EDITORIAL: A suicidal cop was somewhere in a 1,373-acre wooded park after sunset. As anxious loved ones waited, officers from various North Jersey departments searched. They eventually found him — out cold but OK. Yet, for some reason, a local media outlet saw fit to report it — including the officer’s name, age, and hometown. Why?
Someone tell me: What good purpose does it serve to disclose details to the world that should have remained within a relatively small circle?
“They just complicated that man’s road to help and recovery,” a wise law enforcement officer emailed me. “And made it hard for his family and loved ones too.”
“If it was my husband,” a local officer’s wife told me, “ it would really bother me that all that info was released.”
She knew I had the information myself while police were still searching for their brother lawman Thursday night. She also knew I put it in my pocket and logged off for the night.
Some might claim that publishing such a story “raises awareness” of the stress police in New Jersey are under.
We all know. It’s never been clearer.
Our suburbs aren’t immune to the rampant violence against officers of the law that we’ve seen across the country. Bergen County has already had three police shootings of armed assailants this year — including two who fired at them first.
One of them pulled a gun and began firing at Paramus Officer Rachel Morgan as she approached his car. By what seems like divine intervention, she not only survived but bounced back strong. Another officer found himself less than 20 feet from a lunatic who already had shot at him and a fellow cop in Washington Township.
Dedicated to our public servants: You are all heroes
An armed bank robber in one of our towns tried to use a woman as a human shield Thursday afternoon when he found police outside. After letting her go, he refused repeated orders to drop his gun, then was dropped by officers whose bullets hit him in the neck and back. ( SEE : Rutherford bank robber tied to at least 3 other holdups )
Those officers have to live with that moment the rest of their lives, as do Morgan and the officers confronted in Washington Township.
If that wasn‘t enough, police in New Jersey are under incredible financial stress, with an abusive governor breathing down their necks, towns laying off officers by the hundreds statewide, and their personal needs being reduced by the need to work overtime to cover for the losses. It’s no wonder that statistics show police are four times as likely to die at their own hands than to be killed in the line of duty.
“The average citizen, with the exception of those exposed to combat areas and situations, will never understand the stresses of police work,” New Milford Police Chief Frank Papapietro once told me.
“How many DOA’s can you process, how many mangled bodies can you see, how many dysfunctional families can you mediate, how many times can you defend yourself from assaults, and how much sleep deprivation can you endure before your body and mind begin to fail you at an early age?”
This troubled officer, who just might have been feeling some of the pressure of his profession, would have gotten the help he needed privately.
So much for that now.
Apparently, no one involved in the decision to exploit his predicament took a moment to consider what if it was one of THEIR loved ones who was out there, crying for help, in the Mahwah wilderness.
And if that isn’t disgusting enough, consider this: When it comes to an actual suicide, the journalistic standard is that you don’t report when it’s done privately unless a well-known person is involved.
I feel for Mahwah Chief James Batelli. When reporters asked about search helicopters flying over the Camgaw Reservation, he disclosed details about the rescued officer’s condition in the obvious belief that the man would not be publicly identified.
The conduct of the chief of this officer’s department (NOT from Bergen) is another matter entirely. Why he didn’t school the reporter in compassion is beyond me. I know dozens of top dogs from around here who would have told the interviewer where to go.
Far better to promote New Jersey’s Cop2Cop program. Operating 24/7 out of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Piscataway, its suicide hotline is answered by retired volunteer officers and clinicians who truly understand what police life is like. They respond directly to calls and conduct sessions after critical incidents to get to the heart of the trouble. They also make referrals to those looking for deeper confidential help.
In a little over a decade, the hotline has prevented hundreds of police suicides. And that’s saying a lot.
That it was a police officer in this case doesn’t matter in the end. This is a human being we’re talking about, no matter what his line of work was (You can be sure that the publicity put the final stamp on whatever slim chance he might have had of ever wearing a badge again).
Newspapers will blame the Internet for sagging circulation. They’ll say that most people “aren’t as intelligent” as those who read pulp regularly in days gone by.
Before they accuse anyone, they should take a look at themselves.
CONFIDENTIAL helpline: 1-866-COP-2COP
For more information, as well as an extremely helpful resource list: cop2coponline.net
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