The Troubling Realities of Police Suicide
This is not a typical post from The Night Police, but we feel it's important enough to spend some time sharing with others. This article penned by Chris, was recently published by the Good Men Project (March 12, 2020; https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/no-one-skates-kpkn/ ). To our friends, especially those not in law enforcement, we hope you'll take a few minutes and give it a read.
On a typical patrol day in most any major city, difficult radio calls cross the airwaves. Officers are used to them. Not that they ever get used to what many call “gruesome”, after a few years on the street, these things are expected. Not routine, but expected.
On a blustery, cold January morning in the heartland of our country, Officer Teo Ambrose was heading for the barn, his shift ending in ten minutes. Teo had a couple hours of report writing to wrap up and then he’d meet his brethren at a local tavern for breakfast.
C squad, not boys in blue, but khaki and brown were like all the others, routinely exposed to the unthinkable. One method of coping is to embrace the kinship of others sharing similar personal and professional trials. This fraternity helps shield them from the intense pressures of urban policing. Self-medicating helps too. Teo’s upcoming liquid breakfast, a prime example.
“431 Robert, 10-56A, 1818 Reston, see the RP. Fire en route”. Police dispatch interrupted Teo’s plans sending him to an attempted suicide at the southern edge of his sector. Teo pushed his cruiser, red lights and siren activated.
Teo beat Fire to the address, the paramedics would take the bronze. He only stepped out of his patrol car, when the front door of a modest tract home, burst open. Racing to intercept him was a middle-aged woman, half-dressed for work. Hysterical, hyperventilating, she pleaded, “Help me, please. Please don’t let him be dead.” As Teo and the woman raced to the front door, through her sobs he made out, “He’s on the job”. Teo noted it, it was code in police work that whoever was needing his help was a police officer.
Ten minutes later, emergency personnel swarmed 1818 Reston. In the garage, in a green Ford F-150 pickup was Sergeant Matt Stapleton. In his lap was his service weapon, a .40 caliber Glock 22. Matt was ‘End of Watch’ that morning, still, in his khaki’s, his uniform shirt and badge drenched in his own blood. Found on the dash was a simple note reading “Because it hurts less.”
It just so happened, Matt Stapleton was Teo’s Field Training Officer and a man he called “friend.”
Suicide is not unfamiliar to cops, they see it frequently. What they are seeing more often than ever is their brother officers taking their lives. Depending on who you ask, many suggest it’s an epidemic.
A Ruderman Family Foundation study suggests Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression are found in first responders at a rate about five times that of the general population.
If in the course of your job you run towards danger, PTSD will catch up with you... that’s my opinion but I think the research will bear me out. Not everyone will react the same, but no one skates.
As a cop on the street, you see manifestations of PTSD brought on by witnessing the unthinkable. The broken lives, the emotionally spent, the incessant beats of violence and gore. You see it every day and there is no escape. It’s what you do. How you pay the bills.
You can see in your fellow officers, the same symptoms as combat veterans (some of them are combat vets as well) and they often treat it the same way. Self-medicating, booze, isolation. Police officers never want to admit they are hurting and frankly, sometimes they just don’t see it that way.
At least 228 police officers died by suicide in 2019, according to Blue H.E.L.P. a Massachusetts nonprofit dedicated to helping officers with PTSD, depression and other mental health issues. More than were killed in the line of duty. Since Blue H.E.L.P. began collecting data, more American police officers have died by suicide than all line-of-duty deaths combined. At least 39 states had one suicide last year.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum told ABC News “The numbers show twice as many police officers have taken their lives as [have been killed] in the line of duty, which makes this the number one issue for police departments around the country.”
This won’t be news to anyone, but police culture is such that officers shy away from showing weakness and they run from it if it has anything to do with mental suffering or instability. Even today, the last thing police brass want to hear is that one of their armed officers may have a problem. Especially… that kind of problem. These same organizations might well have employee assistance programs, but the troopers on the street worry that “treatment” will get back to the bosses and they could be ruled unfit for duty.
Many police departments need to get their collective heads out of the sand. PTSD is real. Police suicide is real. There are things we can do to mitigate its effects.
Some departments have taken the issue head-on. LAPD, for example, has a unique Behavioral Science Services unit, known as BSS; its mission is to end police suicides. “Their staff of 16 psychologists has one goal: treating the minds of close to 10,000 LAPD officers in an effort to prevent suicidal or violent and harmful behavior.”
New York Police Department just this last year, made a move. The Commissioner’s office declared a mental health emergency highlighting untreated depression amongst police officers. According to Kaiser Health News, these “suicides have been a recurring nightmare for the nation’s largest police force and have driven a discussion about the psychological toll of police work, a profession in which discussing mental health was long seen as taboo.”
A federal consent decree requires Chicago PD to increase the number of counselors in its employee assistance program. They recently posted a video featuring officers who reached out for help, following the deaths of six officers by suicide in an eight-month stretch.
Arizona enacted a law last year which compensates officers for the treatment of PTSD. It affords them up to 36 counseling visits after being involved in traumatic on-the-job incidents, such as witnessing a death.
Many agencies are encouraging officers to make use of an array of confidential help options, including peer support groups and a 24/7 text line.
President Trump recently signed a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in grant funding a year for police suicide prevention efforts, training to identify officers at risk and mental health screenings.
While still ‘on the job’ two of my ex-partners, took their own lives. Two more, I consider friends, have done the same in retirement. You may get beyond the pain, but you don’t forget. Sometimes you don’t forgive.
Suicide, especially that of a law enforcement officer, hangs with the rest of us like the grim reminder it is; this profession isn’t built for just anyone. And, it routinely crushes the very best of us.
Law enforcement is becoming more dangerous, support from many of our communities is diminishing by the minute. Police administrations and ‘the brass’ have their own issues and agendas. Unfortunately, it often seems that supporting the men and women of law enforcement through this crisis takes a back seat to finances, politics and even the media. Again, just my opinion.
We owe it to those who run towards danger to do our best on their behalf.
ABOUT THE NIGHT POLICE:
Co-Authors, Chris Berg and Paul James Smith, of The Night Police - Beyond the Line of Duty (www.nightpolice.com) a deeply complex, page-turning anthology available exclusively on Amazon Kindel, is a book based on real-life events. THE NIGHT POLICE showcase thematically linked short stories that reunite five warrior lawmen. Read more about the story - click here.