The public has always considered police and military personnel as heroes. Lately there has been a rise on heroes taking their own lives. Canada has seen more than its fair share of suicides among those who should be considered heroes, and there was another in that category just prior to Christmas. Suicide has now been given some tough media scrutiny over the last few months in Canada and with good reason.
Staff Sgt Ian Matthews, a big-hearted Irishman and a highly regarded member of the Hamilton Police, took his own life at Hamilton Police Central Station on December 17. He shot himself, unable to deal any more with the emotional stresses he was under – and only he knows what the stresses were. However, what his case has done has brought the life of a cop into sharp relief and scrutiny.
The police have a tough job. Consider, for instance, the case of Paul Boyd, a 39 year old ultra-talented film animator. He was also bipolar, and known to fall into delusions when the disorder took over. He was in the middle of one of those when Constable Lee Chipperfield of the Vancouver Police arrived on scene.
Boyd was usually in charge of his illness, but there were times when he would struggle with mania, depression, and paranoid delusions, and in spite of his raging success as an animator, this was one situation he couldn’t draw his way out of. Officers reported to Boyd’s address after reports of an assault, and while Boyd had initially been calm, he became increasingly hostile, swinging a lock on a chain and assaulting one as a result. Chipperfield had fired upon Boyd 9 times, but the shot that ultimately killed Boyd was apparently fired after another officer had instructed Boyd to cease firing.
The issue here is the incredible stress any police officer would be under in this situation. Yes, they are trained to deal with these sorts of situations quickly and efficiently. However, we put incredible pressure on cops to never do any wrong, and that includes taking a life even in the most discombobulated of circumstances. In the heat of any given moment we expect cops to be the cool rational ones who know when to start something and when to stop it. That’s why it is so shocking that police suicide is on the rise.
However, we forget that cops are human, and that’s what causes such pressure on them. Many police officers look back on any given shift and pray and hope things won’t go bad. In Chipperfield’s situation with Boyd, Chpperfield was dealing with a man in the grips of a delusion, who was attacking Chipperfield and his colleagues, and it was pure adrenaline from there. The big question is, why do we expect police officers to behave in a superhuman fashion when they are just as human as the rest of us?
We’ll never know what Chipperfield’s mindset was the night his and Boyd’s stars crossed, but one thing we’ll know for sure: Chipperfield has had to live with the knowledge he’s killed someone for the last six years of his life, and had to deal with the stress of clearing his name at the same time. These are impossible stresses for anyone to deal with, and Chipperfield has had to do so while in the public scrutiny. The fact of Chipperfield’s having killed someone is going to have a play on his emotional health, no matter what goes on in the man’s life from here on. It will have a huge impact; no matter how well any police force trains you, knowing you had a hand in killing someone is a significant act, and it will affect you for years to come.
No doubt, Const. Chipperfield has had sleep issues and perhaps even flashbacks every day since that day in April 2009 when he met Paul Boyd and ended up killing him. Chipperfield was ultimately found not criminally responsible for Boyd’s death, in spite of having fired upon Boyd 9 times. However, when one considers the stress Chipperfield would have been under that evening, caught in the grip of paranoid delusion as he was continuing to attack the officers on scene, it should come as no surprise that Chipperfield was found not guilty. He is, after all, only human. Other human police officers continue to struggle with the stress of the job and police suicide is still on the rise.
By Christina St-Jean
Tears of a Cop