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Survey: Cops got the blues
By Laurel J. Sweet
Sunday, February 29, 2004

Twenty percent of Boston cops have entertained thoughts of killing themselves, according to a survey of police published in this month's Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.

``What they do can get them killed any day of the week,'' said Hayden Duggan, chief psychologist for the Boston police stress unit. ``The more you put up the big blue wall and stuff it down, the more it takes your head off when it comes up.''

The analysis on stress and its impact on the personal and professional lives of 1,022 ``veteran'' officers within the Boston Police Department - approximately half the sworn force - was conducted in 1997. However, said Luis Garcia, an associate professor of criminology at Suffolk University who co-authored the study, it is ``fundamentally relevant to contemporary issues.''

The report has just begun hitting desks within the department, which has seen two officers shot since January and is in the midst of an administrative upheaval.

Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said the blues behind the badge is ``a topic not commonly spoken about. The machismo in the profession is you put your head down and don't talk about it.''

The paper's findings claim that - at least in 1997, when violent crime in Boston was plunging and the homicide rate was the lowest since 1964 - cops were worrying about very different things depending more on their rank than gender or color.

For instance, patrolmen named concern for their brethren's safety as their leading cause of stress, though Nee disagrees. Sergeants and lieutenants fretted that co-workers weren't pulling their weight, while captains lost sleep over making on-the-spot decisions, the study asserts.

Public criticism was allegedly the thorn in detectives' sides.

``The main thing as far as stress is concerned is the pressure to solve cases,'' said Tom Montgomery, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. ``Sometimes we make mistakes. One mistake oftentimes results in the public not having confidence in our ability to do things we've been doing on a regular basis.''

Family demands, which the study said are exacerbated by the temptation of working overtime, rated high as a source of stress - a finding Montgomery thought was ``right on.''

The study did not rate the number of officers who said they've contemplated suicide as significant, but noted that such thoughts are themselves stressful.

Like Nee, Montgomery is a strong advocate of police being debriefed when involved in traumatic events like shootings.

``I tell all my men, `Be very much aware of the changes in you,' '' Montgomery said. ``The changes in you can be so subtle, but they're very apparent to the people close to you.''
 
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