POLICE SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION

With cops’ suicide on the rise, we must recognize they suffer from depression too | Opinion

During my stint as a Miami-Dade cop from 1960 to 1990, I personally knew 10 officers who committed suicide.

The reasons varied from cop to cop, i.e., emotional issues at home, runaway debt, alcohol abuse, fears and pressures of the job, and more. But the one common thread, regardless of race, creed, culture, or wealth, is usually related to depression.

Yes. Cops have feelings too.

The last thing they want is for top brass to know they are suffering every day inside the mind and heart. They play a role as if nothing is wrong when, in fact, too many are a walking time bomb ready to explode. Such fears are kept secret.

An article in FLORIDA TODAY on Feb. 12 cited reliable sources about the alarming increase of suicides among police officers, with 734 taking their own lives between 2016 to 2019, according to Blue H.E.L.P.

Police officers who suffer mental problems should be identified so that they can be treated by professionals. Right? Not so fast. That can also end their coveted careers. They well know that. Cops who let their emotional imbalances be known, fear being transferred to undesirable assignments, or if recommended by professionals, outright termination. Bye-bye career. Bye-bye pension.

Yes, top brass is concerned about helping the officers, but they also worry about their responsibility to the public and their own image if and when they fail to take action.

Some officers are unable to cope with the stress, thereby creating more problems. Officers know that any signs of mental imbalance could result in new unwanted assignments, or even dismissal, if such secrets were disclosed.

One homicide supervisor fought fear, fights and trepidation every day on duty. He also tried handling an array of children (three adopted), a demanding spouse, runaway debts, daily domestic conflicts, too much alcohol each evening, a mentally ill son/addict by a previous marriage, not to mention a work load which totaled over 100 investigations a year. Among his cases were the infamous McDuffie case that led to the Miami riots of 1980 and the Mariel Boatlift right after.

He thought more about the kids, the stigma they would face and the need for professional help, however secret. A counseling psychologist named Doris entered his life and triggered a year of productive therapy.

Close call.

In today’s America, particularly in large communities, police officers face deadly hatred as routine. Folks in urban areas have learned how to taunt cops in hopes of inciting bad outcomes making them all look bad. In recent years, on-duty cops have been assaulted with barrels of water over their heads as nearby cell phones formed videos. They turned another cheek and kept walking, humiliated. At some street disturbances, officers have stood at attention while subjected to hooligans embarking on foul-mouthed screaming episodes directly into their eardrums. They had orders to look away and take it.

In North Florida, two deputies quietly eating their meal at a local restaurant in Gilchrist County were shot to death in 2018 by a cop-hating maniac for no other reason than being a cop. Brooklyn, New York, 2014, same outcome as two cops were shot to death while quietly sitting in their police car. Many other senseless cop shootings have resulted in officers surviving, but it certainly makes that theater of operations a dangerous place to be.

In 2019, 134 officers died in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. In 2018, that number was 167 and in 2017, it was 176.

It’s no wonder that police suicides are on the upswing. Like most other career servants, these officers also have wants, goals and needs, and families with problems. Only, they carry a badge.

By the way, that homicide supervisor who sat in the driveway, gun in hand, was me. 

Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit marshallfrank.com.

police officers suffer from depression too (Florida Today)

