Police Suicide

"Approximately every 22 hours, a police officer takes his own life."  This poster hung on the wall of the canteen at the academy since I've been on the department.  The picture was of 22 gravestones wit a badge on each one.  I never thought I would be a statistic when I was a recruit.  I guess nobody ever does.

I was talking to someone from the Justice Department during a seminar I went to about Officer safety and wellness.  The topic of Police suicide came up, and I shared my story with him.  Afterwards, he asked me to write a letter to the pannel he had formed to look at physical and mental strain that officers endure.  Below is a copy of that letter.......

Memoirs of a Suicidal Cop.

            First let me start of by saying that I am not trying to elicit pity or attention.  I am merely telling my story so that other officers know that they are not alone.  This incident is a little over a decade old by now, so some of the details are fuzzy, but the emotion is still raw, and sometimes difficult to talk about.

            When I started with the department, I was barely 22 year old and my work experience was not that great.  I had a lot of menial jobs before I joined a volunteer fire department and was trained as an EMT.  I then got hired as a private ambo tech, and eventually driver for an ambulance company out of a major metropolitan city. 

I was familiar with emergency services and had seen quite a bit of broken bodies and nasty stuff by the time I was 22.  I tell you this because it probably factors into the fact that my emotional wellbeing was a ticking time bomb, and eventually gets me diagnosed with some form of PTSD and adjustment/anxiety disorders from my first therapist.

When I started the academy, I was a touch over 200 lbs, standing about 5-07. So I was a bit chubby.  The DI’s used this as fodder for their humiliation that they do to tear you down into a puddle of quivering poo.  The only problem is, that me already suffering from a low self-esteem, this was trouble waiting to happen.  And eventually it did.

I remember several times in Academy I wanted to quit.  There was one incident where the two DI’s that really hated me grabbed me by my neck and drug me over to the gate.  They kept yelling at me to quit, and offered to bring me my car, so I could be home in time to watch my family on Teletubbies.  They were certainly enjoying themselves, laughing and pushing me around.  To a kid with no self worth whatsoever, it seared me to my core.  All this would well up inside on a day in the future, compounded by other stressors and ridicule that I had not learned to deal with yet.

We move ahead to my rookie years, where I was again teased and yelled at by a Field Training Officer, who admittedly didn’t like rookies.  She would yell at me in public in front of people who called the police for help, making me feel like a “fake cop”.  Instead of instructions, I received insult. I got through it, but my reputation did not.  The rest of the district was treated to tales of my inadequacies, and shortcomings.  Eventually I found myself on midnights where no one wanted to deal with me.  That only fueled the fire for a kid who already did not feel that he was worth anything.

I made it through mids, because of one or two officers who gave me a shot, and then the rest of the squad “let me in”.  I did my year and got off mids, going back to a swing shift.  I thought this would help things, but it didn’t.

I still never felt like I belonged.  I found comfort in the one thing that doesn’t ridicule, food.  I gained about 50 lbs on midnights, and another 50 since to this day, off and on of course.  Weight has always been a major adversary of mine, and I have always turned to food, and sometimes alcohol to “fix things”.

While all this was going on at work, I had home stressors, too.  I was fighting with my parents about living with my fiancée and not being married, and then after we were married, I found myself trying to repair a strained relationship that was pushed to the limits by the family infighting with my brothers and their issues too.  I don’t want to air family laundry here, because that is too personal, and that doesn’t help anyone, but just want to say that an officer’s problems aren’t always solely work related.  Work goes home, and home comes to work.  You never really separate the two.  You are called to people’s houses to help them with their family issues, yet, you can’t fix your own at home.  You start to feel like there is no peace, and you are a failure.  You can’t talk to anyone about it, so you try to hide from it.  When I was on Midnights I would drink to sleep, then have nightmares while I was sleeping.  I was always tired.  I was afraid to tell anyone, because they would think I was weak.  I don’t think I was ever an alcoholic, but I think I came awfully close.  I wound up going “dry” for a year to make sure.

I worked for a Lieutenant who was a body builder, and fitness nut.  You can imagine what he thought of me.  Well, I don’t have too.  He would tell me all the time, in private meetings in his office, that I was disgusting, and needed to loose weight.  He would tell me that this job was not for me, and he would help me get a new job if I wanted to quit.  He offered to hire me to sell AMWAY for him.  So, I would be a good salesman, but not a cop?  Made me feel worthless.  My time working with him came to an end, but the next Lt. wasn’t much better.  Next one I worked for was a jock.

This Lieutenant was extremely competitive.  He had to be the best at everything.  He didn’t really like me either.  He would bring me in his office and tell me that I needed to loose weight, and tell me that I should work out and play sports.  I don’t know, even to this day, if he was looking out for me or not.  I saw it as bullying.  I saw what bith the Lt’s did as being a bully.  I never looked to see what their true motivation was, and frankly, I didn’t care.  Just two more guys in the long list of people from my past who wanted to pick on “fatty”.  It’s been like that since middle school.

I don’t know what the straw that pushed me over the edge was, and I don’t really care to find out. But one of the things that used to really get to me was the feeling like I wasn’t held to the same appreciation as the rest of the shift, either same seniority as me, or junior to me.  The evidence, I felt, was when it came to me getting my car.  Everyone in my graduating class had a take home car by now.  I still did not.  It had been almost 3 years and I didn’t have a car.  First I was told that I didn’t do enough traffic, so I ramped it up.  I was in the top 3 or four officers in percentage of traffic on the shift for a few months, no car.  Then they said that I didn’t lock up enough people to get a car, so I looked for more lock-ups.  No car.  Then thy said that it shouldn’t matter, I only lived a few miles from the station, and it is not that much of a commute.  Besides, I live in a bad neighborhood, they don’t know if I should get a car to park over there.

I know it is a silly thing to get upset about.  But here I am.  I am now 24 or 25, and pushed to the end of my rope.  I was fighting with my wife, fighting with my parents, I had an estranged relationship with both my younger brothers, and I felt useless at work.

We had these details where we worked stationary patrol at the lightrail stations in the county.  I t was a slow day, and I was working lightrail.  I was at a station where there was not a lot of foot traffic.  It was a station without a parking lot, so it was a walk up and get on type station.  I had been yelled at again that morning by the Lt, I don’t remember why, and I had been fighting with my wife again about I don’t remember why.  No one ever came by to check on me when I worked lightrail, especially this stop.  Later in my career, I would learn to love that.  On this day, however, I felt especially low.

I remember sitting at the stop being pissed off at everyone.  I didn’t have a feeling of despair, or anything that typical people who think of killing themselves feel.  I didn’t want an escape from pain, I wanted revenge.  I wanted people to hurt.  I wanted to kill myself as a big “fuck you” to the department, my family, and the community.  I imagined that someone would have to clean my brains and blood out of the pool car that I signed out that morning.  I imagined the closed casket that my family would have at my funeral, and I imagined the news story.  I wrote a scathing note, I named names, I told stories, I put it in my pocket, and pulled out my gun.  I to this day remember what the front blade sight feels like on the roof of my mouth, and the taste of militech.  I remember how shiny the hydroshock looks like at the end of the barrel. 

I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know why, I came to my senses.  It had been a long time since I had been to church, or prayed.  But I prayed that day.  I don’t remember what I said, or how long I prayed.  I do remember drowning my sorrows in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream.  I tore up the note.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, or admit to myself how close to stupidity I had come.  It would be years until I told this story to anyone for the first time.

I buried the feelings in the only thing I could.  I ate…..a lot.  A few days later, I went on annual leave, and my wife and I went to DC to see the Police Memorial.  On this trip, I found out that my wife was pregnant with my son.

It would still be a year or so until I got help.  It took a fight between my wife and I, where I stormed out of the house, slammed and broke the storm door glass. She made a threat that she would leave me if I didn’t go to “anger management”.  I went to a therapist that I knew from our Mobile Crisis Unit.  I told her what had happened before, and what I was going through.

I didn’t know at the time, but she specialized in Police suicide.  I worked with her on how to prevent myself from taking things personally from the people around me.  I learned about “Projection identification” and that people don’t necessarily hate “me” but the badge I wear.  This helped me deal with a lot. 

I went back to church, and my wife and I started talking more.  Having someone to lean on was good.  My therapy sessions had run their course, and I wasn’t growing anymore at the time, so I stopped going.

I was far from cured, and still am not to this day.  I still deal with taking criticism too personally or to seriously, but it doesn’t effect me nearly as hard.  I try to remember that it isn’t always about “me”. 

I finally gave in and asked my Dr for prescription medication to help me with my anxiety, and I have went back to therapy, this time to someone different, to work on my self esteem and other issues.  I have a long way to go, but I am doing well.  Suicide is the farthest from my mind when I am down.  I always look for a way to push through the troubled times.

The short answer to “How do you deal with feelings of depression and suicide?” is simply this.  You have to learn to put things into perspective.  You can’t fix everything, and you need help.  The stigma of therapy has always been touchy.  Some people look down on you when you admit that you go to counseling, and think that you are crazy if you admit that you take medication or see a therapist.

I read the book “Cop Shock” which is about PTSD in law enforcement.  It was an excellent read, and helped me see that I was not alone.  I think that if we were able to destroy the negative stigma, and be able to set up a support group for officers in trouble, that would help greatly reduce the numbers of officers that take their own lives.

If you are feeling suicidal, pleas get help.  We can't afford to waste the life of another Police Officer, son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, dad, husband, wife.......

I had the opportunity to hear Robert E. Douglass Jr give a speech recently.  He is the Founder and Exec Director of The National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation.  Below is their contact information.....

"The National Police Suicide Foundation is not a research organization, but Peer 
Support at its very best, providing both pro-active and post event support and 
. "



No comments:

Post a Comment