months into the future. No one knew.
The cost of his cancer drug alone was $10,000 each month.
He had a wife and two young children to feed.
COULD YOU IMAGINE FACING THAT SITUATION BY YOURSELF?
With the help of the local F.O.P Lodge, an Action Plan was developed.
We got the media involved. We held a spaghetti dinner/fundraiser. There was a prayer breakfast. Josh and I canvassed the businesses in the community where Josh worked the streets for the prior decade.
There were many simple tasks that most guys handle on their own. Josh was not up to the challenge, so I was at his side.
- Confidential planning meetings with Josh’s attorney.
- Appearance before the Pension Board.
- Sitting with Josh as a doctor examined him from head-to-toe at the demand of the Pension Board.
My role: I was a mentor for Josh. When he was in a meeting, exam or interview, my role was to ensure that Josh covered all of the details, as planned. Though emotionally stressing for him, I maintained a cool, clear head and helped him do the same.
READ MORE: THE GREATEST LOSS – POLICE SUICIDE
There were the quiet moments. Times when I would grab him, pull him in for a tight hug and hold him. It was at those times that I would remind him that he was not facing this challenge alone. He never would. His brothers cared for – and loved him.
We humans need that kind of reassurance occasionally – whether we are little children or grown adults.
Josh and I appeared in front of city council. We handled reporters’ questions in many media interviews. To be clear: Josh was the real trooper through all of this. I was there to run interference.
None of this was remarkable. None of it was particularly tough. It was a series of little things, day in and day out. It was remembering that Josh was in a hole and I had been called by the Big Guy to help him out. That’s all I did.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF JOSH
(Note: the following was written by Josh. They are all his words.)
I was very down during this time. I have to say it was the worst time of my life, to date. I did not know how much more I could take. I was at my breaking point and no one in my department could sense it. I tried to share with the chief on more than one occasion and he would shut me down.
I did not want to go to my wife as she was too already to her breaking point from what I had been going through. I did not want her to have any further burdens. She was already worried about the cancer. That was enough in itself. Being strong, I pretended I was ok around her, but the truth was I was falling apart fast.
Stripping me of my gun and patrol car was stripping me of my livelihood. Being a cop was in my blood and all I knew. I had nowhere to turn in the beginning and was going down fast. I was going to church by myself during non-mass hours trying to connect with God and hoping for Him to guide my way.
I felt and thought a few times I was ready to end it all. No career, no money, no health care, cancer what’s left I asked myself. When I looked at my family it pulled me back some, but I still needed more. The day I had to hand over my badge made me feel like I did something bad as a cop. I did nothing wrong, but get injured in the line of duty at no fault of my own protecting the community.
TURNING POINT FOR JOSH
The many things Jim did helped me in so many ways you don’t even know. The things were not BIG at all. But they still made a difference. That’s when you came in like superman. Boy you had the energy and motivation I did not have at the time. You were just the person I needed.
This is when you Jim came in to catch my fall. The things you did were simple. I had a friend willing to listen, provide advice. You were someone who actually cared. It was such a relief when you showed up in my life. I felt a big burden lifted off of me. Almost like an angel touched me.
It seemed you always had the answer or advice to what was currently happening in my life. At the time I was only thinking/seeing negative. You taught me to think positive and to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You gave me the book “Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul.” I read the book and this little gift touched me.
Just going to lunch helped me feel human again. The long tight hugs were something I was not used to at first, but they made me feel good. Almost like positive energy form you were being released into my soul to heal me.
You gathered up the community and media to get traction on what had been done to me. I truly believe this caused an embarrassment to the city for how they handled my situation ultimately forcing them to do the right thing in the end. If it had not been for your great planning I don’t think it would have ended like it did with a positive outcome. You made the good come from the bad.
I truly felt you were like my Attorney/friend/someone to lean on. When you came into my life I felt like anytime I was hit in the balls you would be just a phone call away with the right words to make me feel better. Which you did. I needed this at the time because the burdens I was facing were so overwhelming I could not think clearly. My mind was all over and you kept me on track.
Your actions slowly pulled me all the way forward to see clearly again. I have learned a lot from you and it has taught me to let negative things go. I know strive to keep positive influences in my life and one of them is you! Every morning I wake up, I thank God for giving me another day. I see life as precious now and it means a lot to me.
HOW DID IT END UP?
Josh was awarded full pension benefits.
All matters with Workers’ Compensation have been resolved.
The question of medical insurance has been worked out.
Most important: Josh will make it. He will do just fine.
WHAT’S THE LESSON?
It started with a simple cop – like you or me. He had thirteen years on the job and had been smacked-down really hard. No headlines or TV cameras were telling his story.
Another cop happened along who sensed something wasn’t ‘quite right.’ He was an acquaintance who became a really tight friend.
There were no banners, no fireworks and really, nothing special. We just spent time together. We called each other. We sent a zillion emails. One of us recognized that the other had a need.
READ MORE: WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?
I’m no star and I’m no saint – believe me. I’m just a cop. My greatest gift to Josh was my time. I tried to listen more than talk. I endeavored to offer ideas when dilemmas presented themselves. I wanted Josh to see that there was no problem that we could not solve. He didn’t have to face those problems alone.
Was it easy? Not always. Was it rewarding? More than I can express. I have a loyal brother and friend who will be with me to my last breath.
I thank God that I won’t be going to the funeral of a brother who didn’t know where to turn in his time of need.
Periodically, we ALL need to turn off the Ambient Awareness mode and take a serious look at the crew with whom we share our work-life. No one is perpetually “fine” just because they are a cop.
Much to the contrary.
We are a proud bunch. We take pride in being self-sufficient and solving our own problems. It takes a lot for most cops to ask for help. Some of them will never have the strength to do that. Yet, the tell-tale signs are there. They are silently screaming out for help. It isn’t necessary for a crack-whore on the street to admit she smokes dope for you to know something’s up, does it?
The signs of serious stress in a brother is just as obvious. But, we must open our eyes and look for it.
At the bottom line, it comes down to saving just ONE life.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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