STATISTICS, ENFORCEMENT AND THE RACIAL DIVIDE

Black Live Matter is a group that carries a lot of clout in the political-racial landscape in America. That’s obvious. What’s not obvious are the statistical facts about alleged racism in law enforcement and justice which shows that all people of all ethnic and racial bases can, and often are, holding prejudices. Of course, Black Lives do Matter, but that’s not to the exclusion of white, browns, Latinos, Asians, females, males, midgets and giants. We ALL matter.
     Too often we hear about terrible disparities in crime statistics and the justice systems in general, particularly as it pertains to race. Based on sheer numbers, it appears that these systems, comprising police, courts and prisons, are prejudiced against black people, invoking accusations of systemic racism at its worst. For the most part, it’s simply not true. Key word: “systemic.”
     Yes, statistics are grossly disproportionate. But there’s a reason. FBI and the Bureau of Justice reveal that over a period of 28 years, 1980 to 2008, over 52 percent of murders were committed by blacks, while 45 percent were by whites. Yet blacks comprise only 12.7 of the population, and black males only 6.3 percent. Thus, citing the sheer numbers of whites versus blacks in criminal research, lopsided population ratios has nothing to do with a racist system. It means a very small segment of the population is responsible for a disproportionate number of violent crimes. That’s just a fact.
     Statistics are not a valid gauge from which to judge fairness. If we were held to a ratio goal, based on demographics, females should occupy prison cells by 51 percent and males only 49 percent. But records tell us that only 10.5 percent of homicide convictions are female. Even more ridiculous is suggesting that males are unfairly targeted for sex crime arrests compared to females. Never mind, that 98.9 percent of all arrests for rape are males.
     Unfair? Should cops be arresting people according to population ratios pertaining to race and gender? Should half of those arrested for perpetrating rape, be women?
     Of course, that’s absurd. But so is claiming that the prison populations should comprise numbers in line with racial demographics.
    Some folks constantly invoke the bane of racism, which does more harm than good. That may be warranted in isolated cases, but not all. I recently engaged in a short debate with a local African-American attorney, compliments of Florida Today’s civility discussion program, in which the topic was the “Black Lives Matter” movement which suggests that too many cops are predisposed to systemic bias against blacks. The debate never addressed the origins of that movement which, in truth, had nothing to do with racial discrimination.
     “Black Lives Matter” spiraled from the 2014 shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, after he had just robbed a local store. When Officer Darren Wilson spotted two suspects walking on the roadway, he stopped and ordered them to get off the street. Big boy Brown charged the police car and sucker-punched the cop through the window, then attempted to wrest the officer’s pistol away. Imagine how surprised that cop was.
     Brown had committed serious felonies. As he turned away, the officer rightfully ordered the felon to stop, at gunpoint. Instead, Brown again charged the officer in a menacing manner. This mammoth “boy” stood over six feet and weighed over 300 pounds. Wilson fired. Brown died.
     Some media journalists used explosive terms emphasizing how the “child” was “unarmed,” which ignited the community into outrage. The shooting was ultimately deemed justified when a grand jury heard testimony from several eye witnesses, all black. Eric Holder, Attorney General, did not file federal charges because there were none validated.
     The town of Ferguson suffered riots causing damages to homes and businesses by the millions. The department was criticized for not having enough black officers, in contrast to demographics. Never mind, that most local young adult blacks could not qualify because of police records, or had no interest in being associated with law enforcement. It was tough to get young black males to apply.
     I understand that dilemma, having faced similar situations following the Miami riots of 1980.
     The Ferguson incident remains the poster case which elevated “Black Lives Matter” to prominence though based on a falsehood. Officer Wilson didn’t shoot Michael Brown because he was black. The “boy” had already assaulted and attempted to disarm the cop. And, the “boy” was huge.
     There’s always more to the story. Sure, there may be exceptions, but to blame crime’s lopsided statistics on actions taken by on-the-line officers as “systemic” racism is just not true. Not in today’s climate.
     Truth be told, ALL lives matter.
 
 

HOW TO REFORM LAW ENFORCEMENT – OP-ED – M. FRANK

(This article appears in news OpEd, Florida Today, this date.)
 

After serving 30 years in Miami-Dade County law enforcement — plus managing a major national security company for four more — I’ve seen my share of problems concerning life, death, crime, security and justice. There is so much to overhaul and streamline, it would exceed the limits for newsprint so I’ll narrow my views to a sampling of ideas.

