Confronting Police Suicides E-mail
Written by APB Staff   
When it comes to the issue of police suicides, there are many that would rather just avoid the topic altogether. Sadly, that's one of the reasons that suicide is more prevalent among cops than most other groups.

For the loved ones left behind when a cop takes his or her own life, talking is one of the few things that actually has a chance of reducing the number of future police suicides.

In the London riots this past summer, three people died. In the period between June and August of this year, four police officers took their own lives in Connecticut alone.

"What you experience on a daily basis is cumulative stress," Janice McCarthy told reporters for the Hartford Courant newspaper recently. McCarthy lost her husband Paul to suicide five years ago. Paul McCarthy was a Massachusetts State Trooper.

Janice recently spoke to about 225 law enforcement professionals who attended a suicide prevention conference at Central Connecticut State University recently.

The conference was in response to four documented police-officer suicides in Connecticut in three months.

In April, Rocky Hill Sgt. Leonard Kulas was found dead in his cruiser with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a cemetery. In May, New Britain Capt. Matthew Tuttle killed himself at his home in Middletown. Two more Connecticut police officers killed themselves in June: Southbury Officer Anton Tchorzyk Jr. shot himself in his home in Watertown and Groton Lt. Thomas Forbes killed himself inside the police department where he worked.

More than 300 police officers attended the conference to learn about the risks and consequences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions that can lead to suicide.

Institutional and occupational culture is a difficult thing to change. But according to family survivors of police suicides, it must change if there's any hope of reducing the number of police suicides.

McCarthy made it clear that to prevent police officer suicides, depression can no longer be seen as a sign of weakness inside the department. "Don't deny the fact that you're human," she said. "Yes, you're cops. But you're human."

In 1993, a man driving a stolen bus hit Trooper McCarthy's police cruiser, leaving him with a number of traumatic injuries. She said the accident, coupled with numerous other factors after his recovery and his inability to cope with the trauma, led to his suicide.

"He recovered physically, but emotionally he was going down," McCarthy told the room full of police officers. "He had a fixation with the accident."

John Violanti, a former New York state trooper and now professor at SUNY Buffalo, said that law enforcement culture often sees suicide as the result of weakness, selfishness or taking the easy way out of a problem.

Sgt. Troy Anderson of the Connecticut State Police was at the conference to encourage the creation of more in-house peer support programs. Anderson is the coordinator of a program called State Troopers Offering Peer Support. When he asked the officers how many had in house-peer support programs very few hands went up.

"That culture needs a shift," said Lt. Jeff Nixon of the Waterford Police Department.

It's tragic and ironic that a group like police officers, a group that more than most would benefit from an opportunity to talk about what they experience on the job and at home, are indoctrinated into a culture that stigmatizes those very services.

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