The following editorial is written by the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Today and expresses his own opinions.
PRESTON, CT- Police officers are fairly used to being abused by the news media. Usually it involves alleged excessive uses of force and suggestions that officers should “shoot at the legs” of suspects instead of “shooting to kill.” Of course the term “shoot to kill” is a misnomer that requires repeated correction of the news media.
Perhaps it involves so-called “systemic police racism,” a fallacy that is easily disproven by facts and statistics.
This time however, The Day of New London, Connecticut crossed the line.
In an “news” article written by a reporter named Kevin Arnold, he reported on the death of a police officer from the town of Waterford, Connecticut. The truth is this officer committed suicide, sadly a not so uncommon event in the world of public safety. In fact, some may say that first responders, including police officers and firefighters, who commit suicide is at an epidemic level.
Instead of examining the phenomenon of police suicides, Mr. Arnold chose to sensationalize the story. Digging back through the officer’s history, Arnold discovered that the location where this officer committed suicide happened to be by his mother’s gravesite in the nearby town of Preston, Connecticut.
When Connecticut State Police troopers arrived at the cemetery earlier this week, they found the officer, who had been described as “a distraught male in a vehicle who was potentially armed” in a broadcast to the Ledyard, Connecticut police early Monday afternoon.
The officer was found on the ground unresponsive. Arnold then reported the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the officer’s death was suicide resulting from a gunshot wound to the head.
The details surrounding the death of this officer’s mother are unimportant to the story. She was the victim of a homicide 26 years ago for which a suspect was arrested, tried and convicted. He is incarcerated and scheduled to be released in 2036.
The officer was a native of Waterford and graduated from the local high school in 2003.
Law Enforcement Today learned of the article in The Day by someone who contacted us, upset by the details which were published in the original article.
According to our source, Arnold published the names and ages of the officer’s minor children, aged nine and six. The children’s names were subsequently removed, however as our source told us, “the damage had been done.”
Moreover, our source said the paper (Arnold) attempted to reach out to the schools the officer’s sons attended. In addition, Arnold decided it was important to include the fact that this officer had filed for divorce from his wife last November and the case was pending at the time of his death.
One of our writers reached out to Mr. Arnold to find out what he was thinking when he published what should have been closely held information about the incident. Specifically, we asked the following questions:
- Is it typical for your paper to give graphic details of suicides?
- Along the same lines, is it typical to delve into and provide details about how an individual’s relative may have died and inferring that was a basis for the suicide?
- Is it typical for your paper to identify the names and ages of minor children of a suicide victim?
- Why was there an attempt to contact the school his children attend? Is this typical for people who die whether by suicide or accidentally?
To his credit, Arnold responded to our questions promptly.
“It was not my decision to write about this tragedy,” Arnold wrote, leading one to believe that he was given the story by an editor. “It happened to be an officer from a town in which I’m responsible for covering and in a public setting.”
According to Arnold, “rumors had begun to spread” when he was assigned the story, and he felt it needed “to be reported on accurately.” He claimed had the suicide not occurred in a public setting, “it would not have been our business to report on.”
He continued that he used “factual information from state and local police,” as well as from the medical examiner’s office, as well as the victim’s father to report on the incident.
Arnold acknowledged naming the children in the original digital publication, referring to it as “a mistake.” He claimed it was removed within an hour of the article going live, and before the print edition of the story appeared. He said they paper never attempted to contact the children’s school.
Our writer replied back, noting that the “damage was done” and again questioned contacting the school, because that was the information we received.
A short time later, our writer received a reply from the executive editor of The Day, Timothy J. Cotter. He insisted the school was not contacted by the paper.
He further attempted to clarify that the paper’s policy is to “report on suicides of public officials and/or if the suicide is in a public place.”
Unfortunately, the reporting on this officer’s suicide struck some nerves, in particular for someone who contacted Law Enforcement Today who has experienced firsthand the tragedy of law enforcement suicide.
In a letter to editor, Trish Buchanan wrote:
How insensitive and horrible that your newspaper chose to run an article and share specific details about the sad and tragic suicide death of Waterford Police Officer [redacted]. How could you do this to his department and his precious family and young sons? I personally know the deep pain that comes from this type of death. You see, my police officer husband[,] East Hartford [CT} Police Department Paul Buchanan died by suicide in 2013 while at work. The pain of his death was indescribable to our family and his department. Thank God our local newspaper did not share specific details about his death and about our children. If they had, I think I literally would have died from the personal pain. The damage you have done to his family and department is done even after retracting information. Shame on you!
Suicide committed by police officers is an epidemic, make no mistake about it. There is no better example of that than the city of Chicago, where in the final weeks of 2022 three police officers committed suicide. That brought last year’s total in Chicago to seven police suicides, as reported by Fox News. Over the past four years, 20 Chicago police officers have committed suicide.
In 2021, 632 police officers died across the United States—nearly 25% of those deaths were from suicide.
If Mr. Arnold were looking to make a name for himself, or maybe get that dream job at a real newspaper, perhaps he could have examined why this particular officer committed suicide.
That would have been more helpful instead of giving the inference that it was due to his mother having been murdered 26 years ago, or perhaps due to his marriage breaking down. Moreover, the initial decision to post the names and ages of the minor children is the definition of yellow journalism.
Suicide, no matter who commits it, is devastating to those left behind, many of whom often blame themselves for “not seeing the signs.”
Publicizing the details of someone’s death because it was “in a public place” is, to be frank, a BS excuse. There was absolutely no need for this reporter and The Day to further victimize this officer’s family and his colleagues.
This is why people hate the media.
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