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 line-of-duty deaths.
In a whole different source of sadness, 100 cops have taken their own lives. 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 round 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 demise.
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 the last nine days. 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, your brother may be considering taking their own life right now.
Just like the 29 year old NYPD cop ended it last Friday night. 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.
From my point of view, 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 with 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 think 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.
COP FUNERALS are about the most painful events I have ever experienced.
When talking about it with other officers, their sentiments are much the same. Over the years, I’ve pondered why these funerals are so difficult. There seems to be agreement that the pain is rooted in some or all of the following reasons.
- The officer, whose body is lying in the casket, in full uniform, could just as easily have been me.
- Depending on the circumstances of the loss, I might even wonder for a moment why I survived.
- The sound of the pipers playing Amazing Grace chokes my throat and fills my face with tears – no matter where I am when I hear it.
- I stand with fellow steely-faced officers at attention. Each one of us fears that he will be the first to break down and show the emotional anguish being endured.
Not too long ago, I participated in my first cop funeral where the deceased officer took his own life – with his service weapon. He was a well-liked and respected sergeant in a municipal agency of about 100 cops.
I had been at the agency numerous times over the prior month, conducting in-service training. The funeral was scheduled for Saturday morning with visitation on Friday evening.
READ MORE: I HAVE YOUR BACK
Upon arrival at the visitation, I saw many familiar faces. I returned on Saturday for the funeral.
There was a palpable difference in the air making this funeral different from others. Yes, there was that sense of loss which ran deep. But, there was more.
The faces of this crew spelled out a variety of emotional pains. There were blank stares of confusion about what these cops were feeling. Nearly all showed a high level of personal anguish. Their faces held many questions:
- How did I not see this coming? How did I fail my brother?
- Why didn’t the sergeant tell someone he was having problems?
- Why didn’t he reach out to someone?
- He was my brother. I would have taken a bullet for him without a moment’s hesitation, but I couldn’t save him from this.
- And yes, there was some anger that this sergeant would knowingly inflict this kind of emotional devastation on those who loved him, respected him, and worked side-by-side with him.
At the visitation, there was one very young officer who sat in the back and cried almost constantly. I learned later that the officer in question had been mentored and guided by this sergeant from his very first day on the job. They were very close and the young cop deeply respected and cared for that sergeant.
HOW DOES SUICIDE HAPPEN?
Not literally, but mentally.
I recently talked to a young officer in my state when I sensed might be considering suicide. Bringing it up ain’t easy. It’s certainly not comfortable. But, there’s times the subject must be broached.
The response of this young guy was the same as I expected: “I would NEVER [emphasis added] take my own life. I wouldn’t even seriously consider it.”
That is a typical response. And they were probably uttered at some time by the sergeant whose funeral I attended. I can’t imagine that any cop would respond any differently to questions about considering suicide.
READ MORE: IT’S NOT NORMAL
Suicide takes more cop lives than do Line of Duty Deaths in most years. So far in 2019, there have been 53 line-of-duty deaths and 92 suicides that we know about. Many departments don’t report the death as a suicide for fear of recrimination or loss of benefits.
Suicide becomes an option when a person is hurting, under a great deal of stress or pressure, and sees no other way to bring an end to the pain.
It can close in on a person often without them realizing of what is happening.
Think of it like a trap set for a wild animal in the forest. A cage has food inside and there is a cone-shaped entrance that allows the animal in to get the food but then closes so as to trap it inside. That’s what often happens in suicide.
It can be difficult for others to see because frequently the person at the center often doesn’t see it for themselves.
By the time the person at the eye of the storm realizes that he’s been trapped, he feels helpless. He’s embarrassed that this could happen to the strong, sturdy, self-reliant cop who has helped hundreds or thousands of others over his career. The last thing he is inclined to do is tell anyone out of fear of exposing his own weaknesses.
READ MORE: REMEMBERING THE FALLEN
I train cops in classrooms all across the country. They’re reluctant to even ask a question in a group for fear of looking ignorant. Yet, when alone in the car on the street, questions flow like a river.
How then can anyone be surprised that a cop would hide notions of suicide?
By the time suicide is a real consideration, the subject’s mind is clouded. He is no longer objective. He probably can’t think of anything other than getting relief from the pain.
He doesn’t even consider the pain he is about to inflict on the brothers whom he loves and trusts most: the ones at work. He is mindlessly about to create a scar so deep and so wide that it will never heal for most of them.
LIFE HAS TIMES OF CRISIS
It is inevitable. You cannot escape them.
- A few years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery, the doctor told me she was terminal. Thank God, he was wrong.
