A Psychologist and Former Officer on Mental Health and Suicide | We Are Witnesses

My first day as a Chicago police officer on
the street, I was sent to the 18th District. The field training officer said that we were
going to go to a wake tonight. And I said, “OK.” And I thought that was kind of strange.
And I was like, “Well, who is the wake for?” And he said, “Well, it’s for an officer
in the 18th District that had killed themselves.” I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was very
safe. I kind of felt like I lived a little sheltered life. So when I came to Chicago, it was quite
a big surprise. I never thought of being a police officer
when I grew up. I was kind of a rebel, and a punker. My boyfriend at the time said he was going
to go to the public library to get an application for the Chicago Police Department. And I said,
“Hey, why don’t you pick up one for me too?” [laugh] So, I thought that would be
cool, cause I can show that a woman can do the same job as a man can. And I love adventure,
and I would love to try to get bad people. So I applied, and I got in! As a police officer, your day starts out by
putting on your bulletproof vest and your gun belt, and that being a reminder that you’re
wearing all of those things because it’s a dangerous job. When Chicago police officers or I had to deal
with gang members shooting each other, I expected that. So those incidents usually don’t bother
me, but it’s those incidents where you’re not expecting it, or another person was hit
rather than your target—that’s when it’s going to be more difficult. I remember one time, I was responding to a
call where officers just said that they had seen a stolen vehicle, so I started heading
into that location. There was a family of five—a mom and her
four kids—and they were all young, and one of them was in a baby stroller. And the vehicle
was an SUV, and it slammed in—ran all of them over and slammed into a business. And
I ran out of my vehicle, and I was running to them, and I knew as soon as I saw the four-
or five-year-old kid on the ground—that he was bleeding from his nose, ears, and mouth—I
knew he was dead. And he looked exactly like my nephew at the time, that was around the
same age, and it was difficult because I knew that it could have been my sister just crossing
the street, and it could have been my nephew right there. The four-year-old did not make
it. One of the things that bothered me a lot is
when I heard that woman scream, when I first got on scene—there’s nothing like a woman’s
scream when they see their child injured. And I had that scream in my head. Then the
dad came in and I had to tell him what happened, he screamed, like the mom did. And that was really hard. Then after that, I was told I had to go to
a traffic complaint violation of a parked car. And it was very difficult going there and
talking to somebody about a car being parked too close to their driveway. You learn as an officer to not be emotional
and to keep it in. Well, I kept it in because I had already gone to calls where people were
shot, or I saw a baby sexually assaulted, and so I already learned how to just gulp
it down and keep it down and don’t share it and don’t feel it. Numb yourself out.
Put it in a little box and put it over here, and forget about it. I started to see more and more traumas happen,
and more officers doing things that weren’t normal and that weren’t right. And I even
saw that in myself. It was just very common that after work, you
would go out drinking with everybody. And that’s when you would talk about what happened on the street, or the difficult things that occurred. I was very hesitant to get treatment for myself,
because I didn’t think that they would understand. I thought that they would pathologize me,
or think that something was wrong with me, or try to take my gun, and I didn’t want
that to happen, so I didn’t want to get treatment. I know that’s how a lot of officers
feel. I’ve known 18 officers personally that have
killed themselves. And that’s not all that I know have killed themselves on the Chicago
Police Department, but that’s all the people that I know in my 13 years.

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