This week we discuss the weighty subject of law enforcement suicide and the phone call I received right before sitting down to press record on this show.
We talk about the importance of knowing your why, and understanding why we do what we do and what should be our thought process in times of crisis.
We talk about knowing that you are loved and that your life influences the lives around you.
We then discuss the importance of knowing your resources, who do you call in a time of crisis? And do others know that they can call you in a time of crisis?
PLEASE IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING AND NEED SOMEONE TO TALK TO, THERE IS NO SHAME IN REACHING OUT ! REACH OUT TO A FRIEND, A LOVED ONE, OR CONTACT THENATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE AT 1-800-273-8255.
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This Post was written in honor of the men and women who wear the uniform everyday and in memory of a recent loss close to home, you will always be remembered.
Sound. It is an interesting thing. For those blessed with hearing, a sound can mean so much; it can mean everything. Sound is one of the primary ways we experience the world. From the time we are a little child, sounds stick with us and begin to define our perception of the world. Sounds such as the lullaby mom used to sing, the seriousness in daddy’s voice, and the understanding tone of a loving grandma; all begin to clarify our place in the world .
This continues throughout our life and begins to exemplify the defining moments. Maybe it is our favorite song heard on the radio, the music we first danced to, the understanding voice reflection of a close friend. These sounds provide the backdrop of our world as we know it and our understanding of it. This definition is true with many types of industries and vocations.
Sound begins to describe a career and the moments within it. The whir of machinery, the simple taps on a keyboard, the drip of a coffee maker, the distant voices congregating in a break room, and the sound of the bosses footsteps coming down a hall; they become the drumbeat that fills the background of everyday life. Over time they dissipate into the dull hum that plays out in our everyday moments, but if you stop every once in a while and try to push back against the noise, you will hear the simplest and most distinct of sounds that make up our everyday life.
Law enforcement is no different; sound fills the tapestry of everyday life on the job.
Law enforcement is no different; sound fills the tapestry of everyday life on the job. Sounds that are not as common or simply do not exist in other careers. It can start with the simplest, purest form of noises, until the sounds build on each other, each beginning to tell a story as they build into a crescendo.
The simple sound of a zipper on the side of issued black Rocky boots. The swooshing sound they make as the zipper tightens the support of the boot around the ankle of the officer. The audible click that is heard as the snap is closed on the black leather keeper that goes over the zipper. The sound of velcro being pulled apart. Its distinctive ripping sound made as the sides of a ballistic vest is tightened and retightened to get the snug fit just right.
The sound of velcro being pulled as the outer duty belt is straightened to the inner keeper belt. Moving it, loosening it, to get it to fit just right below the vest. The sound of metal clicking as the snaps on belt keepers are clasped. Each placed strategically around the belt to hold it in place in case something was to catch the belt, someone was to grab the belt, or the weight of the tools, coupled with gravity, would cause it to shift.
The distinctive sound of a magazine being slipped into a handgun, the metallic sound of the slide moving forward to chamber a round. The audible click that can be heard as the firearm is slipped into a retainment holster and nestled into place. The click of the magazine release as it is again removed from the holstered firearm, one last round entered, and then placed again into the magazine well with a click.
The clicks, the snaps, they continue each with their own distinctive tone, as the radio is put in its place along the belt and the cord for the microphone is ran to the uniform’s shoulder. Cameras are affixed with the faint sound of magnets finding their attraction, flashlights are added and piece by piece the uniform is put in place. The uniform coming together as a symbol of the vocational role this person plays in the world. The human sound of a sigh, as they take one last glance in the mirror to make sure that it is all there. The sound of exhalation as the unrelenting thought, of “what am I missing?” comes to the forefront. The sound of one last pat down as all the pockets and holders are checked and inventories to make sure everything is present.
Not all the sounds are this harsh in their delivery, some sounds that surround law enforcement whisper as they join in the nightly chorus.
The sounds now move outside. The sound of a car door on an agency vehicle being shut. The door to a unique office environment, unique to only a few careers. Next comes the sound of the engine starting and the fan noise as the heat or air conditioner kicks on and is adjusted. The whir of fans begins to chime in as the computer and radio come to life and the beeps and notifications they send out announcing their resurrection fill the air.
The symphony is in full display as the sound of the tapping of keys on a laptop keyboard join in and passwords, routing information, dispatch logs, and other information comes to life at their fingertips. The shrill sound of voices begin to pierce the dull rumble of background noise. Dispatchers and officers begin the back and forth electronic communication.
