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Philly cops are used to tragedy. But 6 kids shot in a month can crack their 'emotional shell'

Oona Goodin-Smith and Anna Orso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

In New York City, it's been called an "epidemic." In August, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal introduced a first-in-the-nation statewide "law enforcement resiliency" program, calling for officers to receive training for coping with the mental and emotional stress of the job.

Over the last decade in Philadelphia, the number of police suicides per year has gone down. In 2010, five active city officers died by suicide. In 2016 and 2017, two officers took their lives each year. In 2018, the department reported no officer suicides. In July, one officer fatally shot himself and his wife in a murder-suicide in Juniata Park.

Still, Moroney said, one is one too many.

Generally though, cops are an unbreakable breed who avoid showing emotion on the job and often resort to dark humor as "a self-defense mechanism," Callaghan said. There are two exceptions: when police are injured or killed and when a child is injured or killed.

For Cpl. Kevin Jardine, a 30-year veteran with the Philadelphia police, his walls came tumbling down in November 2013, when his father was suddenly placed in hospice with aggressive mesothelioma and given a month to live.

Yes, there was a stigma around talking to a counselor at the EAP, he said, but that day, he needed help.

 

"They say that cops don't break down. But we all do eventually," Jardine said. "As a cop, you spend your first 10 years seeing the worst things in the world, and you spend the last 10 trying to forget them. You've got to let out your insides to somebody."

Martin said dangerous levels of stress can come from the accumulation of trauma over the years.

"Everybody has their emotional backpack," he said, "and what first responders tend to do is stuff that emotional backpack. So it might be the first (traumatic incident), it might be the 11th one."

When children are involved in a situation, Yates said, the backpack fills that much quicker.

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