Sometimes there’s a disconnect between a headline and a story. And sometimes tragedy is lumped into a misplaced notion. Maybe it’s much deeper than what’s presented.
Chuck Paris, president of the Bridgeport Police Union, writes in this commentary that also appears in the CT Post, “To link Sgt. Belinkie’s suicide to an internal investigation dangerously oversimplifies and worsens a profound tragedy for his family, friends and colleagues on the force.”
The Connecticut Post’s March 6 article “Internal Affairs report cites 17 cops for misconduct” paints an unbalanced portrait of Bridgeport Police Officers at a time when we are reeling from the suicide of Sgt. Mark Belinkie.
On Oct. 21, 2017, Bridgeport police officers responded to a neighborhood complaint about excessive noise. The video in question failed to represent the efforts our officers made to de-escalate a situation that was made increasingly dangerous by the noncompliance of party participants who refused to lower the music that was disturbing neighbors.
What made the article more painful was the casual, unsubstantiated linkage of Sgt. Belinkie’s tragic death to the Internal Affairs investigation into the events of that night.
Few people bother to understand the immense and medically verifiable injuries, physical and emotional, that accompany the world of law enforcement. A study by the nonprofit Blue H.E.L.P. puts police suicides at more than 160 for 2018, having risen for the third straight year. That’s nearly triple the rate of officers killed in the line of duty.
According to the website TheBalanceCareers.com, studies put the suicide rate for police officers at around 23 per 100,000 officers, while the rate of the general population is estimated at 14 suicides per 100,000 people, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. That means law enforcement officers are approximately 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
To link Sgt. Belinkie’s suicide to an internal investigation dangerously oversimplifies and worsens a profound tragedy for his family, friends and colleagues on the force. The increasing problem of post-traumatic stress injury in law enforcement points to the need for strengthening the laws that are supposed to help officers cope with job-related trauma.
Bridgeport police officers are doing our best to keep our neighborhoods safe and peaceful. That always gets lost in the public scrum to blame the police for the chaos that ensues when people fail to comply with requests. And when a good officer and family member dies by his own hand, there ought to be more understanding, more empathy and more nuanced discussion of the circumstances leading to their death.