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Thursday, August 11, 2011

[CT] There's more to police suicides and officer-involved domestic murders than the officer, job stress, and ptsd

Below are excerpts from 7 articles about a recent conference, “Training the Mind: Preventing Police Suicide and Promoting Mental Wellness,” addressing law enforcement suicides.

...Wednesday’s conference is centered on providing police officials a wealth of information on how to help officers cope with the stresses of their jobs...

Without minimizing the gathered wisdom that the articles present, I noticed that nowhere in any of the articles was the lethal risk to family members or intimate partners mentioned. By only mentioning a handful of recent local suicides the conference, as it was reported in the news, appears to have been able to avoid addressing the high occurrence of officer involved domestic murders and murder-suicides associated with officers in crisis. Not mentioning the unwilling victims included in so many officer-committed suicides and domestic murders seems to be much more than an oversight. If appears more as a blatant disregard. Officer-committed suicides, murders, and murder-suicides seem to be born from similar sets of distress. Having been the spouse of an officer my perspective is that those who are killed by a distressed officer - with or instead of the officer - should be equally valued, considered, and advocated for.

When an officer combusts anyone in their life may be at risk.

The focus on post traumatic stress disorder as the predominate cause of officer suicides diminishes attention to the complex and potentially lethal affects of failing personal relationships, financial distress, substance abuse or being investigated, while armed and mentally prepared to kill. Consider as one example that divorce is hell - and when you wear a gun all day, take command everywhere you go, and are expected to handle crisis on the spot - the temperature in hell rises as an officer loses control over their own life. Throw a drink or three on top of that and the officer's world explodes. Some officers kill themselves, some kill the people closest to them and then themselves, and some give it all up by just killing those close to them. How do we fix any of it without addressing all of it?

Perhaps if an officer was measured less by his or her functionality as a cop - and more as a human being who has relatives and a family, a human being who would have value even if they worked a different job, as someone that people want to love - everyone would be benefited.

I have saved many articles over the years that are published after suicides asking more generally how officers can be helped - but not one that I remember considered family dynamics or an officer's sense of worth outside of their cop job. Not one that I recall gave equal worth to the lives of the people in the officer's life - whether or not they survive. We can't heal one facet of an officer and think they will be alright. Undeniably the work itself takes it's toll, but we can't blame everything on PTSD and job stress. Humans are multi-dimensional beings. A dear mentoring friend of mine said, "We remove complexity to justify insensitivity; rationalize to explain the inexplicable." It's time to think deeper, and care wider.

A lot of excellent information is included in the articles below, and I hope it helps the departments to be better equipped for interventions and saving lives. It is always a step in the right direction to share what we know. Until federal statistics are kept on the relevant *details* surrounding the many forms of officer suicides however, it's hard to believe all effort is being made to stop the epidemic of deaths. Simple headcounts of the dead are not enough. A study would reveal multiple root causes of crisis, lead to periodic evaluations, substance abuse testing, addressing the risk to the people in a troubled officer's life, and firmer policies on fitness for duty. Without results from a recognized study I believe that most police unions will continue block the advancement of most or all of those life-saving discussions.

Please feel free to leave helpful links in the comment section below.


...One of the biggest problems these organizations face is a lack of data about officer suicide. No federal office counts or keeps track of officer suicide...

...No one has a good explanation for why four Connecticut police officers killed themselves from April to June. For law enforcement officials gathering at a conference today, the most important question now is how to prevent others from taking their own lives...
...Too often colleagues of someone who commits suicide think that person took the coward’s way out. But anyone who contemplates or undertakes suicide, he said, is in a “tunnel of despair” and can’t think clearly. They see death as the only possible solution...
...police officers, because of the unique stresses they experience, are seven times more likely to kill themselves than workers in any other career, but are far less likely to ask for help...
...command staff - the captains, deputy chiefs and chiefs - who showed up. "These are the guys who can effect change"...
...[Widow:] "Don't deny the fact that you're human"...