The penetrating sound of excited voices on in-progress calls, the defeated sound of an officer dealing with the one call he was hoping he would not get, and the questioning sound of dispatch wanting to know the details of the call, knowing more is happening than what is being relayed.
The ear-piercing sound of a radio tone-out, the high pitch squeal that makes all officers stop whatever they are doing and pay attention. The questions come fast. What is happening? Where is it happening? Who is there? These sounds encompass every part of the job, each distinctive in its own right, but collectively loud and harsh. The sound of sirens on a patrol car trying to keep time with the flashing red and blue lights. The distinctive sound of fire rescue and emergency services vehicles, their red and yellow lights reflecting in the sky.
The sound of tires on asphalt as a vehicle is driven fast or the squeal of a vehicle turned too quickly on pavement. The rushing sound of the engine when the gas has to be applied rapidly.
Some noises are so unique to the profession that they cannot be confused with any other. The well-known sound of handcuffs being clicked. The metal on metal clasping which leads to a loss of freedom. A sound so distinctive that it can produce a knowing sigh, or an angry outburst. Every call comes with its own distinctive sounds. The sound of voices telling you what happened from their perspective. Each voice vying for your attention, each seeking to get an audience before you, knowing that a decision will be made that could impact their life forever.
Sometimes these voices can never be forgotten. The scream of a mother who just lost a child. The sound of an enraged man whose high has caused him to act out. The cry of the wife who just saw her husband end his life in front of her. The disturbing sounds that signify the end of life, they are often most haunting of sounds. The sound of agonal breathing, the gurgle of liquid and air that can often be the prelude for life slipping away.
There are some sounds in this career that are so distinct that everyone knows their importance, regardless of their walk of life. Chief of these sounds of the sound of a gunshot, its projectile piercing the air, disturbing the quiet of a home and a neighborhood. The concerned calls, the responding sirens, the vehicles still running as they are parked on subdivision streets.
Not all the sounds are this harsh in their delivery, some sounds that surround law enforcement whisper as they join in the nightly chorus. The simple cadence of footsteps on a building check in the early morning hours. The strike of the boot on concrete providing a percussion-line in the darkness. Sometimes it is the simple sound of a child’s voice saying thank you at the window of your mobile office. Other times it is the grateful sound of the cashier saying, “Thank you for what you do,” or the citizen stopping to shake your hand with a knowing smile and saying, “Thank you for your service.”
These softer tones are the ones that help to stymie the roar of the evil that exists in the shadows where we serve. Yet over time, the harsher tones often win out; they become the overwhelming sound that can define the career. The quiet “thank you” is lost to the sirens and screams. They are the sounds that often cannot be escaped from.
It is the sound that cannot be escaped from that is worst of all, for when it builds and builds into a crescendo, it becomes so overwhelming that it is all you hear—building and building until it finally overwhelms the senses and what once was background noise now takes over every aspect of thought. At this point there is little perceived alternative but to silence the noise. Sound has become the enemy. The repetitious, haunting nature of these sounds does not dissipate without intentionality.
Sound has become the enemy. The repetitious, haunting nature of these sounds does not dissipate without intentionality.
Sadly, in some cases the sound becomes too much—a constant humming tone, a Tinnitus of sorrow. For some, the sound is so overbearing that it must end; the quiet must be allowed back in. The demons that once danced at the edge of the darkness, just outside the light, have crept in through shadows, moving closer and closer, enveloping more and more light, creating the sense of anxiety, and the feeling of no escape. For some, you may hear the sound of the alcohol bottle being opened and the sound of liquid being poured over ice. For others it may be click from the plastic safety lock on a bottle of pills and the sound of a swallow as they seek relief.
In the most tragic of cases, what you may hear are sounds of finality. These sounds can be the rubbing of a rope over an exposed rafter. The cut of a knife against skin. The click of the firearm being loaded followed by the explosion as the trigger is pulled. These are always accompanied by secondary sounds, involuntary noise created by the inevitable stoppage of motion. The sound of a firearm falling and landing on the floor. The shuffling sound of a body slumping over as gravity begins to pull unimpeded from the strength of the living. Sounds of horror such as the gurgle of blood for a few final moments, the sound of dripping fluid on the surfaces below.
That is when you hear it; its voice now screams in the background for all to hear. It is the inevitable sound of silence. The drumbeat of voices has silenced for this one, a final silent moment. Or at least that is what is believed to have come. However, in reality, peace cannot come out of this type of tragedy. The sound dissipates for one only to become louder for all those who knew them.
