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Columns : Editorial

Suicide is Not Painless

May 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

Last March, I was riding along with a supervising patrol sergeant from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. It was a mostly quiet night with very few calls. But one of them still sticks in my mind.

We were just exiting a fastfood restaurant and a hastily consumed meal when some of the deputies that the sergeant was overseeing called for his help. There'd been a suicide in an upscale mobile home community in the hills overlooking the city, and they needed him on the scene.

Minutes later we pulled up in front of the address. From outside in the dark, you would have never known that this dwelling was a mobile home. It didn't have that trailer look.

Inside, it was even nicer. The front door opened onto a spacious living room with high ceilings. Moving into the dining room, there was a crossbrace about nine feet off the floor.

Underneath that crossbrace was a bathrobe sash that had once been a noose but had been cut open by paramedics who responded to the call. Strewn around the fraying bathrobe sash was the physical evidence of the paramedics' attempt to try to revive the victim-tubing, the plastic covers from syringes, and sterile wrappings from equipment.

While the deputies worked with the family and asked them to wait in place for the arrival of homicide detectives, I tried my best to stay out of the way. There isn't much to do when you're standing around in someone else's home, trying to be invisible and quiet as they cope with great tragedy, so you have ample time to notice things. For example, you can note the grief and shock in the voices of the victim's loved ones, the constant traffic of curious neighbors who wonder why there are sheriff's cars on their normally quiet residential street, and most importantly, you note that suicide is not a victimless crime.

The victims of suicide are not the people who choose to cut short the journey of life. They're the people left behind. They're the ones who are left with the anger, and the guilt, and the sense of abandonment. Suicide survivors are so damaged by the deaths of their loved one that they often take their own lives. In a sense, their loved one's suicide has forced them to stare into the abyss and sometimes its despair envelops their souls.

Unfortunately, that same despair often infects the souls of the public safety workers who stare into that same abyss almost every day. That's why in this issue of POLICE, associate editor Melanie Hamilton addresses the issue of police suicide and its effect on survivors and fellow officers.

Police suicide is no small concern. Research shows that each year more law enforcement officers kill themselves than are killed in the line of duty. And no one knows exactly why.

Yes, there are contributing factors that we can list: alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome, failing relationships, suspension from the force, internal investigations into corruption or other malfeasance, clinical depression, the list goes on and on. But suicide, even when the victim leaves a note explaining his or her reasons, is the ultimate murder mystery. No one can ever know exactly what led a person to believe that life wasn't worth living.

To paraphrase the title song of the TV show and movie "M*A*S*H," suicide is by no means painless. I've heard the pain of suicide in the shrieks of a woman who found her husband hanging from the rafters of their suburban Los Angeles home. And on pages of this issue, you'll hear it in the words of the widows of police officers who chose to murder themselves.

If you know a fellow officer who is on the brink of suicide, please get him or her some counseling. And if you're thinking about killing yourself, realize that there are people who will miss you, who will grieve, and will always wonder why you left them so soon and so selfishly.

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