The Police community is reeling once again.
Ottawa Staff Sergeant Kal Ghadban (43) was found dead in his office on Sunday after he used his service firearm to end his life.
His death has deeply affected his brother and sister Officers in Law Enforcement.
We’ve seen too much of this.
The seldom discussed topic of Police Officer suicide was tackled by Charles Adler and Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington who covered a number of the tragic events.
During the conversation Adler pondered the question regarding what’s changed over the last several years that’s caused the increasing number of Police Officer suicides.
His guest shared his concern and insight but couldn’t pinpoint a definitive answer.
The conversation inspired me to weigh in.
I readily admit I’m not a Psychologist nor am I an expert on the subject. During my career in Law Enforcement I was touched by five (5) Police Officer suicides. Each case troubled me and filled my heart with sadness and regret. Regret because I worked with some of the Officers and failed to sense their pain and struggle.
As we explore the issue the first thing we have to acknowledge is Police Officers are human beings. They have feelings, emotions and vulnerabilities just like every other person on the planet. Police Officers are subjected to incredible stress, violence, societal dysfunction and horrific visual imagery.
The stress Officers endure essentially comes from three distinct areas;
- internal forces
- external forces
- personal circumstances
Internal forces are those that affect Police Officers from within their own Organization.
In 2012 Winnipeg Free Press reporter Gabrielle Giroday wrote a topical article titled, “Police feel lack of manager support.” It was an enlightening piece reporting findings of a National study on ethics in policing that indicated, “Over 40 per cent of respondents disagreed that the organization cares about their opinions, considers their goals and values, cares about their satisfaction or cares about their well-being.”
A finding author Stephen Maguire said he found, “Quite surprising.”
As one of the respondents, I have to say, the results didn’t surprise me.
As hard as it may be to admit, there’s an, “Eat your own,” culture that thrives in the Police world. I saw many dedicated Police Officer’s suffer the consequences of career sabotage after coming into conflict with the power brokers in their chain of command. Loyal, hardworking, committed professionals subjected to arbitrary transfer, overlooked for promotion and even forced into retirement.
While the Police Service can be tremendously supportive when Officers are involved in critical incidents like Police involved shootings, what happens when there’s a perception they made a mistake or had a lapse in judgement?
We’ve seen several recent examples;
- The murder at the Opera Night Club and allegations staff cancelled the 911 call.
- The Tina Fontaine homicide investigation and allegations regarding Police contact with her before she died.
The Police Officers and staff at the center of these controversies often find themselves under investigation and placed on administrative leave. Many of these people experience a sense of humiliation, guilt, anger and isolation when they’re removed from their duties.
The WPS has been involved in several of these controversial incidents over the last few years.
In many of these cases the Officers or Staff are cleared of any wrong doing and are allowed to return to their regular duties. Unfortunately, reinstatement doesn’t remedy the emotional damage or stigma suffered by these employees.
Internal forces are often more devastating to a Police Officer than any external forces or personal problems the Officer might experience.
The external forces are many.
As mentioned by Mr Warmington, Police Officer’s are no longer “loved” or appreciated like they once were.
In fact, Police Officers today are subjected to historic levels of scrutiny when it comes to use of force, investigative conduct and court room testimony.
Police Officers who are charged with criminal offences can spend up to five (5) years waiting for the cases to play out in court. A life put on hold and the stress of an uncertain future can be unbearable.
The game has changed dramatically.
Mobile phones and recording devices around the world continue to capture highly controversial Police Officer use of force confrontations with members of the public. The recordings go viral on social media and are shared with the masses. Police Officers are now routinely called civil rights abusers, racists and murderers.
Police use of force continues to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of Law Enforcement.
Warmington is right, the shine has gone from the badge.
The word of a Police Officer in a court of law is rarely accepted without some form of corroborative evidence.
Police Officers who lose high-profile cases are often named and vilified in the press.
Police Officers are subjected to horrific imagery, violence and societal dysfunction every day.
Grotesque murder scenes, mutilated victims, gaping head wounds, dead children, burned bodies, suicides, industrial accidents, smashed and crumpled bodies, dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitation and fatal motor vehicle accidents.
These are all things Police Officers witness by virtue of their employment.
Then there’s Officer involved shootings and the use of deadly force.
These are life altering events.
More and more serving and retired Police Officers are being diagnosed with PTSD as a result of being exposed to profoundly traumatic events.
Police Officers have all the same problems everyone else does;
- marital discord
- child custody issues
- domestic violence
- financial problems
- family conflict
- substance abuse
Shift work, overtime and work related stress only intensify these issues.
Internal forces, external forces and personal problems.
I experienced these forces during the course of my career.
A nasty divorce, child custody issues, outrageous legal fees, financial stress and child support payments.
I was living an uncertain, stress filled life. I felt defeated, tired and depressed. Life was extremely difficult and I often felt like I was teetering on the edge, yet I suffered in silence. Police Officers often prefer to keep it that way. Police Officers don’t like to show their vulnerabilities or weakness.
That culture has to change.
The fact remains, a career in policing is a difficult thing.
The constant exposure to the dark side of humanity, the horrific violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, drunks, drug addicts and criminal misfits can take a toll on a person.
It’s difficult to not lose yourself in the darkness.
Some of the wounds simply don’t heal.
The rawness and trauma sits in your soul untreated until the dispatcher sends you to the next human tragedy.
I call it the layering effect.
It’s a cumulative thing, and it can kill you.
So What’s Changed?
Just about everything has changed….
Charles Adler & Joe Warmington on CJOB radio….