Friday, December 21, 2012

THE SHIELD OF GOLD, Ch. 7, Suicide

Three of my fellow police officers committed suicide during my 21 years on the force. You never get over it.


One of these was a popular and seemingly happy-go-lucky sergeant. One day the station desk received a call from his obviously upset wife, saying that they had been arguing, and that he had gone downstairs into the basement in a very angry state of mind. She hoped one of his buddies would talk with him.


As she was talking to the person on the desk, the sound of a gunshot was heard. The sergeant had put the gun in his mouth and had pulled the trigger. He had done this in the basement while his children were home. Fortunately, at least they were upstairs.


I myself have never felt that kind of depression, that kind of upset, thankfully.


In my years on the force, I’ve noticed two different types of suicide. In one case the act is clearly premeditated. Strangely enough, we would find when we came on the scene that the apartment, for example, had obviously been tidied and cleaned before the individual took his life. Sometimes the victim would be naked or nearly so, and the clothes were neatly folded and put aside. It reminded me a little bit of how my mother would tell us to make sure we had clean underwear on before we went out, just in case we had to go to the hospital. I like to think she was just joking.


In the cases where the suicide was thought out beforehand, I wondered why some of these people chose rather painful methods to end their lives. If you jump from a building to the ground below, you know it’s going to hurt. Some other methods, and I won’t detail them here, are a lot less painful. You would hate to get most of the way down on your fall toward the ground or toward the East River or Hudson River and suddenly have second thoughts. Too late.


Often the suicide is the product of the brain made unclear by drugs or alcohol or clouded by anger.


The correct procedure in suicide cases is for the patrolman to stay, to protect the integrity of the scene, to await the detectives and the medical examiner. This wait might be for many hours, and when I had this duty, I would contemplate what could lead someone to take his life. I know that in the case of our sergeant, I was not the only one who asked himself whether there was something we could have done, something we could’ve said that would’ve helped prevent the tragedy that ensued.


Investigating such a scene is very much like solving a puzzle. Imagine you found someone lying on the sidewalk, clearly having hit the pavement after leaving the window that is wide open several floors above. He could’ve jumped. He could’ve been fixing something and simply fallen. He could’ve been pushed. How do you know?


You try to work things backward and rewind the film of the person’s life. The body’s position may give you a clue as to whether he jumped or fell or was pushed. Going back upstairs into the apartment, you look to see if there is a note, often present in a premeditated suicide. Lacking a note, you look for an address book or phone book that might indicate he had recently called someone, perhaps to announce what he was going to do or perhaps engaging in an argument that led to this desperate move. You look for evidence that someone else may have been present at the time. That person would at least be a valuable witness and might become a person of interest or even a suspect in a killing.


As a detective, you learned to rely on a combination of your own skills and those of the other trained professionals on the force, including the medical examiners. Some of this has been well captured for television by programs like “48 Hours,” ”C.S.I.“ and “Law and Order.”


Excerpt from THE SHIELD OF GOLD, by Lenny Golino and Douglas Winslow Cooper, pubished December 2012 by Outskirts Press and available from OP and from in paperback or ebook.

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