What has become clear to me since the last time we met is that I don’t think we are talking about suicide enough. In 2016, 143 police and correction officers died in the line of duty. They died from car accidents, heart attacks, gunfire; multiple causes of death. Each and every one of those officers is honored, they are memorialized and their families receive benefits. In 2016, I personally know of 100 law enforcement officers and 28 corrections officers that completed suicide. Their names are not memorialized, they are not honored and their families do not get benefits. I came here yesterday and somebody told me about it another officer who completed suicide and I asked what his name was. I do not have that name. I know every single name, I know every story. I know every one of their loved ones because I‘ve been really lucky, and really unlucky, to have heard their stories. So, excuse me this is kind of an emotional talk for me having listened to so much of this.
In 2016, a police officer who had served his community very well for 17 years died. He spent the last two years of his life struggling from post-traumatic stress which was a direct result of two incidences on duty. When he died, his lieutenant told me that he wanted to give this officer a funeral with honors because deserved it. Seventeen years of service. Some of the the guys in his department said no, he doesn’t deserve it, he is not one of us anymore, he killed himself. He chose to leave us. Some of the guys in the department said he deserves it, he served for seventeen years. The members of his community that he served for seventeen years said, “We don’t want to waste our money or our resources on him”. Seventeen years.
We often say it’s not how they die that matters but it’s how we lived. We don’t mean it. Because when somebody takes their lives we pretend it does not happen, we sweep it under the rug, we ignore it, we lie about it and we pretend they didn’t serve. We pretend that you did not serve your community. And I don’t believe that, I think it’s a huge problem. It’s a problem in society; it’s also a problem here. Last year I went to a class that talked about burnout and they talked about sleep, shift work, diet, administrative pressure. I raised my hand and I said, “what about stress, what about depression?” Half the class said, “we don’t get depressed, we don’t get stressed, we are tough guys, we are cops, that doesn’t happen to us.”
The other half of the class said “yes, it does happen to us. It does happen, we need to talk about it and we need to start.” I felt like I was in a class full of democrats and republicans, they couldn’t agree.
Joe, you were there, I remembered you were there and you sided with me. Thank you. So what I think is, both sides they are right. If somebody walks by us right now they are going to look in and see people. There are no police officers here, there are people, you guys are not in uniforms. When you start your law enforcement career you come as people. Every single one of you has a different life experience, different set of coping skills, different biological make up. So you’re all going to react differently, some of you will be fine. You will get through it no problem, no questions asked. The others they’re going to need help, they will need an external factor to help you get through it. So what we should be doing instead of arguing about who is right or wrong, is build a team. And the ones that think they can do it, should be talking to the the ones who think they can’t and figure out how you can all make it through whole.
Don’t point your finger. When you are under the influence of drug or alcohol you do and say things you might not normally do. Your perception of reality changes. When you are under the influence of stress and depression, your perception of reality changes. You do and say things you might not normally do. So unless you’ve been down that dark hole and you know how powerful your mind is, please don’t judge because you don’t know what is going on with those officers.
Again, we talk about honoring them. Honor, Honoring. 128 it’s 129 now, 129 lives. I feel like we are doing them a terrible disservice. Only 31% of that sought help that I know of, 31%. That a sad sorry number.
And I bet you know why they didn’t get help, because they did not want to be judged, they didn’t want to be questioned, they didn’t want to seen as weak. So they didn’t get help.
58% of the families agreed to let me use their names and their faces in stories on a new website that Law Officer and Travis Yates has graciously agreed to help me with, support. We are gonna call it Honor Them and we going to honor them. We are going to honor their service, we are going the way they lived, not the way they died.
Now, the 42% that don’t want to show their faces are afraid, they don’t want you to know. They want to be judged. One of the mothers said, “I don’t know what to say when people ask me because that wasn’t him. We don’t know why he did that”. They shouldn’t be afraid, they shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. they shouldn’t be afraid to admit that they have a problem.
So what I want you to do… I have a very unique experience right now to talk to you as captive audience. You guys have captive audiences. You can go back to your department and you can talk about this. You can also go back to your department and ask yourself “are we equipped to handle a long term, mental or physical injury. Do we have peer support, EAP, do we know what our local sources are? Do we know the difference between critical incidence stress management and critical incidence stress debriefing?” Because there is a big difference. If you can’t answer those questions, if you don’t know where to send somebody, see me. One of things we do is send out packets of information to help you get that information so you can source it when you need it.
You know, last week I practiced this in front of people at work and they said, why don’t you talk about your husband? My husband has been a cop for 20 years, why don’t you make it personal, talk about your nephews. My nephews are in going law enforcement. I don’t like to talk about them because it becomes really personal because I now know what can happen. And I know what good men, my nephews are and I don’t want them to be a statistic. So, you need to listen to this brief story I’m going to tell you. It’s an abridged version, you are not going to find it on Google. It was swept under the rug. I’m not allowed to share the name with you.
An officer, he loved his job, he threw himself into it. He started drinking, because of stress. His wife left him and he drank more. His Chief called him in and said get help. He didn’t say where to get help, he didn’t say how to get help, he didn’t say I will help you get help. He said get help. Because if this happens then I know what we are going to do. That officer not too long later got stopped for DUI and with the lights flashing in the mirror…I don’t know what he was thinking, we’ll never know. He took his gun out of his golf compartment and he killed himself. So I want you to ask yourself this. Ask yourself, do you want to be the cop that finds your colleague dead after he’s killed himself? Or do you want to be the cop that fixes things before it gets to your house because that’s what I’m doing. And people ask me what makes you think you can talk about this. You don’t know anyone who shot himself dead or killed himself. I don’t want it in my house and I want it to change. So help me change it. Thank you.
Karen Solomon is the creator of Honor Them – www.honorthem.net. She is an author and the wife of a Police Officer for over 15 years. After speaking with hundreds of officers around the country, she realized that many officers didn’t know where to look for assistance. Karen is the author of ‘Hearts Beneath the Badge’ and ‘The Price They Pay’ of which the proceeds are being donated to law enforcement charities. Karen is a member of ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association), International Public Safety Association and the Public Safety Writers Association.