THIS IS PART TWO OF OUR SERIES
In prior years, as spring gracefully ended and the warmth of summer introduced itself, CopBlue took some time to talk with our readers about COP SUICIDE.
As this year dawned and we made editorial plans, we hoped that COP SUICIDE would be a subject for our past. Unfortunately, reality forced this gut-wrenching topic to the surface once again.
Here we are, in the middle of June when we should be focused joyful times of sunny days and starry nights. Young couples sharing vows of a future together until … Until death tears them apart.
The subject none of us can avoid.
As I write this, the reports show that 59 of our brothers and sisters in blue have been stolen from us in various lines-of-duty deaths so far, this year.
In a whole different source of sadness, 100
cops have taken their own lives so far, this year. That’s almost double the number of LODDs.
And there are more suicides that we’ll never know about.
There’s the cop whose cause of death was reported as the accidental discharge of his shotgun as he was stowing it in his trunk. What the official report failed to mention was this: the muzzle of the shotgun was in his mouth when the shot was fired.
There are more deaths like that. But, they will never be reported as suicides and therefore, we will never know how many of our brother cops brought about their own end.
Here is what most of us know but don’t really want to talk about: we are in a crisis. An epidemic of suicides. It is a plague spreading silently among us.
NYPD has lost three of their cops in a recent nine-day period. None offered any clues in advance. The second among them was Deputy Chief Steven Silks who was on the cusp of retirement. He was happy. He was liked. He loved his job, the NYPD and all of the cops with whom he served.
Steven Silks was a storybook example of everything a cop should be.
And now, he’s dead.
He did it to himself.
We are bringing a series of articles to our brothers and sisters on the topic of Cop Suicide.
We want to help everyone consider the possibility that your closest friend, your partner, or any one of your brothers may be considering taking their own life right now.
Just like the 29 year old NYPD cop ended it a few Friday nights ago. He walked out of the station house with a smile on his face, got into his car and … it was over.
Just seven years on.
By my standards, he was just a kid with so much life ahead.
His brothers and his community loved him.
The reality is that the grip of suicide can unexpectedly grab any one of us before we realize what has happened. We can be in a downward spiral and our perception tells us that there is nothing to grab onto.
In such a moment, nothing is normal
Your perception of the world would be skewed.
It’s almost like the tunnel-vision one gets in an OIS.
And, you conclude (wrongly) that there’s only ONE way out.
The rest of us must learn how to spot it, how to sense it, how to smell it, how to act on it.
There is not a minute to spare.
Now is the time.
Over time, I have read numerous articles that are meant for the eyes of cops who are struggling to keep it together. Writers on this topic are typically frustrated. They rarely know if their work has actually kept any of us alive. Yet, we only need to save just ONE life to make it all worthwhile.
READ MORE: COP SUICIDE: THE END OF THE LINE
There have been too few pieces written for those left behind when a brother commits suicide. Usually, those articles are intended to help us cope with a loss after the fact.
How about a different angle? Think of a cop who is depressed due to some bad stuff going on in his life. I am going to share some thoughts on how to spot another cop who is thinking about swallowing his Glock and then what you should do when that ‘sixth-sense’ kicks in.
You’ve done it in training: ‘if-then’ thinking.
Fair notice: This will be written in Cop-blunt language. No big words to impress others. No abstract ideas that feel good but accomplish nothing. One cop to another, as if we were working a two-man car together. Let’s go.
BUT OFFICER, I DIDN’T SEE THE STOP SIGN
We’ve all heard that excuse. Fact is, human beings have the ability to tune-out things which are routine. (Just ask my wife.)
We take things we experience frequently and put a low priority on them. The technical term for it: Ambient Awareness.
We know it’s there (happening) but only truly notice that stuff only when there is a crisis.
READ MORE: AN OPEN-LETTER TO THE ANTI-POLICE CROWD
Here’s an example: driving. Think of a new sixteen year old driver versus you or me.
The new driver has their eyes glued to the road. Us: not so much. Traffic cops are often amazed at the multitude of activities some people combine with driving.
Think about arriving at work. You are in the locker room changing clothes and getting geared-up. Another guy on the crew shows up and starts getting ready just a few feet away.
You glance up, recognize him and say something casual like, ‘Wassup?’ His response is something equally casual. He might share some news, ‘Still beat from yesterday. Got held over for four hours.’
You guys don’t get into a deep conversation and examine each other head-to-toe like you will when you encounter some asshole later out on the street. You’ve seen this guy half-dressed a hundred times previously. Hours from now, you might not even remember what you said to one another.
In your mind, routine interactions with this person are in the Ambient Awareness category for you.
The exception to this routine might be if another cop shows up with a cast on a body part or he has endured something else that grabs your attention. THEN, everyone notices and wants the details.
CALL THE ORKIN MAN
Imagine that you are the SRO in a local high school. You’ve been working there for a while and know your way around. Daily work has pretty much slipped into the Ambient Awareness state as it relates to the adults in the building.
Then, you get word from the Street Crimes Unit that the assistant principal is suspected to be dealing drugs. Not enough info for an arrest, but definitely enough to raise your antenna.
Think of how your attentiveness will change whenever you are in the presence of the suspect or when you hear his name come up in conversation – no matter where you may be.
He no longer falls into the Ambient Awareness category. Get the picture?
You will now be like the Orkin Man as it relates to this guy – as well you should.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO COP SUICIDES?
Occasionally, it is important that we take a fresh look at the people around us. It is not because we consider them a suspect. Rather, we need to be looking with an eye to noticing anything which has changed and, ‘doesn’t fit’ his normal behavior patterns.