The Hartford Courant
By MICHAEL WALSH, michwalsh@courant.com
10:38 p.m. EDT, August 10, 2011
[Excerpts] As Janice McCarthy stood and spoke in front of a parking lot surveillance video that captured the last hours of her husband's life, her argument about the need to change the culture of police work became clear. "What you experience on a daily basis is cumulative stress"... The conference was in response to four documented police-officer suicides in Connecticut in the past few months. In April, Rocky Hill Sgt. Leonard Kulas was found dead in his cruiser with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a cemetery. Then in May, New Britain Capt. Matthew Tuttle killed himself at his home in Middletown. Two 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. The goal of the symposium, "Training the Mind," wasn't to find out why these four killed themselves, but to try to prevent similar incidents. 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," said McCarthy... 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. "We've got to change this police culture" to one that shows an understanding of officers' feelings, Violanti said. According to Violanti, one way to do that is by offering more peer support programs inside police departments... [Full article here]

The Day
By Karin Crompton
[Excerpts] On the big screen in a conference room at Central Connecticut State University, a video shows a handful of cops sitting around a table in a counseling session. The topic: suicide... "When you're plotting it," he says, "it's almost a relief because the bull (expletive) is gonna be over." The video was one segment of an all-day conference to discuss police suicide prevention. Presented by the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement Inc., or CABLE, the seminar was in response to a rash of recent police suicides... The conference was designed to challenge the stigma of seeking help, organizers said, and to suggest resources that agencies can use in addition to an Employee Assistance Provider, or EAP... [CABLE President Kenneth] Edwards, a former captain in the New London Police Department, is now an inspector with the Office of the Chief State's Attorney. Edwards said during a break that he was particularly pleased by the number of command staff - the captains, deputy chiefs and chiefs - who showed up. "These are the guys who can effect change," Edwards said... "It's a bit tough," [Groton City Police Sgt.] Lowe said of the conference and about watching the video. "We're trying to learn and deal with it... We're kind of muddling through"... Police work regularly involves dead bodies, accidents, shootings and abused children, said John Violanti, the conference's keynote speaker... Violanti is a research professor in the department of Social and Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health and Health Professions at SUNY Buffalo and was a Trooper with New York State Police for 23 years. "You almost have to be a practicing attorney to do your job right," Violanti said, adding that police also "have to survive the psychological harm this job can do to you over 20 to 25 years."... "I've been to counseling," said Lt. Todd Bergeson of the New London Police Department. "It was the best thing I ever did." It was divorce-related rather than police-related, said Bergeson, but the talks spilled over into talks about the job. Bergeson said he's learned how to leave work behind at the end of a shift and said it's been beneficial mentally and physically. "As soon as I leave (work)," he said, "it's a different life." [Full article here]

STATE GROUP SPONSORS CONFERENCE ON POLICE SUICIDES: Today's event was in response to four suicides by police officers in recent months.
By Eileen McNamara
August 10, 2011
[Excerpts] Hundreds of police officers from across the state gathered in New Britain on Wednesday to learn about the problem of police suicides and how to prevent them. Dozens of local departments and state police sent representatives, ranging from patrol officers to police chiefs, to the conference, “Training the Mind: Preventing Police Suicide and Promoting Mental Wellness,” held at Central Connecticut State University. The event was arranged and hosted by the nonprofit group Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement in response to the suicides earlier this year of four Connecticut police officers: Sgt. Lenny Kulas, a Rocky Hill officer who killed himself in April; Lt. Thomas Forbes, a 30-year veteran of the Groton City Police Department who killed himself in June; New Britain police Capt. Matthew Tuttle, who committed suicide in April, and Southbury Officer Anton Tchorzyk Jr., who died June 20. All four died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. Kulas and Forbes killed themselves while on duty and Tuttle committed suicide at home shortly after being arrested in connection with a hit-and-run incident in Berlin... Middletown Chief Patrick McMahon was among a group of nine officers from his department who attended the conference. McMahon said he wants to create an environment in his agency where officers feel comfortable reaching out for help or offering help to colleagues whom they believe may be depressed, stressed out or suicidal... The absence of representatives from the Rocky Hill Police Department raised some eyebrows among those who attended. Event organizers said the Rocky Hill department was specifically invited, given the suicide of Kulas, a 31-year-veteran of the department who killed himself in his cruiser in April, but that no one from Rocky Hill registered for the event... The keynote speaker was John M. Volanti, a former New York state trooper turned researcher at the School of Public Health and Health Professions at SUNY Buffalo, who studies suicides among police officers. Volanti said police officers, because of the unique stresses they experience, are seven times more likely to kill themselves than workers in any other career, but are far less likely to ask for help than most people, in part because they believe asking for help shows weakness. “At least 25 percent of you are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” he told the approximately 300 police men and women in the audience... Too often, he said, colleagues of someone who commits suicide think that person took the coward’s way out. But anyone who contemplates or undertakes suicide, he said, is in a “tunnel of despair” and can’t think clearly. They see death as the only possible solution... ... [Full article here]

