I don’t agree with minimizing the horrific results of a suicide (much
less a police officer suicide) by filling in the blanks with the two
words ‘solution’ and ‘problem.’ This is because suicide does not
‘solve’ anything. It is a permanent response or reaction to something
that is temporarily devastating to a person.
Metro lost another officer to suicide last week. I have seen no
publicity on this one, unlike two months ago when Officer Twigg
committed suicide in a parking garage at the Santa Fe. That incident
was widely publicized–-including a large photo of Officer Twigg on the
front page of the Review-Journal. In the current (Michael Sutton)
case, I do like the ‘double standard’ and won’t complain about how the
media decides to cover some incidents and not others. It seems like
the media covers most police incidents such as the suicide of
officers, but I can’t remember ever reading a big story about the
suicide of a firefighter or other emergency services professional.
Tony Dungy (The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge) wrote about
Making Failure Work for You for the 18th of May. He addressed the need
to deal with disappointment (and failure) properly. Disappointment and
failure are probably two contributing factors to many suicides and
suicide attempts. Disappointment may be a factor in Metro’s recent
suicide; there will be more on the reasons to be disappointed later.
Dungy wrote about Michael Jordan’s ‘failures’: Missing more than 9,000
shots in his career. Losing almost 300 games. Missing the game-winning
shot 26 times. Jordan failed over and over and over again in his life,
and he explained that, in the end, “That is why I succeed.” We have
probably all heard about the failures of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas
Edison and Babe Ruth — lots of failure and disappointment before
Dungy’s message for the day: “When things happen to us that aren’t
exactly what we had hoped for there are a number of ways we can
respond (but there’s only one response that will help us to move on
toward the promise of a new day full of opportunities) and that is to
GET OVER IT, GET UP, AND TRY AGAIN.
I sent this page out of Dungy’s book to a friend of mine who is deeply
disappointed right now after (again) not ‘succeeding’ in the LVMPD
sergeant promotional process. I told him it is not about him, it is
about THEM. I tried to encourage him to focus on the future (I must
admit that I don’t follow my own advice in this area).
In the aftermath of the recent Metro tragedy, I received information
from several people focusing on actions taken by Metro against the
officer. One action was a transfer out of a specialized unit. Another
action was denial of a promotional opportunity and the chance to pass
on to the next stage in the police sergeant promotional process. I’m
not sure how many people are upset but only 25 out of the 42 that
passed the written are now granted the opportunity to move on. The
messages I received included, “405’d by GSW (which means suicide by
gunshot wound) as officers were doing a welfare check on him. Guess he
cited captain for unjustly targeting him and kicking him out of gang
task force. Failed the sergeant test on biased management review. I’m
sure the exact details will come out later… but what does this say
about the leadership of this sinking agency.” Is the LVMPD a ‘sinking
agency’ as described by more than one current employee?
I was told the officer sent a text apologizing for “letting co-workers
down” prior to taking his own life. I have no desire to read any text
messages or suicide notes, but somebody should! There should be a
‘real’ investigation. We should try to learn from police suicide
My best friend committed suicide in 1985 as a member of the LVMPD and
there are many things that I still don’t know. In fact, recent
Facebook comments on a picture that was posted have caused me to
realize that there are many people that worked with Doug Bertrand that
know a lot more than I knew… and I lived in the same apartment
complex as he did! I remember mentioning to the minister at the
Methodist church the next day that “my friend was the Metro officer
that committed suicide.” I remember the memorial service in Las Vegas
and the funeral in Michigan. Some things we remember but other things
we miss, omit, or didn’t even realize due to the trauma and grief at
I have never listened to the 9-1-1 audio of Lt. Hans Walters telling
dispatchers what he had done (shooting his wife and son) in January of
2012. Apparently, there was no ‘fight’ in Sheriff Gillespie to keep
that audio from the public, to suppress that information, but I’m
guessing he won’t approve of any ‘public records requests’ when the
information may reflect negatively upon him or the LVMPD.
It could be argued that giving some ‘story’ to the public after the
Walters double murder/suicide was beneficial to Metro. The ‘spin’
makes it easy to listen to an emotional audio recording and explain it
away as a person who obviously ‘lost it’ or who must have ‘snapped.’
It is not so easy to absorb and analyze the full meaning of the last
words or messages of a suicidal person.
Regarding last week’s suicide, a retired LVMPD manager wrote to me,
“Metro can literally suck the life out of a person.” If I was a leader
and knew that morale was so low and that my people felt that my
organization was ‘sucking the life out of” them, I would get busy on
some analysis and solutions ASAP!
