For the third year in a row, the number of police officers who took their own lives has outnumbered the number of those who were killed in the line of duty. In 2018, 159 police officers committed suicide. Police suicide is quickly becoming one of the most taboo and unaddressed epidemics facing our profession.
Police officers, more than any other profession, operate in zero-margin-for-error environment. A lapse in judgment by a police officer can result in a loss of a life; be it his or someone else’s. Sure, surgeons operate in a similar environment. However, with hundreds of thousands of malpractice related deaths per year in America, how many make headlines? How many surgeons who fall short of perfection end up having their face plastered all over every form of media, being painted as a killer? A surgeon simply walks out of the operating room and apologizes stating, “We did all we could do”; and rarely does anyone bat an eye.
It’s amazing how accommodating American’s can be when it comes to the human condition. No one’s perfect, right? I mean, in New York City, Mcdonald’s employees are now paid virtually the same amount of money as entry level FDNY EMT’s. Have you ever received your order at any McDonlad’s on earth without at least one thing missing or wrong? Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
If it’s an accurate weather forecast you’re looking for, you’d probably get better results consulting a Magic 8 Ball than you would by watching literally any news forecaster: Is it going to snow tomorrow??
A Major League Baseball player makes millions of dollars a year. On an annual basis, they are collectively some of the most well-compensated professional athletes in America. We enshrine only the best of these millionaires in the Baseball Hall of Fame, recognizing them as baseball deity. Using hitting as an example, only the best of the best succeeded 3 out of 10 times; and they are lauded for it.
When you consider that there is a police officer on duty, 24/7, 365 days a year in virtually every corner or the United States, handling millions of calls for service, calls that often involve violence of one form or another, calls where lives sometimes hang in the balance, it is almost unbelievable how close to perfect the American police officer is, statistically speaking. Yet, even the slightest misstep or show of being human by a police officer is front page news, no matter where it happens.
Police officers are humans; and humans are not perfect. Can we all accept that? Just as every other American takes home stress to work and work stress to home, the stress that a police officer endures effects every aspect of his/her life. However, unlike seemingly every other profession, a police officer is not allowed to have this happen; a police officer is not allowed to melt down over the water cooler. A ‘stressed out’ police officer is often labeled a liability rather than cared for. Name me another profession where an individual has a personal life failure or misstep, and in speaking about that misstep, people will follow it up with a condescending, “and HE’S a (police officer)!!” It’s the fear of that very condition that keeps police officers from simply asking for help.
As a police officer, how do you come to terms with the paradox of being able to solve endless amounts of other people’s problems during a given tour, yet feeling incapable of managing your own? The American citizen has come to demand an unachievable level of infallibility from our police officers, bolstered only by just how spoiled they have become by the level of service that is already provided. As a police officer, you are taught that you are never really ‘off duty’; meaning you are a police officer 24/7. So, following that progression, that level of unachievable infallibility is now extended into our personal lives.
The law enforcement community will never be able to control the ebb and flow of how we are perceived and how we are received by the public. We can make hundreds of cute singing videos and have endless Coffee With a Cop events. The public will praise us when we save someone’s life and hate us, well, pretty much all the rest of the time. There is nothing we can do to alter that.
Where we need to get stronger is in our self-care. A locker room can be a cruel place. No one takes care of a cop like a cop. However, no one can get under the skin of a cop quite like another cop. Whether it’s used as a coping mechanism or simply as a way of passing time, police officers are mavens when it comes to ‘ball busting’. We need to channel that ability into seeing behind the “I’m fine”. We need to be more focused on what’s going on in each others lives. In a profession that has over 800,000 sworn personnel nationwide, there is never a problem or life situation that has not been seen before. As a police officer, there is never a reason for you to feel alone.
We need to start stepping up for our own in the same manner as we step up for others. Brothers Before Others partner and Blue Magazine CEO/Editor-in-Chief, Daniel Del Valle, has taken this issue head on. Danny has hosted suicide prevention awareness events through ‘Moment of Silence’, which he also heads. At these events, members of law enforcement from all over, as well as members from the mental health field, come together to talk about what causes police officers to reach such a dark place and, more importantly, what we all can be doing better in order to keep it from happening.
If you are a police officer, active or retired, please know that this profession is so much more than a paycheck; it is a family. We tackle insurmountable problems together; we fight; we get along; we celebrate holidays together; we cope with tragedy together. No matter what it is that you have on your plate, someone has seen it before. No matter what road you are on, someone has already traveled it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Reaching out, lowering that wall and asking for help is a show of strength and courage.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE