A recent trend has developed in law enforcement, acknowledging police suicides as an issue that needs to be recognized and addressed. This recognition seems to be the mantra of the day.
I’m glad my fellow Chiefs are finally recognizing a problem that’s been around for decades. My question is, why now and not earlier?
Back in the late 70’s I struck up a friendship with a rookie female police officer. The seventies were still a period of adjustment and acceptance for women in policing. Out of respect for her family I’ll refer to her as Sue.
Sue was an intelligent, dedicated, attractive, and as most rookies are, naïve officer.
We became close friends, occasionally meeting up after work for pizza and beer talking about the events of the day. Her enthusiasm for police work was contagious. I couldn’t recall one time she ever complained about her coworkers or work environment. She just seemed grateful to have finally achieved her goal, getting her dream job.
Sue was still in her Field Training Program, assigned to a veteran officer who was also a friend of mine and someone I looked up to as a role model. She couldn’t have been more fortunate to have landed him as her Field Training Officer (FTO).
Sue’s FTO and I played racquetball at least once a week where he would rave about the progress she was making and that she was a “natural”.
Within weeks of completing her field training Sue was involved in a serious car accident. She was on her way home when she lost control of her car and hit a utility pole head on.
Sue’s injuries were serious enough to hospitalize her for several days. I remember visiting her at the hospital noting that her upbeat personality had disappeared. She appeared quiet and distant.
I wrote off this change in personality as the effects of the crash. We visited for a while, talking about her return to work. She seemed less enthusiastic about her job, avoiding discussing work as much as possible.
Sue was released from the hospital a few days later. She drove herself back to her apartment took her duty weapon and committed suicide.
When I first got the call about her death I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I kept saying no way, WTF, this must be a mistake. What happened?
I soon found out that Sue and my friend, her FTO, were having an affair. He was twice her age, married with two children. The affair had gotten to the point where he told his wife he was leaving her to live with Sue. I had no idea this was going on.
I later learned he had used me as a cover story, telling his wife he was playing racquetball with me, all the the while meeting up with Sue.
Sue and her FTO moved in together for about a week until he finally decided he wasn’t ready to throw his family to side so he chose to throw Sue to the curb.
As information began to surface we learned the night Sue crashed into the utility pole was probably her first suicide attempt. That was the night he left her.
The police department was quick to try to cover up the situation. The command staff refused to officially participate in the wake or funeral. Many of us were “pissed”. We held our own “Irish Wake” for her.
We also learned that her background check was less then thorough. She had previously been terminated from a job for alcohol related issues and had made at least one other suicide attempt when a previous relationship failed.
The entire system failed Sue and many others. I hope that this new interest in police suicides isn’t just another cause to gain personal notoriety.
I know some truly dedicated individuals that are committed to this serious issue. I also can read through the ones that are pretenders.