Now, here are a few comments from people who also did participate in
the sergeant promotional process. I asked how they did on the
management review. The response, “Not this year. I passed, but did not
score high enough to move on. I have just about had it with this
department. I heard from a friend that Michael Sutton from Gangs
apparently failed the management review and has killed himself at his
home. I don’t know if you know him but apparently he took it pretty
I wrote, “Drop the ‘bastards’ like a bad memory and move forward with
your choices. One of them wrote back, “True. I’ll get back on track
here. You just don’t expect this kind of behavior from a police
department. ICARE values seem to be just there for show. Upper
management has no integrity… Yes, I’ll start making a diligent
effort to stay positive… I just don’t want to put my best foot
forward for Metro anymore… dishonorable organization.”
For an organization that has had two recent suicides, I think it is
time that a ‘program’ is put into place and publicized! The Police
Employee’s Assistance Program has been a life-saver and is still in
operation, but they do NOT study what has happened and why it has
happened. Everything that they do is confidential. They counsel and
provide support and referrals. They don’t have the power to correct
problems or announce how they are going to be corrected.
I don’t think that failing a promotional exam, standing alone, is
enough to cause a person to take their own life. There must be other
factors — in addition to a significant contributing compound factor:
loss of pride and self-esteem, and feeling devalued by the
If the current promotional process is destroying morale, then study
it. I’m shocked that there is so much bias possible in the promotional
process now. How could the unions have allowed this? There is an
internal management review where the candidate for promotion can’t
even pass on after the written exam if he/she does not ‘drink the
Kool-Aid.’ You can receive a perfect score on the written exam and get
‘dumped’ out of the process by three internal reviewers (who have
human biases) and who are placed in a powerful position to end your
quest because of rumors, because of your reputation, and because you
are not a member of their clique.
When I promoted to sergeant in 1987 (and then to lieutenant in 1992),
I knew that my ‘oral board’ was going to be three outsiders. I was
successful both times, the first time. I also had an outside
‘assessment center’ when I competed against Bill Young (and others)
for captain in 1995. I was not promoted but I did pass and I did get
to express myself (and be myself) during the assessment center. I was
greatly disappointed after finishing 9 out of 11 on the captain’s
promotional list. I didn’t fail the assessment center, but I was not
successful as I had been for promotions in the past.
I did get bitter… but I was not bitter because I thought I got
screwed by members of the LVMPD that didn’t like me and who were given
a chance to rate me — I was upset about the process! Even outsiders
can be influenced. After reading assessor comments, I decided not to
even bother to go attend the feedback session. I started losing
confidence in the system and started looking elsewhere for a job in
My experience was NOTHING like what is happening at the LVMPD right
now! There are multiple opportunities for those in ‘power’ to divert
the career paths for those they don’t like and who might challenge
them and their ideas. I guess I am lucky that I made sergeant (for the
second time) in 2007 and this was before the ‘sell-out’ allowing the
department to handle promotional testing the way it is handled right
now. Now that I know how much they liked me — I’m certain that the
current system would have failed me.
Does Metro need to re-evaluate the promotional testing process in
place right now? Not if you were successful and were ‘advantaged.’ One
of my officers told me he heard that during my first career I was a
‘Golden Child” …I got a kick out of that because I didn’t think
anyone ever gave me anything.
Does Metro need to study the police suicide problem? Absolutely, and
the efforts to combat suicide should be publicized!
Are promotional disappointments causing emotional problems that can
lead to suicide? I certainly hope not, but I know of plenty of people
who have suffered greatly after being rejected/feeling rejected by
their own department. It is not a good thing to go to work (as a
police officer) when you are bitter! I hope the new sheriff CARES
enough to try to fix this.
OBSERVATION: Why is it that Joe Lombardo seems to have such a hard
time expressing himself? I’ve watched him on at least two interviews
and he has been a horrible communicator. Is it because he is trying to
remember the ideas that he had been told by others? He tries to praise
and honor his mentor (Sheriff Duh-G) but separate himself from
Gillespie at the same time. That is no easy task.
From what I have seen, he would not even pass an entry-level oral
board for police officer. He does not present a coherent thought. So
how did he get to his position and what unfair advantages did he have?
He had Bill Young as one of his ‘advantages.’ He worked with Young and
‘built relationships.’ Doug Gillespie has ‘advantaged’ some of the
people he worked with or supervised earlier in his career (i.e.,
Deputy Chief Todd Fasulo).
Why can’t we all just get along… have the same ‘advantages’ and take
care of each other?
Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a
police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of police
experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help
improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through
his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.