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NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
By Denis Hamill
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Deaths of Robert Cedeno this year and Michael Pigott in 1984 show cops are like combat soldiers
When a cop commits suicide, we should learn from it.
Something must be gleaned from the Halloween night horror of a police officer sitting in his car outside the 66th Precinct stationhouse in Borough Park, raising his service weapon to his troubled brain and firing.
The next mayor, almost certainly Bill de Blasio, should reflect on Robert Cedeno’s suicide before appointing his police commissioner.
“A cop suicide is usually not a spontaneous decision,” says one NYPD doctor, who wishes to remain anonymous. “A troubled cop usually thinks about this for a while before coming to a decision, especially the cops who do it symbolically, like this one in front of a precinct. Or like the ESU cop back in 2008.”
Lt. Michael Pigott drove alone from Suffolk to Brooklyn ESU headquarters in the predawn hours, eight days after he ordered the Tasering of a schizophrenic man who fell to his death. Pigott shot himself to death in the near-empty headquarters building.
Pigott had surrendered his service weapon after the Sept. 24, 2008, Tasering incident. Then he was grilled by brass and Internal Affairs detectives who threatened him with arrest and prison.
Pigott wrote a suicide note saying he’d rather kill himself than let his three kids see him in handcuffs or jail.
“He broke into the locker of a fellow officer, found a gun and took his own life,” says the cop doc. “That wasn’t spur-of-the-moment. He picked where he wanted to die. He was under enormous stress and wanted his death to be a statement. He felt guilt about the guy’s death. He took all the blame, exonerating the cop who fired the Taser. He felt the walls closing in.”
After Pigott’s death, NYPD brass said it was doubtful he ever would have been criminally charged in the incident. But Pigott’s fragile mental state had been stressed past its limit.
“Listen, cops are like combat soldiers,” the cop doc says. “They suffer from high stress. They never know when an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) call will lead to violence or death or getting charged yourself. Don’t know when a simple traffic stop will lead to violence. Cops are pressured to make gun arrests using stop-and-frisks, and then worry they’ll be charged when the law changes. Then it just changed again when the federal judge was removed from the stop-and-frisk case. It causes confusion, doubt, stress.”
The doctor says cops who answer domestic disturbance calls often see a mirror image of their own stormy home lives.
“Cops who work long, grueling hours to earn extra money or a detective shield or a promotion often neglect their families,” the cop doc says. “They miss their kids’ sports games or dance recitals. Their relationship with their spouse suffers because they’re always tired, irritable, stressed. I can’t tell you the number of cops I’ve treated who are secretly on anti-depressants. Or worse, self-medicating with booze. If I learn that a cop is on a prescription drug like Valium too long, I feel obliged to take his gun. Because he’s got a problem. He’s not just responsible for public safety. I have to worry he’ll use the gun on himself.”
Cedeno’s suicide won’t be in vain if the next mayor and police commissioner heed some of this doctor’s advice.
“The Fire Department requires that every member get a physical every year,” says the cop doc. “NYPD doesn’t require that. It should. Because when a doctor sees a cop alone in an exam room, the cop will often confide in you. Sometimes they wind up in tears, unloading bottled-up stress. They need counseling, but are terrified it’ll become a black mark on them in the PD (and) prevent promotions, good assignments.”
The cop doc says that for the tight-lipped officers, general appearance, blood pressure, an EKG, weight fluctuations and blood and urine tests can often reveal what’s happening to the human being under the blue uniform.
“Cops live dangerous, stressful lives,” the doctor says. “Most eat junk food, guzzle coffee and unwind with alcohol and cigarettes. The ones in high-crime precincts need down time like combat soldiers. Cops go through the same financial, marital and midlife struggles as everyone else. Only they see the worst of the city every day. And they wear guns, which is a huge, stressful responsibility.”
The doctor says if we can’t get cops mandatory annual medical exams, then they should at least have a psychological screening as part of every annual shooting range qualification.
“Not only should they be able to shoot a pistol accurately, but they should be psychologically responsible to others. And themselves,” the cop doc says. “If we can save even one cop — like this latest one on Halloween — from suicide this way, it’ll be worth it.”