If I had the magic wand, I would…

  • Do away with electing sheriffs in counties by appointing chiefs/directors much like what’s done in municipalities. It has worked effectively in Miami-Dade County since 1966. Such a system diminishes politics and does away with good-old-boys, or its perception.
  • Renovate the system of small city/town departments by merging local governments for efficiency. This would be more effective with the focus on services, training, and coordinating criminal matters. The four municipalities along 15 miles of Highway A1A is patrolled by four small departments under four police chiefs and its mini-bureaucracies. That could be reduced to one.
  • Reduce jail and prison populations by invoking the European model, which hands out far shorter or lesser sentences while converting savings into funds for training and education.
  • Help prisoners re-adapt to society after being caged for decades. A huge number of prisoners who return to society have no support system or opportunities to survive, particularly with criminal records. This often results in choice recidivism, i.e. convicts who commit crimes in order to return “home.”
  • Decriminalize prostitution and establish laws that protect the consumers. This would legitimize, sanitize and control such unenforceable “crimes” that have been in the service business for centuries, regardless of laws.
  • Reestablish a method by which we could identify people suffering from serious psychotic issues, even insanity, and rebuild our sanitarium systems as welcoming medical centers to treat the mentally ill — before they commit a crime, not after. This would include reserving space for prison inmates who are suffering from severe mental disorders.
  • Abolish the death penalty, which is not a deterrent. It is an outrageous cost to taxpayers while the risks of killing an innocent are far too great even if only one in a thousand. The system is too flawed, as we’ve seen locally in Brevard County alone with too many innocent men being wrongfully convicted (that we know of). The state should not be in the business of killing
  • Invoke a compromise in the abortion dilemma.  Keep abortions legal for women in the first trimester, or fourth month, but prohibit late terms except to save the life of the mother. This should keep everyone happy without re-igniting the abortion black market, which was a nightmare for cops and courts. I know. I was there.
  • Appoint a civilian committee made up of legal, social and law enforcement personnel, to redesign drug laws that would put more emphasis on control, treatment and mental health, rather than banishing users into prison cells for mega-years. That would also impact the supply side by decriminalizing many laws, thus paralyzing the black market that destroys lives indiscriminately while filling prisons.
  • Do away with minimum-mandatory sentences. Statutes generally come with a certain number of years to serve if found guilty in court regardless of mitigating circumstances. Prosecutors use these laws to an advantage, often threatening defendants with long sentences while securing a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. Meanwhile, judges are stripped from exercising judicial discretion.
  • Restart policies for community policing throughout America, establishing productive, eye-to-eye relationships between citizens and businesses. Just check where such programs have been enacted with success and follow that lead.
  • Within strict procedural and social limits, states should allow for “stop-and-frisk” policies. It’s a policy that was enormously effective under two New York City mayors, saving hundreds of lives.

There is more, but that’s a start. Anyone listening?

How to reform law enforcement, from a retired cop 

TO WIN THE WAR ON DRUGS: LEGALIZE

(This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in today’s issue of Florida Today)
On Nov. 8, just 70 miles south of the U.S. border into Mexico, drug cartel savages opened fire on three American adults and six children, burning and killing them all. Murder is commonplace. It’s not so unusual in Mexico to see bodies hanging from bridges. 
Why? It’s all about messages.
It’s no mystery. Cartels have been killing for years. No matter how many authorities claim they are fighting the drug war, too many — here and abroad — are beholden to warlords, in fear for their lives and the lives of loved ones, so the carnage continues all for money and drugs.
Mexico’s president was criticized recently after he declared a policy of “hugs not guns” in fighting the drug war. He’s too smart to be that stupid.
Arresting drug chieftain El Chapo was good news, though it accomplished nothing. No more than believing that radical Islamic Jihad is stunted because Bin Laden was killed. Great news, perhaps. Nothing changed. Drugs continue to flow. People die.
There are some who have suggested that domestic wars would be over if drugs were legalized. Hmm. Interesting thought. In fact, there is an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in which present and former police officers have banded together to further that idea. Crushing black markets via legalizing puts a new face on the situation. It might be worth thinking about this. LEAP is an organization of criminal justice communities who oppose the “War on Drugs” to be replaced with a system of legalized regulation as more efficient in dealing with drug use, abuse and addiction.
According to the Drug Policy Allowance, the U.S. spends $47 billion a year fighting the lost drug war. In 2018, that translated to 1.6 million drug arrests. That’s a lot of court dockets and prison cells. Over 200 thousand people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006.
Whatever happened to the old adage about doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Why don’t we have leaders who think outside the proverbial box?
Black markets drive crime rates, in many modes, not just drug wars.
Does anyone really think that keeping prostitution illegal is going to stop prostitution? The black market has been driving prostitution for centuries. The world’s oldest profession is doing just fine under the radar, where police do their share of expanding criminal records and jail terms. If a hooker gets lucky she can opt to become an informant for other crimes. Las Vegas has the right idea. Legalize, license, tax, zone and medically control. It works fine in Nevada. Why put people in jail? What good does that do, America?
If former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke had his way with criminalizing the sale and ownership of firearms, he would have created the mother of all black markets. He should be the poster boy for naivety. Americans may tolerate some form of firearm regulations, but they would never cede to erase Amendment 2. 
What happened when Uncle Sam restricted the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933? The black market thrived while people drank themselves silly. Organized crime was in seventh heaven, thank you Congress. It was another failure in trying to control what cannot be controlled in a free society.
If we made all abortions illegal, we’d spark another black market where novices and butchers conduct the procedures in animal vets and backroom parlors. That’s the way it was prior to Roe v. Wade. I know. I was there.
Some behaviors simply cannot be legalized. Like it or not, deterrents are necessary in order to control and prevent dastardly activities such as child pornography, sex trafficking or slavery. But if we didn’t need to deploy 800,000 cops in the U.S. to fight unwinnable crime wars, we’d have far less than 2.2 million people wasting away in prisons, therefore creating a windfall of savings to the taxpayer.
Perhaps if we diverted the gigantic cost savings from eliminating drug wars into programs that aid and treat drug addicts and the mentally ill, tax money would be better spent. We might actually safe lives.
 

