It’s the early morning hours of May 2nd, 1993 and I was awoken by the jarring sound of the phone ringing; on the other end was a friend of mine and fellow squad member. Sounding distraught he declared “Asher is dead!” referring to another squad member of ours and an academy classmate and friend of mine. Immediately my thoughts turned to Asher being shot and killed in the line of duty. Police Suicide never crossed my mind, why would it? This man was a six year veteran of our agency and a decorated U.S. Marine; so many thoughts, so many unanswered questions. The next morning, the headlines in the Sun Sentinel newspaper read:
PINES OFFICER KILLS HIMSELF IN HIS CRUISER
Just before sunrise, Police Officer Asher Rosinsky parked his cruiser along the edge of the Florida Everglades and alone in the darkness, he held his .40-caliber semiautomatic duty weapon to his chest, and then pulled the trigger. A fellow officer and friend of mine observed the parked cruiser and found Asher dead with one bullet hole center mass. How could this have happened? Why didn’t we see the red flags that, in reflection, were right in front of our eyes? What could I have done to prevent this from occurring? Why didn’t he just reach out before taking this drastic and devastating action? This man was married and had two young sons; one was three and the other just 18 months.
What ensued in the days after will prove to have the most profound impact on my professional career. So what occurred immediately afterward that was so impactful? NOTHING. Asher was buried the next day and as in any traditional Jewish burial ceremony; we all took turns grabbing a shovel and literally proceeded to bury our brother in blue, by shoveling the dirt onto his casket. No big fanfare, no well publicized traditional police memorial service, NOTHING. When we returned to work it was business as usual, “25 Alpha 4, I’m 10-08.” I mean, we are mentally tough warriors, sworn to protect and serve, what would we need? NOTHING!
Back in those days, Peer Support, CISM, Critical Incident Stress Debriefings or EAP programs weren’t really a part of the law enforcement landscape. If you needed assistance or wanted to speak to someone, you were considered weak or maybe even unfit to be an officer. EAP, you mean “Expose and Punish,” no thank you, I’m not getting labeled or sent to the “Rubber-Gun Squad.”
Fast forward to 2019, so much technology, so much awareness, yet more officers still die by suicide than all other “in the line-of-duty” deaths combined. The numbers are staggering and the experts estimate the numbers are being underreported by up to a factor of 2.5. These numbers fail to even address our retired brothers and sisters, or support staff such as dispatchers, crime scene techs, etc. Something drastic needs to be implemented to stop this epidemic from continuing. Every 44… A recent study discovered that every 44 hours an officer dies by suicide.
Then it happened, an epiphany. I was blessed with an introduction to Dr. David Black, President and Founder of Cordico. Dr. Black was presenting his CordicoShield Officer Wellness App; a tool that would provide 24/7/365 access to powerful resources right at our employees fingertips with total anonymity and confidentiality. Finally, something of merit that targets solutions, not just addresses the problem and as Chief John Carli of the Vacaville Police Department stated, ”This is a game-changer, and there’s nothing else like it.”
In April, I traveled to New York City to attend the Police Executive Research Forum Symposium on Law Enforcement Suicide, hosted by the NYPD. The symposium was very well attended with over 350 attendees from all over the world; from subject matter experts to practitioners to law enforcement executives.
Finally these conversations are being brought out from the shadows and into the open. So much great work and effort is being done in the area of officer wellness. As a result of the symposium, there were many great takeaways; the most impactful for me, the need to a have a multifaceted approach for any chance of being impactful and successful. We must have a call to action, a paradigm switch; where innovative, action-focused, problem solvers take a stand to focus on solutions and not just address, or raise awareness, to the problem. We need partners who are willing to make a concerted effort in creating a culture of wellness within our organizations. Create an environment of, “It’s OK, to not be OK”; along with a multifaceted approach that provides resources from all angles and targets solutions.
At the Pinole Police Department we developed the “Asher Model – A Seven Point Approach to Creating a Culture of Wellness.” This was developed as a multifaceted approach to the police suicide epidemic; it correlates to the seven point star badge that is worn in the Bay Area and each of the seven points on the star correlate to a point in our proactive approach to employee wellness. We feel the most crucial point in our model is providing our employees with the CordicoShield Employee Wellness App.
Here are the seven points of our approach as it relates to creating that culture of wellness:
- AWARENESS – Creating an environment where, “It’s OK to not be OK.” Open and honest discussions with our employees; bringing these conversations out of the shadows and into the open.
- SOLUTION FOCUSED APPROACH – Focus on solutions and not the problem. CordicoShield Employee Wellness App.cordico.com/shield 24/7/365 access to powerful resources, all confidential and anonymous.
- PEER SUPPORT – Create a proactive, trained Peer Support Team along with CISM and police therapy dog program.
- RESILIENCY – Educate employees on Resiliency, Mindfulness, PTSD, Emotional Intelligence and solutions such as yoga and breathing exercises
- HEALTHY HABITS – Encourage physical fitness and healthy eating habits. Allocate budget funds to build or update a fitness facility and discourage candy and unhealthy snacks around the department. Also remove unhealthy choices from vending machines and substitute healthier options.
- SPIRITUALITY – Develop a Police/Clergy Coalition, Chaplain Program and community outreach programs, such as “Pray with the Police.”
- FAMILY – Involve the families from the orientation process forward. Provide access to books to key topics for employees and families (i.e. Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin). Provide relationship, financial wellness and retirement preparation resources; from rookie to retirement. All available with CordicoShield.
We certainly understand that our model represents a way, not necessarily, “The Way,” in creating that important Culture of Wellness for our employees; hopefully our efforts will ultimately save one of our brothers or sisters in blue.
Good luck and God bless.