Take a moment and think about arriving on scene where a missing 3 year old child has been reported. You listen closely to every word uttered by the parent. Once assigned to search a specific place or area, you go over it and through it with a ‘fine-toothed’ comb. You give priority to every sound you hear as you listen for a cry or whimper.
If you are searching the toddler’s home, you are looking for anything which looks out of place. Nothing is too small. Is there an empty medication bottle in his room? Is there an obvious gap in his clothing, e.g. it’s winter and his winter coat is gone?
Occasionally, we need to be doing the same thing with our brothers. It could be physical changes, possibly an infection of his mind. There are many ways that trouble can show up. Here are a few to think about:
- Unusual behavior, e.g. a loudmouth who becomes quiet.
- Change in appearance or style, e.g. unplanned weight gain/loss, add/lose facial hair, noticeable change in clothing tastes.
- Suddenly gets very serious about working out and gaining muscle. Now, he is VERY interested in how he looks.
- Attitude changes, e.g. long-time upbeat extrovert becomes cynical and seems to find a negative aspect to everything / everyone they encounter.
- Repeated negative talk about home-life that involves his spouse or kids.
- A married copper who has always had his needs met at home is now hitting on females out on the street (or in the bar). He is suddenly looking for action everywhere except home.
- Think of the colleague who suddenly stops participating in small stuff, e.g. lunch with co-workers or getting a beer with the crew at the end of the shift.
- Do you have someone who no longer attends events outside work, e.g. an awards banquet, shift party, and blames their wife for their absence?
- Think of coworkers who are having serious health issues personally or with a member of their immediate family.
- There may be a crew member having financial trouble or in the throes of ending a marriage (not the trial marriage, but the real one).
- How about the cop who has NO PLANS to be with anyone special for Thanksgiving or Christmas?
- Finally, there is the typically happy guy whose face has been wrinkled-up way too often lately over seeming bullshit issues.
Stop for a minute and think. No one (or even two) of these items is cause for putting the subject under 24 hour surveillance.
WHAT IT IS: notice for you to pay attention to this person. Take him/her off the Ambient Awareness list. You’re a trained cop. If you were dealing with a dirtbag in the projects, your training and experience would lead to an appropriate response. Use those same skills here.
REAL WAR STORY
(Note: I have the permission of the subject involved to write this. Of course, names have been changed.)
A few years ago, I was asked if I could conduct a training class or two on the topic of computer-based crash reports for a very small agency near my home. The uniform patrol bureau had about 25 members.
It evolved over time and resulted in me on a ride along frequently in addition to other station visits. I helped train their rookies and it gave me time on the street which I viewed as vital to staying fresh in my teaching and writing pursuits.
I took notice of Sgt. Jason, a WM, 33 yrs, with the physical build of a runner / cyclist. He had 12 years on.
On every visit, his ass was glued to his chair in front of a computer screen. Though he was polite, idle conversation was not his strong point.
Something didn’t feel quite right, but I kept my thoughts to myself.
Sgt. Jason told me on one visit that he had been assigned the job of creating all of the written policies necessary for the agency to gain accreditation by CALEA. The sigh and visuals which followed made it clear: this was NOT where he wanted to be.
The beehive world of the PD was swirling around him and he was stuck in a chair.
Shortly thereafter, he was made the Administrative Sergeant. From then on, he was the person with whom I would schedule training classes and ride alongs. Nice enough guy, but something still seemed out of place.
We grabbed lunch one day. Out of the station, Jason told me how he had sustained permanent injuries a couple of years previously. The effects were growing worse.
Were that not enough, he had just been diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer which – though not fatal – could only be “managed” for the rest of his life. All this at 33 years old.
Jason had a wife and two young children at home. He was miserable.
CAN YOU HEAR THE SILENT SCREAMING?
It’s important that this example be real – TO YOU.
Let’s recap: Jason and I were acquaintances through work. We didn’t have much in common, other than we were both cops. Over a period of many months, Jason and I drew close to each other.
Am I some kind of super-sleuth detective? Nope.
Did Jason wear a sign on his back saying, “Kick Me.” Negative there, too.
I can now look back on my relationship with Jason and his family over the period of about three years. Happily, I can say that Jason will do just fine.
He took some real hard kicks to the nuts on a few occasions over those tough three years. But, when the kicks came, I was at his side. He never stood alone.
To the immediate point: How did I suspect that Jason might be ‘on the edge’ those years ago?
After learning what was happening in his life, I simply gave it this consideration: HOW WOULD I FEEL IF I WERE IN THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES?
I knew it wouldn’t be a good place for me. It wasn’t a very good place for Jason, either.
No magic. No psychology degree. Good ears. Time in thought and prayer. Common sense. We shared a very deep brotherly love for one another.
You have everything I had.
You can do the same for someone else.
You must first notice that another person in your life might need you – maybe in a way they never have before.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
There is one more article in this series.
The final article will lay out what was done to get Jason through life’s most difficult tests.
As I said earlier, Jason is aware of this series and he gives it his blessings. He hopes it will save someone else.
In the final article, Jason will tell readers what this experience was like – for him and his family.
I realize now that if Jason had continued alone, I would have been at Jason’s funeral. I would be kicking my own ass because I did nothing to save him – when I was right there and could have done everything.
As I look at it, much of what has been done regarding Jason was using skills I already possessed – as a cop and as a human being.
I suspect that you have the same skills, too.
The only question: will you put them to use?
A few years from now, will you be looking back and be thankful because you helped to save the life of someone you love? Or, will you risk being in the group of cops who looks back with regret and shame every day because you did nothing?
Will we all have to suffer the death of a great man and a great cop – when we could have prevented it?
At the bottom line, it all comes down to saving just ONE life.
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