Author's note: This is Part 2 of our series on Another Cop Killer. If you have not already read it, let us refer you to Part 1 (linked below)
The next sixteen minutes were a blur. A blend of detached, buzzing surreality in the room around him, yet with a laser focus on a single panicked thought - Dear God, what have I just done to myself, my family, my career, my life? - He talked to Sherri on the phone about The Black and what it felt like, rambling and wishing he could just shut up but unable to. He heard her typing as he spoke, knowing his words were popping up on a mobile computer somewhere in the city. He felt his wife touching his shoulder and then wrapping her arms around him in a tight, tearful hug - who got her up? Made eye contact with his daughter, small and scared and watching in confusion from the stairs. And then he was suddenly staring into the broad face of a small mountain in blue!
- Sarge? Hey, howzit going, sarge? I understand things are feeling pretty rough right now, huh? That's okay. Happens sometimes, ya know. Let's see what we can do for ya, huh?
Dale. His first FTO seventeen years ago. A thirty year patrol guy - never had much interest in anything else, really, he just loved pushing a squad around for three decades - Dale was never known for soaring ambition. He was known as possibly the wiliest uniform anyone had ever known, the finest teacher of recruits, and the funniest, most happy-go-lucky cop in the house. Calm. Unflappable. And huge, with three hundred pounds draped on a 6'8" frame. Smiling even now... and then there was another wave of the surreal.
- So, sarge, can you talk to me? Tell me what is going on tonight?
- What did I do, Dale? I just wrecked everything, didn't I? I just destroyed my career! How are they ever going to trust a head case, huh?
- No, sarge, C'mon. You are not the first cop gone through this, believe me. It happens to a lot...
- No, Dale! No! I...
- Kurt! Kurt, I know. Trust me on this. It happens to a lot of us. You know what I mean, Kurt? A lot. Believe me, Kurt, I really do know...
Do police officers suffer from depressive disorders at a greater rate than does the general public? The answer to this question is elusive but it is clear law enforcement is a stressful and dangerous career, emotionally as well as physically.
Are police officers more likely to commit suicide than the general public? The answer to this one is not so elusive. Although it is not known exactly how many police officers take their own lives annually, it is generally accepted that about two to three times as many will die by their own hand than will be killed in the line of duty in any given year. That translates to somewhere between 300 and 450 police officer suicides, and it is suspected this number is even an underestimation as there is anecdotal evidence that some suicides are deliberately classified as accidental deaths. Imagine a city of just slightly less population than Detroit experiencing that many suicides in a year, every year. That is a lot of tragic and unnecessary death.
A 1997 USA Today comparative study looked at suicide rates of six large police agencies (NYPD, Chicago PD, FBI, LAPD, San Diego PD, and US Customs) over varying time periods for each and then compared the suicide rates to the national average of about 12 per 100,000 persons. The suicide rate for each, in the order listed above (each per 100,000), was 15.5, 18.1, 26.1, 20.7, 35.7, and 45.6! And a 1995 study by the Fraternal Order of Police, in which suicide rates among 38,800 FOP members belonging to agencies ranging in size from 5 to 3000 officers and conducted by examining chapter insurance records, showed a suicide rate of 22 deaths per 100,000 officers (USA Today, June 1, 1999 and the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation). A more recent study focusing on New Jersey LEOs and conducted utilizing the Centers for Disease Control's Violent Death Reporting System and the Uniform Crime Report showed the rate among all active New Jersey peace officers to be 30 percent higher than that of all males aged 25 to 64 in that state (American Police Beat, September 2009).