Living Heroic Lives
Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy Omar Calderon’s funeral was held without honors on July 5, 2018.
“Due to the nature of Deputy Calderon’s death, the sheriff’s department does not want to condone nor appear to glamorize suicide,” stated Interim Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown.
Let me glamorize suicide for you:
- An officer with ten years of service shoots himself in the head in his bathroom. He is found by his widow, she may never recover from it. The family is financially devastated.
- After twelve years of service, an officer shoots himself in his living room while his wife and four month old twins are asleep upstairs. They lose their medical benefits the day he dies. She finds out they no longer have health coverage when she arrives at the ER because the twins are sick.
- An officer with eight years of service kills herself. Two years later, her daughter continues to self-harm and has attempted suicide more than once.
- Twenty-five years of service, an officer kills himself. Seven years later, his family still has not recovered from the loss of their home and continue to struggle financially. One of his children attempted suicide last year.
I can state with confidence that none of those officers thought of the “glamour” of suicide before they killed themselves, they were not thinking about the type of funeral they would receive.
Don’t want to condone suicide? Let me tell you a story.
A young officer finds himself in an alley with a man armed with three knives. When his backup arrives, they tase and beanbag him. The suspect continues to approach the officers and attempt to stab them. They shoot the suspect. He gets up and comes at the officers. The officers open fire and kill the suspect.
One of the officers has since “retired” from the department, another has transferred elsewhere. The young officer killed himself 2 years and 3 days after the incident. Immediately after the shooting, he began having nightmares. His “mandated” therapy consisted of an hour with a therapist that recommended he “take up golf” to help him relax. This young officer began drinking, something that was highly unusual for him. He hid his pain, he struggled alone, he didn’t ask for help again because his impression of assistance was a recommendation of a new sport.
His drinking lead to a domestic violence incident and a hospitalization to get him help. His wife, a rookie officer, was told to press charges against her husband or she could be fired. The couple agreed to a divorce until he received the help he needed, could go back to the job without fear of reprimand and then they could get back together. The officer was dead by morning.
The story is much longer than this, and I will tell it in due time. Right now, I want you to see all the things that can, and do, go wrong. Don’t want to condone suicide? Condone good mental health, a supportive administration and proven programs to help your officers. Texas had at least nine LEO suicides in 2017, ten in 2016 and four in 2018 to date.
If ignoring the problem is your idea of not condoning suicide, you are doing a great job. Every single person reading this article should think long and hard about how you perceive mental health and suicide among law enforcement. Think about what you are doing to combat the problem and make sure you are encouraging a culture that allows officers to seek help.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are we glamorizing law enforcement by calling them heroes and giving funerals with honors when they die?
- Are we glamorizing unsafe driving habits when an officer dies in an accident when they are not wearing their seatbelt?
- When an officer dies from a bullet wound to the chest, and they aren’t wearing their vest, are we glamorizing the absence of tactical protection?
Are we calling them heroes because of the way they died or because of the way they lived. I believe it is because of the way they lived. The officers that kill themselves live the same way. Before you judge the way they died, you walk over to the families they left behind, look them in the eye and tell them their officer’s life didn’t matter. Their service didn’t matter. The FTO, SRO, chief, lieutenant, and neighborhood favorite beat cop lived a lesser life because of the way they died. When you can do that in good conscience, then you can tell me they don’t deserve a funeral fit for an officer.
Karen Solomon is the co-founder of Blue H.E.L.P., a national speaker, author, columnist and advocate. Her books Hearts Beneath the Badge and The Price They Pay are used in citizen’s academies throughout the country and endorsed by law enforcement leadership. Married to a police officer for sixteen years, Karen understands today’s challenges and puts her knowledge to work on behalf of the entire profession. Karen has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Eckerd College. She’s a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), the International Public Safety Association (IPSA), and the Public Safety Writers Association.