SUICIDE PREVENTION AND MENTAL WELLNESS CONFERENCE DRAWS STATEWIDE POLICE ATTENDANCE: Law Enforcement Professionals gain insight and training resources for coping with occupational stress.
By Margaret Waage
August 11, 2011
[Excerpts] ..."It's common for officers to internalize problems because they're expected to resolve everyone else's," said Inspector Kenneth Edwards, Chief Instructor and Statewide Law Enforcement CIT Coordinator and President of Board of Directors of CABLE. "We need to remove the stigma associated with seeking help as opposed to burying bodies," said Dr. John Violanti, during his "The Enemy Within" presentation. Examining how insidious stress factors build up from day-to-day police work... "Don't be afraid to ask a question of a colleague. There are no stupid questions. Even more importantly, don't be afraid to be afraid. That goes for taking care of yourself too," said Violanti. "Ambivalence is the doorway to intervention." Also presenting a case study, "A Journey to suicide," was Janice McCarthy, widow of Officer Paul McCarthy. Officer McCarthy suffered from an accident on the job and subsequently endured a long emotional descent from what Janice best described as cumulative stress... McCarthy described horrors of decapitation and cases of witnessing deaths repeatedly, and urged everyone to arm themselves with wellness tools to be healthy in this profession. "Clean out the psychic box where pain tends to pile up," McCarthy said making the analogy. "It is depressing," said West Hartford Officer Eric Rocheleau. "No matter how much training you have initially upon becoming a cop, it doesn't prepare you for how you will react. The violence we witness is life changing and it's hard to process on a daily basis," Rocheleau said after seeing a video of officers reacting to a fellow officer who committed suicide... CABLE offers Crisis in Intervention (CIT) and Peer Support training. Since 2003 CABLE has trained 1221 police officers, public safety dispatchers, mental health providers and mental health probation and parole officers from 54 agencies in CIT. Additionally CABLE trained 102 troopers for the "State Trooper Offering Peer Support (STOPS)" program. CABLE's statewide CIT implementation efforts are funded by the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services... [Full article here]

The Day, Associated Press
By Dave Collins
[Excerpts] No one has a good explanation for why four Connecticut police officers killed themselves from April to June. For law enforcement officials gathering at a conference today, the most important question now is how to prevent others from taking their own lives... National studies show that about 140 police officers across the country killed themselves each year from 2008 to 2010, and that officers are three times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed by others... Authorities say two Connecticut police officers killed themselves in June. Southbury officer Anton Tchorzyk Jr. was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Watertown, and Groton City Lt. Thomas Forbes shot himself in the head at the police department. In May, New Britain Capt. Matthew Tuttle shot himself in the head at his Middletown home, and in April, Rocky Hill Sgt. Leonard Kulas was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his cruiser at a local cemetery, officials said. Louise Pyers, executive director and founder of the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement, said the deaths of Tchorzyk, Forbes and Tuttle appeared to have one thing in common - they were nearing retirement. "We do know that police officers near retirement are at higher risk (of suicide)," Pyers said. "Some officers put all their identity into being a police officer and then when it comes time to retire they don't feel they have a purpose"... [Full article here]

Hartford, CT (AP / WCBS 880)
August 10, 2011 11:26 AM
[Excerpts] ...Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling says his command officers are trained in intervention and sensitive to triggers like depression that may signal a serious problem. But when an officer takes his or her life, he says it’s devastating. “Everybody starts second-guessing themselves and wondering ‘Should I have noticed something?’ Certainly we’ve lost a comrade and that’s extremely, extremely saddening to us”... Wednesday’s conference is centered on providing police officials a wealth of information on how to help officers cope with the stresses of their jobs. Things police officers can do, Pyers said, include getting mental health checkups once a year, forming peer support groups and recognizing warning signs.... [Full article here]

