Tearing Down Walls

Part two of Margie’s question (part one was discussed last month) is about mandatory psychological treatment for cops. Margie lost her husband to suicide a month after he retired. She thinks we should mandate therapy for cops before they leave the job. This is a tough one because no one wants to talk about suicide—and that includes Ol’ Bullethead.

Nationally, we lose more than twice the number of cops to suicide as to LODDs. According to my research, we’re way above the percentage in the general population (29 suicides per 100,000 cops vs. 12 suicides per 100,000 of the general population). This is a real problem for police, and it’s time for Ol’ Bullethead to discuss it. 
A while back, I lost a family member by her own hand. It spun me like the tires on a stolen Chevy Nova trying to outrun the cops. I never saw it coming and I began to second guess my own perception. How did I miss this? As close as I was to this person, why didn’t I see something so horrible before it happened? Why didn’t I do something to help? It’s been more than 15 years and my eyes are welling up just writing about it right now. All those same thoughts are returning like it happened last week.
I’ve responded to countless suicides at work. It never helps to hear cops talk about how only a coward or a wacko takes their own life. I completely disagree, and unfortunately, I have the life experience to say that with some authority: The person I lost was neither. The truth is, knowing what will happen when you pull the trigger or make that jump—and still doing it—isn’t the move of a coward. It’s the move of someone living with incredible desperation who needs help. So if the statistics say cops die at their own hands at almost two-and-a-half times the general population, the question is why? And more importantly, how do we change it?
Implement Mandatory Therapy
Listen up chiefs and risk managers: Mandatory psychological treatment is a good idea for all cops—not just cops looking at retirement. Where I work, we get checked for tuberculosis (TB), hearing impairment, hepatitis and a slew of other things. But unless a cop says they have a problem—and we all know how often that happens—no one ever gets their head checked. I wish I had the statistics to know how many cops we’re losing from TB and hepatitis, but I do know how many officers die due to hearing loss—zero! So why do we put so much effort into those issues, rather than finding out what’s going on inside our brains?
When cops do go for their mandatory check after a critical incident, they usually put up the wall and say they’re fine. They probably are fine with killing the scumbag who was trying to kill them. But after taking dead baby calls, seeing a homicide victim lying in a hole, putting up with the grind of shift work, being lied to constantly and cleaning up the pieces of other people’s messes, emotions might be festering like a boil on the ass of a long-haul trucker. Needless to say, not a pretty picture.
Trust the Process
The first step is to make it OK for cops to get their heads checked. The suits up in the head shed need to provide leadership and orders to make this happen. They should start with requiring cops to see a shrink at the same intervals they’re required to get all those other tests. We know most cops will still put up the wall of invincibility, but even if only a few are helped we’ve started to move in the right direction. Cops used to think it was stupid to wear a vest, but now most won’t leave the station without one. Similarly, this requirement would make it OK for officers to get the help they need.
For this to work, cops need to have trust in the process and know their confidentially will be respected. The simple answer here is that nothing—outside of threats of homicide and suicide—goes back to the agency except attendance. The shrink only confirms that the cop showed up—nothing more. After the initial consultation, any ongoing treatment isn’t the agency’s business.
Final Notes
Anyone claiming this would be cost prohibitive should have a mandatory meeting with an accountant. Losing one cop to suicide will cost significantly more than preventing it. The cost of finding and training a new employee alone will probably pay for a few years of consultations. The increased productivity due to happier officers who are better able to deal with all the stresses of this career makes this concept a no-brainer.
Sorry again for your loss, Margie. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to examine this serious issue.

Got a question or complaint? Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion WITH BOTH BARRELS. Contact him via e-mail at bullethead@lawofficermagazine.com or fax him at 619/699-6246.

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