POLICE SUICIDE: THE DARK SIDE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

I have been where you fear to go…
I have seen what you fear to see…
I have done what you fear to do…
All these things I’ve done for you.

I am the one you lean upon…
The one you cast your scorn upon…
The one you bring your troubles to…
All these people I’ve been for you.

The one you ask to stand apart…
The one you feel should have no heart…
The one you call the man in blue…
But I am human just like you.

And through the years I’ve come to see…
That I’m not what you ask of me…
So take this badge and take this gun…
Will you take it? Will anyone?

And when you watch a person die…
And hear a battered baby cry…
Then so you think that you can be
All those things you ask of me…?

 

     “Tears Of A Cop” – author unknown

 

Few people knew Wade O’Keefe well. Or, well enough. Friends called him “Slick,” because he wore wrap-around sunglasses and a duck tail haircut. He’d been a street cop, then a respected homicide detective. When his wife complained of competing with his job, he quit and went back to being a heavy equipment operator. They made amends, and he returned to the badge. But domestic tranquility remained evasive. His wife left him anyway.

Slick came to work one day, signed his reports, went through the morning routine at the homicide office, then headed for the streets. Instead of answering calls, he stopped at a local liquor store for a bottle of Tanquery gin. From there, he went to an empty home and penned a long tearful letter to his wife as the Tanquery dulled his senses. His handwriting became illegible. Then he sat on the floor of his bed, lay a mirror against the wall, and watched himself insert the barrel of a .38 cal. revolver in his mouth.

Slick was my friend.

 

How many people have known even one friend or relative who ended their own life. In my thirty-year career, I knew ten police friends who took their own lives, plus two relatives.

One detective had secretly gambled and lost everything. He couldn’t face his wife. Bang!

One police woman had lost her job. She was so depressed, she shot her four-year-old son before taking her own life.

A CSI Technician was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a cop punch a handcuffed prisoner inside an elevator. He loved cops. He also loved his God. When Internal Affairs asked him to be a witness against a fellow officer, the proverbial rock/hard place, he couldn’t. Neither could he lie. Bang!

A retired underwater recovery officer couldn’t recover from years of alcoholism. Bang!

The beat goes on…

A recent study revealed that NYC officers kill themselves at a rate of 29 per 100,000 per year. The general population rate is 12 per 100,000. Approximately 350 police officers a year commit suicide in the United States. That’s one almost every 24 hours. That’s more than double the number of cops killed in the line of duty. And that doesn’t count the failed attempts. The actual numbers may be higher. I knew of one inebriated man who rammed his car into a bridge piling at 80 mph. Ruled accidental, it more likely was suicide.

The reasons are varied: Job conflicts with domestic relationships, alcoholism, financial pressures, guilt, haunting events.

Police officers are often first at a scene when babies are killed, wives are battered, or when accidents maim and kill innocent people. They are in the midst of grief on a daily basis. Some cops are loaded with hind-sight guilt, constantly reliving a scene where a tragedy could have been prevented. And, cops are always within reach of a gun.

Sure, there are programs and counseling centers, but police officers are the last to reveal what churns inside their mind and body, because they dare not be seen as “weak.” Informing the chain of command of psychological or dependency problems often lead to unwanted assignments and estrangement.

We — the people — often cast judgement over politicians, journalists, celebrities, criminals and jurists on their decisions, sometimes harshly. These folks have one advantage over cops: Time. They make their decisions based on gathered information over time.

Police officers are subject to hair-trigger decision making, on the spot. Sometimes, it’s a matter of life and death. Sometimes, it can be a mistake.

Yet, no one is judged as harshly as a police officer.

Cops know they are working under the microscope every moment on the job. These days, every traffic stop is monitored on camera. One wrong move, they can lose their job, their future, or their life. They can even go to prison.

Sometimes the line between sanity and insanity is blurred.

The general public should be aware of the daily stresses that face police officers and their families. A career cop who may have erred in judgement faces the perennial outcry for vengeance. It erases all the good he has done over the years; the saving of lives, the rescues, the apprehension of dangerous criminals, the arrest of child killers, responses to robberies and burglaries, recovery of stolen property, notifying loved ones of a death and the embrace of the grief stricken when there is no one else to do the embracing.

Hindsight is always 20/20. I wish I knew how close Slick was to ending his own life. He wasn’t a complainer and he never sought sympathy. So many of his friends have asked themselves, “Why didn’t I realize…?”

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