[Excerpts] ...[Massachusetts State Police Captain] Paul McCarthy loved his wife, he confided in a friend, but the independent, fun-loving girl he had met in 1982 didn’t seem to be on his side anymore. He moved to a small condo near the family’s Andover home. Things at work were deteriorating, too. In June 2006, he poured his frustrations into a rambling eight-page letter of complaint to the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, writing: “The Massachusetts State police do not recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an issue that affects the employees of the Mass State Police”... Janice and the children learned of Paul’s death two days later when his body was found. They had watched Paul deteriorate for years, but his suicide was a shock. After the funeral, Janice says, her devastation turned to anger. “I have three children who need validation from someone other than their mother that this had nothing to do with them”... Janice took her case to the state retirement board, and in June 2007 her husband’s death was ruled “accidental.” The decision meant she would collect 72 percent of his pension (an “in the line of duty” death would have meant 100 percent and an additional one-time payment of nearly $100,000), but more important, it drew a line connecting his on-the-job injuries to his suicide, opening the door for what Janice McCarthy really wants -- her husband’s death to be ruled “line of duty” and his name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The retirement board’s decision in Paul McCarthy’s case reflects a national shift toward recognizing the physical and emotional toll of police work. In 2003, Congress passed a law expanding federal line-of-duty benefits to include the families of police officers and other first responders who die due to heart attacks or strokes. The new law, called the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act, went into effect on September 11, 2006, and essentially acknowledges that the stress of policing can kill. Janice McCarthy wants lawmakers to take that logic one step further and say that if police work can cause enough internal turmoil to make your heart give out, it can also drive you to suicide. But it won’t be easy. The legal precedent linking suicide directly to on-the-job trauma is thin, at best. Back in 1978, the Massachusetts Industrial Accident Board found a causal connection between a work-related incident and the subsequent suicide of an officer at the Billerica House of Correction. More recently, Pamela Yanco, the widow of a Wellesley police officer who killed himself in 1992, tried to get the same recognition Janice wants for her husband. In 2001, the state Appeals Court rejected Yanco’s argument that her husband’s death was the result of an on-the-job personal injury -- namely, a false accusation of improper conduct -- ruling that the law “prohibits the payment of benefits to the dependents of an officer who intentionally brings about his or her own death.”... The National Police Suicide Foundation was begun in 1997 by a former Baltimore police officer and chaplain who lost a co-worker to suicide. In 1995, Teresa Tate of Cape Coral, Florida -- whose officer husband had taken his life in 1989 -- formed Survivors of Law Enforcement Suicide. Both groups are working to persuade departments across the country to add suicide prevention programs and awareness training for officers and to adopt more compassionate protocols for how to treat surviving families.... One of the biggest problems these organizations face is a lack of data about officer suicide. No federal office counts or keeps track of officer suicide... “Cops don’t lead a healthy life,” says Kevin Gilmartin, a retired police officer and clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon, who studies and consults on law enforcement. Gilmartin points out that the constant vigilance and repeated exposure to bodily harm that are hallmarks of a police career don’t just impact physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. In his 2002 book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, Gilmartin was damning, writing that police departments “appear to be fatally losing the battle of emotional survival”... The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently produced a CD-ROM to help members around the globe create suicide prevention programs. And Mike Haley, who heads the Fraternal Order of Police’s Critical Incident Program, travels the country to teach peer counseling and encourage departments to add more training programs, especially to prepare rookie officers for the traumas they’ll face. “Even a short period of time in this profession will change your life,” says Haley... Most of the police mental health workers I spoke with thought the idea of a “line-of-duty suicide” was intriguing, but they weren’t exactly ready to sign on to a new classification. Gilmartin says he think it could create a victim mentality, and Dr. Audrey Honig, who is a former chair of the international chiefs’ association’s Psychological Services Section, says she thinks the better tack would be to lobby for recognition of some suicides within existing line-of-duty classifications. Bill Genet, a former New York City police officer who created a confidential peer counseling program, sighs wistfully at the notion: “If they can do it, God bless ’em”... [Full article here]
[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence ipv abuse law enforcement public safety lethal connecticut state politics RANT]


  1. Yesterday morning in Ohio a long-time Lorain County Sheriff's Division corrections officer brutally killed his wife Holly and then called to report himself. He chuckled that it was his EX wife now. In court he chuckled when the judge asked him what his job is. He didn't care anymore. He could have killed himself but he killed his wife instead.

    When a person breaks this way they are lethal - to themselves and/OR others. It is one problem not two or three. Lethally broken.

    If people really care there will be serious detailed studies instead of head counts.

  2. What an interesting perspective coming from an experienced person that sees many horrors in your line of work. It takes reflections to find solutions.


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