- The stress of a marital breakup is very tough. If there are kids involved, it can be mentally and financially crippling.
- There may be the death of a loved one – like a parent. You have the job of handling the estate and its affairs.
- It might be a critical incident. A close friend of mine was involved in an OIS where the shitbag was killed. It was a good shoot. Yet, it left my friend mentally awash for some time as he struggled with the fact that he had taken the life of another.
From big to small, you will face a crisis in your lifetime, and probably more than once.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO PREVENT YOUR OWN SUICIDE?
Suicide prevention starts first within each one of us.
This evil can come to anyone. Including you. You will know it has reared its ugly head long before anyone else. When it does, what will you do?
First, stop pretending that it can’t happen to you. It can. Every cop who’s capped himself said, “it can’t happen to me,” at one time or another. Believing otherwise is ignoring reality and is downright foolish.
What to do?
Hang on tightly to brother cops. They don’t need to be in your own agency. In fact, it might be better if they’re from somewhere else.
I have a short list. They comprise my team. I talk or communicate with them frequently. They are my buddies. I share my work-related successes with them. And, I know that they are there when I’m in trouble.
Now for a short war-story.
Some time ago, I was looking to make the move from part-time to full-time cop. I looked for agencies that have their own academy, believing that in this environment I could work the street and teach. Perfect.
I began the application process with Madison, WI PD. Through the testing and application process I was at/near the top of the pool. I needed to pass the physical agility test to be held in late January to be selected.
I’m a bodybuilder, so strength was not an issue. But, I have a deformed right knee. I had to learn to run to meet the requirements of the running component of the test.
I hired a professional to teach me to run. I was in physical therapy twice each week. I went to the gym 2 or 3 times every day to run. I ran in the swimming pool. I worked my ass off in preparation for about 3 months straight.
On test day, I aced every event, more than doubling the requirement for each item. Then came the run. I took off like a shot. About a third of the way into the run, I tore a tendon or ligament in my left foot/ankle. I was down on my face on the track.
I was devastated. I had my heart set on Madison. The recruiter had told me that I was the “perfect” candidate. But, now I was disqualified due to the injury. I was on crutches. My spirit was broken. I had to tell all of my friends who were rooting for me that I had failed. I was probably as close to suicide as I will ever get.
As I returned to the hotel, my wife saw the crutches and immediately came to my aid. I then turned to my buddies whom I mentioned earlier, telling them of my fate.
READ MORE: COP NO MORE
They ministered to me. One had his brother at my hotel within an hour offering help and support. The others sent repeated emails of encouragement. They were on the phone checking on me and just offering an ear. The reassured me that better things would come, even though I couldn’t imagine how. My brothers surrounded me (mentally, not physically) and held me up when I was most weak.
The WHEN/THEN approach requires that you consider and plan for the time that you will face such a crisis. It may come when you least expect it, but it will come.
I believe that reaching out to others to support me in my weak moments is a sign of strength, rather than weakness. I understand: there is fear when you expose a vulnerable area of yourself. “I’ll wait until something goes wrong, then I’ll ask for help.” It may be too late, then.
You wouldn’t commence learning to shoot only if/when you come under fire on the street. That would be crazy.
Figure out who is in your life that you are comfortable talking with. Who understands your sick sense of humor? Who will listen when you need an ear? Who are you willing to support, in return?
It might be one person. It might be more, like I have. I am close to the buddies who support me. I can tell them my inner-most thought and I am not threatened with worries that they will think badly of me. They are available to me whenever I need them.
I know they accept me and I am comfortable in our relationship.
I understand. We are men. We are cops. We fix shit. We don’t call someone else to do it for us.
However, when something on the street goes sideways, we call for backup, knowing in advance that it’s there.
WHEN / THEN thinking.
Apply the same to your personal life. Getting backup in place for the crisis times is no different than covering the shift with enough people to back you up. It’s not about being weak, but rather it’s about being prepared.
You might make it through the next crisis on your own. But there’s no awards given out on Judgment Day for going it alone. You wouldn’t walk into a bank robbery in progress without backup. Don’t try to walk through all of life’s challenges alone. It’s just plain stupid.
You are part of the biggest family on earth: The Brotherhood in Blue.
If you love them, if you care about them, don’t risk making them go to your funeral wondering why you didn’t reach out to them, wondering about how they failed you, wondering about how they will handle the tragedy that you’re putting them through.
Do it today. Do it now. Reach out. You will never be alone. Your brothers will lift you up. We are there.
At the bottom line, it all comes down to saving just ONE life.
If you want to talk right now, call me (386) 763-3000. No matter the time of day. I am your brother and I care about you.
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