Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug. 21, 2013)

And never mentioned again

By Bob Cooper


Novelist and ex-LAPD Detective Joseph Wambaugh used to call suicide ‘the policeman’s disease’ because, like divorce, our rate of suicide is at least twice the national average.  As my friend and former colleague, Leo Knight, said so well in his column, No pat explanation for cop's suicide, it’s a hazard of the job.  

Leo’s piece dealt with the recent suicide of RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre and he did a very good job of setting the record straight about Pierre’s role in the Dziekanski case.  As he pointed out, incorrect information particularly in the initial hours of a major investigation is not unusual and I wish I had a nickel for every time it’s happened to me.  Many cops feel that the news media unfairly hounded Pierre by repeatedly running clips of him giving out information that later turned out to be incorrect and making him the poster boy for police cover-ups.  While the conduct of some news outlets can’t be discounted I’m not going to paint them all with the same broad brush because that would be unfair.  In the wake of Dziekanski I had calls from a couple of senior reporters wanting to clearly disassociate themselves from the hysteria and vitriol of some of their colleagues and I agree with Leo when he says we’ll never know for certain because, in my experience I’ve found there is often more than one issue involved.

The public is generally unaware of this because, as a rule, the press don’t cover suicides.  With police suicides the exceptions are if the individual is a ‘public figure’ or the death occurred in a police facility and it’s this situation I wanted to deal with today.  Traditionally police suicides went unacknowledged by the Department as well as by the press.  They’ve always been regarded as bringing shame upon the Force, the coward’s way out.  When it happened it was always a shock but seldom a total surprise.   Word spread very quickly and it was discussed in hushed tones before Parade.  It was as if no one wanted to speak too loudly as we were each reminded of our own mortality.  The only official announcement was a brief entry in Part ll Orders which went along the lines of:

 “It is with regret that I announce the death on (insert date) of PC #123 DOE, John E.  His name is therefore removed from the Rolls of the Force”. 

Period.  Full stop.  The guy was just struck off strength and never mentioned again.

The first police suicide that the press covered in my time was that of PC #609 Tony Francis who shot himself in the basement of the old Oakridge sub-station.  As you always hear the guys saying afterward, I’d seen him in the hallway at 312 Main an hour or two before he did it and everything seemed fine.  It led all the newscasts and I wondered what the reaction of the membership was going to be.  The next day I recognized the voice of a friend of Tony’s who called a morning radio talk show.  Far from being critical of the coverage, he spoke about how sad and senseless his death was and that the only thing we could all hope for is that some good might come of it.

In late 2006 Detective Sean Trowski killed himself on the 4th Floor of 312 Main St. and the press covered his death as well.  I wasn’t close to Tony Francis but I was to Sean which changes your perspective a bit but as I watched the news and read the papers rather than a feeling of intrusion or resentment, I felt a sense of comfort that Sean’s presence on earth and on the job was at least being acknowledged.

While writing this I was concerned that some might take offense at my using names.  I decided to for a couple of reasons.  First, the press covered all of these tragedies and the names were already out there.  Second, and most importantly, these guys were our colleagues and in many cases, our friends.  If they were killed on duty or died of natural causes would we ignore them, forget them, or speak of them in the third person?   How they died is far less important than how they lived and remembering them is a validation of their lives.   

The depression that took them is an illness no different than cancer or heart disease.  Being open and honest about it takes away the shame and if that makes it easier for those who need help to seek it then, as Tony’s friend hoped, something good has come of it.



I'm alright Sarge, really



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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Contributing 2013