THE PROBLEM WITH JAILHOUSE SNITCHES. Op-Ed M. Frank

(This article by yours truly appears as an Op-Ed in Florida Today)
 
Jailhouse “snitches” play a wicked role within the bowels of criminal justice. Too many innocent people have spent years — no, decades — locked up (or executed) for crimes they did not commit based on testimony from desperate criminals lying to assist prosecutors in gaining convictions. Whether explicitly promised favors or not, most “snitches” are compensated for their lies in the form of reductions in jail time.
One of the most diabolical examples in Brevard County was the case of 21-year-old William Dillon, arrested for murder in 1981 based on testimony by a dog handler. While in a cell, he supposedly confessed the bludgeoning murder to a stranger, who in turn, blathered the fake conversation to happy prosecutors. Twenty-seven years later, that snitch appeared in front of a legislative committee confessing that he had lied in exchange for leniency. At 48, Dillon walked out of prison, a free man never to retrieve those precious years.
The dog handler, John Preston, was eventually exposed as a fraud, based on several criminal cases where the evidence revealed otherwise. Dillon’s case was featured on FLORIDA TODAY’s podcast Murder on the Space Coast.
Not all prosecutors blindly accept testimony from snitches. In December 1980, during the Miami investigation of the beating death of a black motorcyclist by a group of cops, I received television attention by media because I headed the investigation. Some fellow confined to jail had spotted me on television and sent a note to then-State Attorney Janet Reno.  He wrote that he recognized me on television as being a crooked cop taking bribes within organized crime circles. He was fishing for favors.
Reno’s office smelled a rat and promptly had the fellow polygraphed where he coughed up the truth. The bribes never happened. The Brevard County prosecutor’s office never polygraphed the rat in Dillon’s case. The testimony was too juicy.
Dillon wasn’t the only victim of shady prosecutors and cops. Sadly, others have spent many years in prison based on false testimony about their jailhouse confessions, later released by court orders.
To this day, Gary Bennett, now 61, is in his 35th year rotting in Florida’s state prison, based mainly on two unverified snitches whose testimony was never challenged by polygraph. Bennett voluntarily took and passed a polygraph in 1983, but that didn’t matter.
Helen Nardi, then 55, had been stabbed 25 times in her Palm Bay trailer in 1983. It had to be a very personal motive. Sure enough, John Preston and the fake dog were there to accuse the diminutive Gary Bennett, then 26, who had no real motive. If ever there was a wrongful conviction where the inmate should at the least,be given a new trial, it is this one. The shadows of doubt are simply overwhelming. Meanwhile, the clock ticks.
Forget about the dog and the snitches, neither of which is credible, the only other item of hard evidence was a palm print developed on the lower hallway closet door leading to the bedroom. A park resident as well, Bennett openly admitted that he had visited the victim’s house before, with others, and that he sat on the floor next to the door jamb. The print doesn’t prove a murder, it only proves his prior presence in the house.
What did the court-appointed defense attorney do? He never called a witness or presented a defense to the jury. Poor Gary.
The irony is the modus operandi of the prosecutor, who, in the early 1980s, happened to be the same prosecutor in Dillon’s, Dedge’s and, yes, Bennett’s case. Erroneous dog handler and dubious jailhouse snitches all played a role in the convictions, not to mention a do-nothing defense lawyer.
Future judge Dean Moxley was the prosecutor in these cases. 
There is much more to the story, far too many words allowed for this article. I was a Miami-Dade homicide investigator for 16 of my 30 years on the job. Never did I witness such a travesty by the legal side. What is even more appalling is the state turning a blind eye to the obvious.
Imagine spending one week or a year in prison. Imagine spending 35 years of your life in prison because of the very system that is supposed to protect you.
Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit marshallfrank.com.