I work for a small agency in a large metro area. We’re the lowest-paid agency in the area. People stay because it’s a great agency.
Recently, one of our officers tried to take his own life. After a few days in the mental-health facility, he was cleared and returned to full duty.
A suicide attempt would disqualify an applicant. Morale has plummeted. We’re losing several experienced officers. Our Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has chosen not to get involved in personnel matters, and Admin says the suicide attempt is a medical issue. Is this something the employee association should worry about? Should it go to an authority above the police administration? Has this opened our department and city to a new level of liability?
First and foremost, I’m glad your officer was unsuccessful.
Let’s hit this with a 12-gauge slug right out of the barn. Suicide rates for cops are out of control. A 10-year study in San Francisco put the suicide rate for cops at 33.3/100,000 versus 21/100,000 for the general population. The California Highway Patrol lost eight officers to suicide in eight months last year.
The statistics go on, but they just piss me off, so let’s dig a little deeper. I have no idea why cops commit suicide. Some say it’s stress on the job, other call it post traumatic stress syndrome and others say hyper-vigilance causes regular life to lose meaning. Whatever the reason, families and friends are left without someone they’ll miss.
If your cops are leaving over something they had no control over, they were getting close to leaving anyway. Your cops must improve their understanding of their place in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the agency is definitely responsible for overall morale, but officers are responsible for their own morale. Pitching a fit over anything outside of your control is like trying to catch one of those crotch-rocket bikes on the freeway. No matter how fast you push your black and white, you’ll only catch that bike if the rider decides to let you. Why bother?
I know a cop who held a SWAT team at bay with a suicide threat on at least one occasion. Last time I checked, that dude was still working. He’s no super-cop, but he works his beat and his kids still have a dad. If they’d cut him loose, he likely would have taken another go at it.
Let ol’ Bullethead take a look at each of your concerns. You say a suicide attempt would disqualify a new applicant. An arrest for DUI or an assault or a history of bankruptcy will also disqualify a new applicant, but a current cop can usually survive such things.
The FOP damn sure should get involved in personnel matters—that’s their job, along with securing pay and benefits. They can’t come out against one member even if the guy did try to off himself. They must make sure your agency is taking care of this guy so he can continue to serve in good health, mental and otherwise.
If it isn’t a medical issue, what the hell is it? Stick a gun in your ear and pull the trigger? Being a head case is a medical issue! When we snatch up some nut job, we tell them they aren’t under arrest and we’re taking them to get help—medical issue.
If a cop breaks a hand, we don’t let them work until they get an OK from a doctor. When the doc says they’re OK to work, they go. What’s different about a cop breaking their head? When the doc says they’re OK, should we fire them? Who’s a higher authority than a doc?
The liability argument is pure bull dung. We give 23-year-olds guns and the right to take people’s freedom away. Some guy who tried to take his own life shouldn’t increase liability if he’s properly cleared to return to duty.
You had the balls to ask, and too damn bad if you don’t like my answers. Here are your marching orders: Tell the FOP it better watch out for this guy and support him by making sure the agency provides the help he needs. Talk to other officers and make sure they understand each of us is responsible for what we do, and that they need to quit worrying about what’s outside their control. If you’re worried about this cop going nuts while you’re around, train more.
Got a question or complaint?
Let Bullethead hear about it. He’ll give you his opinion with both barrels.
E-mail him at email@example.com or fax him at 619/699-6246.