As the moments pass, the sound comes roaring back in the land of the living, among the brothers and sisters who must bear the weight of what has happened. A new roar of noise is heard above all the others; the sound of grief and loss has permeated all who knew them. The sound of phone calls and scheduling, the sounds of responding units. The sounds of loss and heartache, tears and brokenness. The sounds of family members hearing the tragic news of loss. The sounds of their grief-stricken reactions to that news and the sound of press conferences and media being notified that a brother or sister decided the noise was too much, they needed relief.
The sound of questions being asked. Questions that can never be answered. Why? How could we not see it? Why didn’t they talk to me? What was going on? Why was it so unbearable that they didn’t think they could reach out? Did they reach out, and I somehow missed it? The questions turn to anger, then resentment, then resolve, until finally acceptance.
No more is the struggle solely with the internal demons of one. It is the shared voice of the defiant, of the strong, of the courageous, the unified voice of the collective, saying, “We will not lose another on our watch.”
Over time the silence again returns. This time it is a haunting silence. No more will those boots be zipped, the sound of a duty belt will never again find the velcro. The snaps of the duty belt keepers will never again be heard as it is being put together to be worn. The vehicle will never again be started by that officer, and the computer and radio will not come to life to signal the start of another day. Their voice will never be heard across the airwaves of those who wear the radio. The sirens will not fill the air and the lights will no longer flash and reflect. Never again will that officer hear the cry of a parent, the whisper of a child, or the wail of a loved one. It will be for them always… Silence.
This story does not end in silence, not today. Today is different. This tragedy, this horror, this loss, has prompted a new sound. Sounds meant to override the pulsating drumbeat of evil noise. Today a brother called a brother or sister just to ask how they were doing, a knowing and understanding voice to calm the storm. Today a hug was given between zone partners, a knowing touch to make sure they knew they did not have to bear this cross alone, for the pain is easier carried on multiple shoulders. Today at read-off, a pat on the back from a supervisor told a fellow officer, “I am here for you anytime you need me.” And today a thank-you note slipped in an agency mailbox told a new officer they were being thought of and prayed for. Today the silence is no more. No more is the struggle solely with the internal demons of one. It is the shared voice of the defiant, of the strong, of the courageous, the unified voice of the collective, saying, “We will not lose another on our watch.” A unified voice saying, “We will hold this line together.”
THIS POST FIRST APPEARED AT ON THE BLUE LINE, March 2019.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please seek help immediately, you do not have to struggle alone.
He sat there staring at the black silhouette of a handgun, lying on the cream-colored sheets. It was motionless, and so was he. Well, he was motionless at first glance, but upon closer inspection you could see his chest rise and fall, you could see his eyes flutter occasionally when pulled from their blank stare, and you could see the occasional repositioning of a foot or a hand as uncomfortableness would force the movement. However, what you could not see was all the motion inside his head. In his mind there was endless shifting begging for clarification and understanding.
As you survey him, you would not see any damage, hear any pain or discomfort, or feel the angst that was there. There were no visible wounds, no lacerations, no punctures, no physical defects. What you might notice is moisture, you would have to look to his blue eyes, past the blank stare and towards the edges where the color meets the white, there in that space was a tinge of glistening moisture, moisture that spoke to something that could not be seen. Tears are a funny thing, they can be felt, but their voice is mixed and is not clear. Tears can be mistaken for joy, for pain, they can indicate being overwhelmed. They are clear and loud in their delivery, but lack in the clarity that allows the observer to know why they are there. Today, in his eyes these were not tears of joy. They were tears of pain and they were tears of devastation.
As you continue to study the scene, your eyes would inevitably go back to the handgun sitting on the edge of the bed. The black Glock 42, its name indicated by the markings visible as you glance down, appeared to have a magazine inserted into it. Within the magazine, one could assume were 6 rounds nestled together, neatly in a row, and an additional round chambered into the sleek handgun. One may be concerned as they looked at this firearm, as to its purpose, its role in the scene. Yet, it has no intent within itself, no action that it can take from its motionless state unless enacted upon by an outside force.
Near the gun, sits a badge, its gold reflecting the light in the room creating a star-like pattern on the nearby wall. Its star-shaped silhouette seems to indicate that it belongs to a Sheriff or a Deputy. The badge holds no authority, no strength on its own, but it can represent both strength and authority. The badge means nothing where it lies, but it can mean everything where it is wielded. Like the firearm that it lies next to, it’s only role is to be obedient, to be a tool, and to fill a role when called upon.
