By Hal Collier, retired LAPD
The sights: I could write volumes on the sights I’ve seen but that’s not the way I deal with it. I’ve seen just about every way an individual can commit suicide. I seen gunshot wounds with just about every caliber of handgun and rife made. Hanging with ropes, clothing and even a choker dog chain. Jumpers from nineteen stories to freeway overpasses, jumping in front of oncoming traffic. None of them pretty. Homicides with guns, knives and even cars. I was a supervisor at a suicide scene where the victim put a shotgun to his head. I stood outside and the officers asked me if I want to see the victim. I said no, I sleep better when I don’t!
Additionally I’ve seen attempt suicides that will cause the individual more suffering then what they wanted to end. I once had a young man who shot himself in the head with a 22 caliber pistol. He only managed to blind himself. A year later he succeeded. I was at a hospital on an unrelated incident when a nurse showed me a women who sliced open her stomach in an attempt to kill herself. She survived. She was despondent because she had escaped Communist Russia and left her children behind. Sad!
This is how most cops deal with the sights, sound and smells we see:
Often at scenes of something horrific, homicide or traffic accident the news will show the cops standing around drinking coffee and laughing. Do the cops care? Of course we do, but we have something called “Gallows Humor.” Webster describes: Gallows Humor as humor about a very unpleasant or serious situation. We try to distance ourselves from the horror of what has happened. Don’t become too involved. It a little easier if you don’t know the victim or the family.
Some cops will turn to alcohol or drugs to help them forget what they experienced or saw. Those methods only give temporary relief and usually lead to more serious problems like loss of job. [See below for info on this subject–Thonie]
Some quit the profession altogether because they can’t handle the stress or emotions. Others become hermits and withdraw from society. These are danger signs that could lead to depression and suicide.
Some turn to professional help, but others refuse because they fear that they will be branded as crazy and have their gun and badge taken away. A lot just try to forget what we’ve just seen and move on. The big task is you have to turn it off when you go home. I would lie to my wife when she asked, “Anything exciting happen at work?”
“No, the usual robberies, rapes and traffic accidents.”
We may hide our feelings and the scars don’t show, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Some nightmares don’t go away ever, even in retirement.
Two last cop ironies: A cop writes you a ticket for texting on your phone, then he drives off while typing on his in car computer. Ironic
When the California Lottery first came out most cops said that if they won they would take the money, and not tell anyone. They would continue working as a cop because they love their job! Ironic
June 1st is the launch of a new website resource for emergency responders having difficulty coping with the job: 1sthelp.net. There will be more on this resource in upcoming posts. –Thonie