Behind the Badge: The dark side of law enforcement

Police Suicide
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: Chief Alan Cockrill) Deputy John Carroll
(Source: Chief Alan Cockrill) Deputy John Carroll

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - In 2012, 126 law enforcement officers committed suicide.

In fact, that year police suicides were twice as high as deaths in traffic accidents and felonious assaults, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In Region 8 last year, at least two police officers took their own lives.

They are people the public see in uniform. Many perceived as strong and fearless protectors, but when the job comes with situations we could never imagine, sometimes even the strongest can need protection.

Suicide can shock those close to the person, and those in law enforcement are just as vulnerable.

"It was an absolute shock," Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill said.

He held back tears as he described the night he received the call that one of his close friends in law enforcement committed suicide.

"It was tough on everybody," Cockrill said.

Independence County Sheriff's Department Deputy John Carroll took his own life last year.

"He was a workaholic," Cockrill said. "He worked as a resource officer for several years. He was K9 handler. He and I were the K9 handlers for the sheriff's office."

Cockrill can recall many memories of his time with Carroll, but Cockrill said while the job provides good memories; it can also take a toll.

"Just the stress level got to him," Cockrill said.

That stress level is not uncommon among law enforcement considering what they deal with.

Sergeant Cassie Brandon, Jonesboro Police Department, said what officers and deputies experience everyday is unlike other professions.

"Homicides of kids, accidental deaths of kids, vehicle accidents," Brandon said. "Talking about me personally, that's something I have a hard time with, a fatality accident, because that could be anybody."

What Brandon describes is just a small part of what law enforcement officials work on.

Cockrill said there is one type of case that is impossible to forget.

"The toughest situations we face are not the fights, the drunks, it's the kids," Cockrill said. "Children will keep you awake all night for weeks at a time."

Cockrill has been in law enforcement for 31 years.

"The longer you do this job, the harder your heart gets," Cockrill said. "At times that builds up and the stress relief is something these guys have got to figure out."

Cockrill said he has seen dark times in his profession but nothing like losing a fellow officer. Even worse is the thought he could have done something to help.

"It's just tough to drive by his house, see his little boys on a daily basis and wonder how they are going to grow up without their daddy," Cockrill said.

The passing of Deputy Carroll brought to light aspects of the job that could contribute to the stress officers and deputies feel.

"We can't show our feelings," Brandon said.

While Brandon has never experienced a police suicide at the Jonesboro Police Department, she sees how it can happen.

"We can't show our emotions a lot of times," Brandon said. "We have a job to do."

It may be such training making it harder for supervisors to know when one of their officers has a problem.

"Police work is unique in that it does become a part of who you are," Brandon said.

Cockrill said they had no idea Carroll was struggling.

"John never told us that he had a problem," Cockrill said.

Cockrill and Brandon said there are resources available for officers and their families.

"Things we can do as officers are try to keep a life outside of police work and keep everything in perspective," Brandon said.

City governments and police departments also offer counseling services.

"A group of chaplains that work with us come in and counsel us and everything, even if you're not a religious person--which we have officers that aren't--it's not necessarily a religious-based thing," Brandon said.

While the resources are available, it does not always make the job easier.

"It's on these guys' minds every time they put a uniform on and get in the car, 'Am I going to come home tonight,'" Cockrill said.

As for Carroll, Cockrill said he wished the deputy had talked to someone.

"He just let everything get to him and didn't know which way to turn," Cockrill said.

Keeping Carroll's memory alive are his 2 sons and K9 Diesel.

"So the boys got the dog and they ultimately donated it to the police department, so we have John's dog here working here on the streets," Cockrill said.

It is tough for Cockrill to think about how Carroll died, but he wants Carroll to be remembered as the person he was.

"He was just a great dad," Cockrill said. "He was a great person, just didn't ask us for help when he shoulda."

Cockrill said he does not ever want to go through this type of loss again.

"Go talk to somebody," Cockrill said. "Don't let your supervisor be blindsided by this."

Cockrill hopes by sharing the story it can shed light on the stress law enforcement officers are facing every day across the country.

There are a number of resources for law enforcement officers concerning suicide including the Badge of Life group and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Safe Call Now is a 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees, all emergency services personnel and their families.

The 24-hour number is 206-459-3020.

For anyone not related to law enforcement struggling with depression or suicide can click here for a full list of 24-hour hotline numbers.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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