The male reaches down and picks up the badge. He holds it and feels it. He feels the weight, both real and perceived. Yet, its weight can be almost too much to bear. Who would have known that such small piece of metal, a piece of silver, a piece of gold, a piece of tin, could have such a profound heaviness. The badge represents so much, stands for so much and remembers too much. A tears salty moisture finds its way from the man’s red cheeks to the edge of his gold badge, sitting on the edge for only a moment, before cascading to the floor with the assistance of gravity.
Gravity. Weight. Heaviness. Those were the words that describe this scene, but why?
The items in this scene cannot remember, but he can. They cannot recall the traffic scene. They do not recall two a.m., when a mother of three young children stopping at the store on her way to the house to pick up last-minute Easter gifts for the kids. Her mind certainly focused on their smiling faces and a blessed day of friends and family, church and Easter egg hunts. Her mind was certainly with her family as she pulled out of the store’s parking lot directly into the path of an intoxicated driver who never even attempted to hit the brakes. The lights, the sounds, the screams, the smell of hot brakes and burnt rubber. The smell of blood and the struggle to try to sustain life in the face of certain death. No! The badge, the gun, they did not remember, but he does. He remembers every moment and always will.
“No! The badge, the gun, they did not remember, but he does. He remembers every moment and always will.”
His mind goes back to the infant lying lifeless in the child’s parents bed. The initial indication that someone rolled on him and smothered him during the night. He remembers vividly the young baby motionless, appearing like a baby doll on the sheets. The badge and gun were there as he tried to console the parents, assure them that even though they lost their entire world; that somehow, and in someway it would be ok.
The roller coaster of his mind continued, up and down, around and around, memory after memory. Dead body after dead body, young and old, drug related and health related, expected and gone too soon; they all just mix together and run through his mind. He thinks of the abused victims, children beat by loved ones, children sexually assaulted by the very ones who were supposed to protect them, children with no one left to care for them and children whose voices never even had a chance to be heard. Victims who have lost almost everything and victim’s who have lost everything to include life itself. Their voices echo in his mind, they are a constant drum beat, driving steadily to a crescendo of hurt and pain. That is where he is today, the drum beat has grown, the orchestra has assembled and the angst and pain seemingly has no outlet as the sound becomes deafening.
He sits the badge down and reaches over to the nightstand and grabs a rocks glass. The gold from his badge refracting through the jagged design, etched in the glass above the brown liquid. The brown liquid moves slowly around the cubed ice as the glass is gently circled in his hands. The alcohol moving around the ice as water moves around rocks in a gentle stream. Alcohol. The one thing that he hopes will help. All he wants is for the drumbeat to lesson and the memories to fade. However, even though alcohol may slow down the memories, they don’t evaporate. Alcohol can make the voices quieter, but they do not leave. Where once was screams there is now a roaring whisper. Yet, much like the overwhelming song of the katydids on a summer night after a brief rain, the memories of suffering flood his soul and continue to echo in the deep caverns of his mind. He sips the alcohol, still wishing for relief and the glass is sat back on the table.
It is premature to assume that it is only the sounds of the past that haunt him tonight. It is also his own questions, the interrogative statements that pry at his very heart. Did he do enough? Was he fast enough, smart enough, strong enough? Was he in the right place? Did he make the right decision? Is he wrong to think this way? Pointed questions, questions that beg an answer where no good answer exists. On and on they go, until the worst of the questions rises to the top, the abhorrent, What if…? This question has no answer. The very asking of it requires an assumption thus guaranteeing it cannot be determined. Where there is no control, there is no ability to question variables. You cannot know what will actually happen today or tomorrow, because you have no control over it. Since you have no control over it, you also cannot say what would happen if anything about it were different, it is by its very definition, an unknown.
The memories of the uncontrollable continue to race through his mind mixing with the questions of the unanswerable, becoming simply overwhelming. He needs answers but cannot have them, he needs peace and that too remains elusive.
He reaches down to the silhouetted gun and picks it up. His palms sweat and moisture can be seen on the shaft of the firearm as he moves it about in his hand. He notices the weight, much like the badge, it is heavier than its actual weight. The gun holds a power as well, one of life and of death. It is the end of the decision-making process, the final step on a decision tree. Once the trigger has been pressed back to release the firing pin, it cannot be brought back. The hammer, the pin, the strike, the primer, the powder, the projectile; this chain of events cannot be stopped once the decision has been made. If that decision is to take a life or to save a life, once in motion, the decision has been made and only God can intervene.
