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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
This is the third in a series on the issue of preventing cop suicides. The previous two are:
A couple of years ago, Sgt. Jason came into my field of vision as someone who might need a shoulder to lean on. I want to share some detail about how our relationship unfolded.
The uniqueness of this article is that Jason agreed to contribute what the experience was like and what it meant to him. It provides 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. It is very likely that you have someone right under your nose who needs you just in the same way. God be with you.
It seemed to me that Sgt. Jason might be in a bit of a tough spot. NO, it didn’t jump up and bite me. NO, I didn’t approach him in the hallway saying, “Word is you might be thinking about capping yourself.” Nope. Nadda. Nicht. Uh-uh.
I recall thinking, “… Jason 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 a local hangout one Friday. He told me that since he had been off the road, he didn’t get a chance to hang out with the other guys for lunch or beer very often.
Almost immediately, one of us was calling the other on 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: SAN FRANCISCO PD – ARE THEY KIDDING?
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 Jason at the station. “Put this in the roll call room or keep them for yourself,” I offered.
When it was just the two of us, Jason 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 store for their playtime.
One Sunday afternoon, we visited Jason and his family – gifts in hand. The girls were thrilled. Jason 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 we did that would be called special, spectacular or make Fox News. It was just listening. Pure and simple.
Occasionally, it took all I had to avoid starting a sentence with words like, “Jason, if it were me I would …” No one wants to hear those words. Especially a cop.
Instead, I said: “Jason, did you think about …” (offering an alternative). Never pressing a position. Decisions had to come from Jason. He didn’t need a father. He needed a friend.
Over time, Jason opened up to me, even more.
- The medical care he was getting from the Workers’ Compensation doctor was shitty – at best.
- Jason’s medical condition was not improving.
- The chronic pain in his neck and spine along with the cancer left him struggling. He was trying to be the good employee he had always been.
- The side effects from his cancer medicine made life damn near unbearable.
In sum, Jason was telling me that life was rotten and there was little hope it would improve.
POW! Right between the eyes. That woke me up.
It was clear: I needed to do more. Things were on the edge for Jason.
I arranged for my chiropractor to see Jason for five visits to determine if his condition could improve. (Thanks to my wife for increasing my allowance to pay for it.)
- READ MORE: I AM THAT COP
The next week, at lunch, Jason told me that the chief took away his ‘take-home’ car. No warning. It just happened. Only days later, Jason called me. He was nearly in tears. The chief had just taken his gun away.
Can you imagine: you are a working cop. In the course of a few days, you lose your vehicle and your weapon. The chief could have kicked him in the nuts at the same time to finish the job.
Jason felt humiliated, angry and questioned his future as a cop.
The work comp doctor then determined that Jason could no longer work as a cop – ever. Jason applied for disability pension benefits so he could take a medical retirement.
All of this happened in September, 2015. Jason continued working on the CALEA accreditation and his latest assignment as the I.A. Sergeant.
HAPPY NEW YEAR? NOPE
In late January, he was sent home with the explanation that there were no longer any ‘light-duty’ tasks for him to perform.
In February, Jason was summoned to HR. Without warning, he was summarily terminated. Suddenly, he had no income and within the month he would lose his medical insurance for himself and his family.
The timing for the commencement of disability benefits could be months into the future; no one knew how long it would be.
The cost of his cancer drug alone was $10,000 each month.
He had a wife and two young children to feed.
IMAGINE FACING THAT SITUATION
With the help of our 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. Jason and I canvassed the businesses in the community for support.
There were other tasks that needed to be handled. Most guys could tackle them on their own. Jason was not up to the challenge, so I was at his side.
- Confidential planning meetings with the attorney.
- Appearance before the Pension Board.
- Sitting with Jason as a doctor examined him from head-to-toe at the behest of the Pension Board.
I was Jason’s mentor. When he was in a meeting, exam or interview, my role was to ensure that he covered all of the details, as he intended. Though emotionally stressing for him, I maintained a cool, clear head to help him get through it.
There were the quiet moments. Times in private when I would pull him in for a tight hug and hold onto him. It was in those moments that I reminded him that he was not facing these challenges alone. He never would. His brothers cared for – and loved him.
Every human needs that kind of reassurance occasionally – whether we are little children or grown adults.
- READ MORE: WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?
Jason and I appeared in front of city council. We handled reporter’s questions in media interviews. To be clear – Jason 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 Jason was in a hole and I had been called by the Big Guy to help him out. That’s all I did.
(Note: the following was written by Jason. 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 too was at 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 when I was 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 and 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 JASON
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 accustomed 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 you 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 now 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?
Jason was awarded full pension benefits.
All matters with Workers’ Comp have been resolved.
Medical insurance has been worked out.
Most important: Jason will make it. He will do just fine.
WHAT IS THE LESSON?
It started with a regular cop – like you or me. Jason had thirteen years on. Coppery had been his entire career; it was all he knew. In cop-blunt terms, his agency fucked him. No headlines or TV cameras telling his story.
Another cop happened along who sensed something wasn’t ‘quite right.’ An acquaintance became a really tight friendship.
There were no banners, no fireworks and really, nothing special. We just spent time together. We called each other. We sent a zillion emails. Our families visited at each other’s home.
I’m no star and I’m no saint – believe me. I’m just a regular guy. My greatest gift to Jason was my time.
I tried to listen more than talk. I endeavored to offer ideas when dilemmas presented themselves.
I wanted Jason to see that there was no problem that we could not solve. From his perspective: 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 fellow cop. He didn’t know where to turn when the chips were down.
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 are just as obvious. But, we must open our eyes and look for it.
ONE LAST THOUGHT
Now that I am older, I can get away with saying things that I would never have uttered as a young macho dude trying to prove myself.
In our oath we promised to take a bullet for a brother, if ever needed. The meaning is clear: I am willing to give my life to save my brother.
In the Bible, God talked about that, “No greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his brother.”
The key word is: love
I cannot stress this enough: There is tremendous value and relief in the mind of the listener when their brother reminds them, “You are not alone. You never will be. I love you as my brother.”
The words, “I love you,” have nothing to do with sex. Rather, they mean that you will put the needs of your brother ahead of your own needs.
However you choose to say it, let your brother know that you love him. That is the most reassuring thing you can do.
God bless you all.
At the bottom line, it all comes down to saving just ONE life.
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