Alcoholism, suicide The emotional toll of the job also shows up in other ways, with 43 officers being granted stress-related pensions in the last five years. Over the past decade, 21 officers have committed suicide – about twice the rate of those killed in the line of duty. Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said officers internalize many of the powerful emotions they experience on the job, too often paying the price in divorce, depression, alcoholism, suicide or other self-destructive behavior. “They come with the idea they want to make a difference in the world they live in and in their communities,” said Baker, who joined the LAPD 37 years ago. “Then they start to deal with humanity and see what people can do to one another, and this stuff takes its toll.” Baker noted that officers are drilled not to show weakness in the street – training that too often spills over into their personal lives. He said the department needs to do even more to help officers understand the unique stresses of being a cop and how to cope with the resulting emotions. During eight months of training at the Police Academy, recruits receive just four hours of formal instruction on mental health and coping skills. Last week a federal monitoring report found that about 20 percent of cops involved in certain use-of-force incidents did not receive a required review by a mental health professional before returning to the field. “They need to know how to protect themselves,” said Jablonski, who wants the academy training expanded. “It wears on their personality, their psyche, their families. They need to talk about it, how to reach out.” LAPD Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell said police culture is slowly changing, and there are more informal discussions about stress and the emotional demands of being a cop. “You didn’t talk about stress (in the past). You kept quiet and dealt with the stress,” McDonnell said. “But we’ve evolved as a department. People don’t go out for a beer anymore. They run or deal with it in more positive ways. “Officers are more in tune with what they’re feeling.” Anguish `deep inside’ Baker said he’s seen the anguish experienced by LAPD officers who have been shot or involved in violent altercations; had their careers on the line at disciplinary boards; been subjected to media scrutiny, such as a video that recently emerged on YouTube.com showing a Hollywood officer punching a suspect in the face. McDonnell, a Medal of Valor recipient who’s risen to the top of the department, said he has keenly felt the pain and anguish of traumatic events. “We see or experience images that people will never get out of their minds,” he said. “It hits you, it hits you deep inside.” At the LAPD’s Behavioral Science Service suite in Chinatown, about 20 percent of officers and civilians seek help for job stress, 20 percent for family, and more than half for severe anxiety and depression, Jablonski said. “The emotions run so high … the huge adrenaline rushes up and down all night long. When you’re done at the end of a shift, you’re emotionally drained, physically drained,” said West Valley Detective Glenn McConnell, a recovering alcoholic and one of the department’s 200 peer counselors. Today, there are many cops who take prescription anti-depressants, Jablonski said, despite an undercurrent of departmental bias against the practice among some officers. McDonnell said commanders are accepting so long as officers take medication under the direction of a physician. Psychologist Susan Saxe-Clifford, who worked for the LAPD from 1970 to 1984 and now consults with law-enforcement agencies nationwide, said police develop an inner strength that enables them to compartmentalize the most stressful aspects of the job. But even the strongest cops have a breaking point, she said – when the accumulation of work and personal stress becomes too much for them to handle. “There’s sort of a trash-can model where each one of these experiences gets tucked away in that trash can and eventually it gets full and the lid starts to blow,” Saxe-Clifford said. “But I’m starting to believe some people don’t store things in that trash can in the same way that others do. They just have a way to deal with it on the spot … and that’s obviously really good for stress management.” Increased violence Adding to the stress are increasingly violent clashes with suspects. Already this year there have been seven officer-involved shootings, compared with two during the same period last year. “Before, if an officer got a weapon out and pointed it in the direction of the suspect and said, `Put your hands up,’ that was usually the end of the incident,” she said. “Now, with their dying bit of energy, they’re scooting over to try to get the gun to shoot back. It’s a very different culture.” While studies are mixed, psychologists said it appears that divorce rates are higher among cops, with the internal strength required on the job making off-duty intimacy difficult. And a barrage of gnawing emotional experiences can outpace an officer’s resiliency. “They can feel overwhelmed and lose hope,” Jablonski said. Saxe-Clifford said the psychological effects for a police officer who loses confidence can be devastating. “Their most important weapon is command presence, which is strongly associated with self-confidence. When that gets undermined, things can go downhill.” In such circumstances, “They typically find no joy in the job and have a great concern about being out there because they know if they aren’t performing at 100 percent they risk themselves, their partner and the community.” The department is attempting to encourage officers who may need help to seek it; since 2000, a psychologist has been assigned to each of 12 department bureaus and four geographical bureaus. LAPD psychologist Denise Jablonski-Kaye said previous resistance and stigmas have begun to crumble. Jablonski-Kaye, who sees about 15 clients every week, says therapy involves developing a trust that allows officers to talk about their feelings. Coping skills It was years of therapy and introspection that led Biller to retire because he didn’t want his emotional problems to become a liability to the department. Now, at 68, he seems to have found peace with a supportive wife and a new business. Price, the veteran homicide detective, took a less-stressful assignment with the department after Nicole Parker’s killer, Hooman Ashkan Panah, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. He retired briefly, then returned to the LAPD and now heads the homicide unit at Devonshire Division. He also works with Nicole’s mother, Lori Parker-Gladstein, in a nonprofit organization established in Nicole’s memory. But not all officers are able to successfully traverse the stress of police life. Salicos – who became a key figure associated with the problems at Rampart Division, where rogue officers stole narcotics, planted evidence on suspects, and beat others – never faced a disciplinary board of rights. He won his battle to get his pension and eventually retired to Seal Beach. However, he remained frustrated and angry over stories about scandals at Rampart. On May 27, 2002, at the age of 57, Salicos was found dead in his bed from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol. His death was ruled a suicide. His best friend, Capt. Richard Meraz, said Salicos had a hard time talking about his emotions and became increasingly isolated after he retired. “I think he felt the department just abandoned him, and then he couldn’t be here to fight the fight, to deal with it head on. “He just sat at home stewing.” email@example.com (818) 713-3731 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! But the code of silence that LAPD officers have used to hide their private torment and despair is starting to crack as the rank-and-file looks for ways to survive and the department fosters a more supportive environment. “You can’t stare at an acetylene torch without burning your retinas and going blind,” says Biller, who spent nearly three decades working some of the city’s bloodiest homicides and toughest crimes. “You put on blinders. You hide it, but it comes out in your unconscious. That’s what happens.” Kevin Jablonski, acting chief psychologist at the Los Angeles Police Department, said 17 LAPD therapists treated 927 clients last year, including officers, spouses and civilian employees. Of those, 627 sought help on their own and 143 were ordered by supervisors to get treatment. An additional 157 were required to attend at least one session because they were involved in a shooting or other life-threatening event or had been exposed to a blood-borne pathogen. LAPD Detective Chris Biller spent his nights staring down the barrel of his own loaded .45-automatic on the nightstand beside his bed. Homicide Detective Joel Price broke down the night he and his partner found the body of 8-year-old Nicole Parker hidden in a suitcase in a Woodland Hills apartment. Capt. Nick Salicos struggled daily with the pain of a back injury and the anxiety of the rogue-cop scandal at Rampart Division, his suffering known only to his closest friends. Cops don’t usually talk about the stress of the job, even when the anguish ravages their physical, mental and emotional health. And they often grow even more isolated when public scrutiny puts them on the defense.