Tonight though, instead of the trigger, he hits the magazine release on the black polymer body of the handgun with his right thumb and catches the magazine with his left. He drops it on the blanket beside him and grabs the cool metal slide of the weapon and pulls it straight back, watching a round eject unto the floor in front of him. Quickly he takes the gun and throws it a short distance, allowing it to land on the floor, and slide to its resting place along the wall. He then reaches back to the table and grabs his glass of whiskey. The tears are streaming quicker now and each breath he takes is faster and deeper. His only thought, “I can’t do this, I have always been so tough.” However, right now, all he can sense, all he can feel is weakness, the perception that he us unable to control even himself.
He has been tough, he had to be. When he was the first to arrive to the auto accident and watched the life of the young mother slip away he had to be “tough.” He could not cry, he had to act. He had to seem strong, impenetrable, as he told a mother she would never see her daughter again and knew that she would have to relay to her grandchildren that their mother was gone forever. He had to be tough when faced with physical challenges, he had to be tough when faced with people who hated the badge simply because of what it represents and not who is. He had to be tough when faced with gunfire, tough when rescuing others from fire and water.
Tough had become a defining part of the persona he created. A persona that was beginning to feel more like an alter-ego. Inside he felt so weak, but he knew in his mind he had to be strong for those around him. He had to not only be strong at work, but strong at home. Strong for a family that didn’t understand what compelled him to this line of work, strong for a wife who never wanted him to leave and strong for a son who just wanted dad to be home. However, all this strength felt like a charade because it is the curse of mental toughness.
“He certainly had his moments of true strength, strength of both body and mind, but the mental toll of mental toughness is rarely seen until it reaches its breaking point.”
He certainly had his moments of true strength, strength of both body and mind, but the mental toll of mental toughness is rarely seen until it reaches its breaking point. Mental toughness is a dam filled to the point of spilling over, a river that cannot maintain its banks, a drink that has escaped its glass and escaped across the wooden bar top. The damage is the only measure by which it can be observed and much like the breaking dam, when the damage finally reveals itself, it is so significant he may never recover. This is the reality of mental toughness, is that it is a strength given not received. It is a strength that has a limit if not rejuvenated. When the last drop of strength is given with no refueling, the only result is emptiness or loss, which is often labeled weakness. Strength is not salvaged by ignoring its loss. The choice to ignore the inevitable is why relief is sought in the first place, whether it be in a handgun, a bottle of alcohol, reclusive behavior, sexual promiscuity or illicit drugs, relief is the only goal.
Mental toughness is a misnomer. It is true that a strength of mind has been developed, but in its development a weakness is created, a weakness that makes the strong feel as though they are losing control. Feeling that they are losing the very part of themselves that allowed them to do the work they were called to do originally. It is this feeling, this lack of control, that begins the spiral which becomes the unconquerable challenge. If allowed to continue, it will spiral downward, until the need for relief becomes so strong, so overwhelming, that it is sought after by any means.
Today the story ends differently. After setting the glass of whisky back on the small wooden table, he reached for his phone. At first he didn’t know why, but something compelled him, something told his that today he could make it. He called a friend, a friend from work, someone who has fought the same demons, someone who though they may not have won the war, has won battles. It is better in a war to reach out to someone who has the scars of war than to someone who has no scars for they have never fought. The conversation was short, it wasn’t even descriptive as what was going on, but the friendly and knowing voice over shadowed the haunting voices for at least long enough to set the bottle to the side and to think about his wife and son at the house, to think about life, rather than the echos of death.
“It is better in a war to reach out to someone who has the scars of war than to someone who has no scars for they have never fought.”
After hanging up, he sat his phone down. He reached down and picked up the star and sat it next to the bed on the nightstand, he then reached down and grabbed the magazine and the Glock handgun. As he had a thousand time before, he loaded the weapon and sat it next to badge to keep him safe. Picking up his phone he called his wife assuring her he would be home in the morning. He looked over at the bottle of whisky, picked it up and poured it down the sink. As the last drops circled the drain he smiled and thought that tonight he still had the strength to go on, tomorrow will be a new fight, but that is tomorrow. Tonight he went to sleep.
This post first appeared at On The Blue Line, February 2019.