Mar 3rd, 2014 | By | Category: Officer Safety, Officer Suicide, Paco's Podium, Spotlight

Suicide is an act of insanity.  What drives sane people to become felons on themselves?

Suicide is said to be an act of insanity. But what drives sane people to become felons on themselves?

Today, we again discuss a matter we all prefer to avoid: officer suicide.  I don’t have the numbers, however, sources within the agency and union alike confirm CDCR continues to suffer from a shocking number of losses.   The predicate, of course, every suicide is shocking.

Discussions on the subject of Officer Suicide are regular fare on pacovilla and there is little which hasn’t been said.  Even so, we need to talk about it.

More to the point, correctional officers, parole agents, along with a host of other CDCR staff need to talk about it–You need to be on the lookout for it.

And so, I once again offer a bit of linguistic history, an unfortunately archaic term and, hopefully,  some new insight.

“Felo-de-se” is a Latin phrase meaning “evildoer upon himself,” or, simply, a suicide. In England before 1870 a distinction was made between a suicide, which was the name given to an act of self-destruction committed by a person of unsound mind, and a felo-de-se, which was committed somebody who was sane. If a self-destruction was judged a felo-de-se, the deceased’s estate was generally forfeited to the crown.

Word Origin:  Anglo-Latin, from felō felon + Latin dē of + sē oneself

Paco says the Romans and their British successors were on to something–Suicide is not an act of a sane person.  And yet, post mortem we ponder what signs s/he was “losing it” we must have missed.

Perhaps it is worth considering, instead, what led a keeper of felons to become a felon of himself.  As it stands, absent the distinction, depression and suicidal ideation are seen as signs of mental illness–Mental illness is career death.

There is a HUGE difference between an insane person’s suicide and a law enforcement officer committing an act of violence upon himself/herself.  Ignorance of the fact perpetuates the stigma…facilitates the silence.

Here’s the best advice you will ever get on the subject:  Whether you feel depressed or not, see your M.D., remind the doctor of your profession and ask for an assessment.  It is a brief written test coupled with your physician’s assessment of same.  I underlined the doctor’s assessment because it is NOT the same thing to take the test online.  Don’t cheat.

You don’t need to see a psychiatrist and you most certainly do not want to contact the Employee Assistance Program–Information shared with EAP is NOT confidential to the employer, unlike your private medical care provider.  (Supervisors who belong to the union are the exception.  They have an independent EAP which has HIPAA between your notes and CDCR.)

I once met a police officer who told me he had come within seconds of  eating his gun when he remembered  his partner and another cop joking about a gun suicide they had dealt with earlier in the week.  He stopped because, he said, he thought his partner would feel guilty for the things he’d said about the victim being weak.  He expressed no concern over others seeing his suicide as cowardly, only concern for his partner’s perceived guilty conscience.

Which is to say, cops should talk about felo-de-se even if they don’t know what they’re talking about. –


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9 Comments to “Felo-de-se”

  1. kl2008a says:

    I know of at least 6 friends from the Dept that have committed suicide (one on the job, and one by cop). Each were facing what they thought would be the end of the world and didn’t want to deal with the shame and indignity of their actions so felt it was best for all to end it. I’ve read and studied a lot about suicide and have noticed a distinct pattern among those who have taken their own life. That being that someone else in their family or close to them had successfully committed suicide at sometime in their life. Sometimes it was a spouse, parent, sibling, cousin or other relative or friend. I’ve also counselled a few friends who felt that suicide was their only way out and have shared this with them. I would ask them to consider the anguish, anger, and hurt they would feel if their own child or sibling took his/her life. When they said they would be devastated, I explained to them that that’s what would probably happen if they did what they did carry through their feelings. Luckily, that changed their minds and we worked toward getting them the help they needed (the first part was helping them see that their situation was NOT the end of the world). I could go on and on about this but I’ll close here. Good luck to all of you and know that God has a plan for all of us. Don’t try to change it.

  2. Officer Down says:

    Just left doctor. I filed for workers comp, on advice of a fellow officer, but now being told Major Depression might not qualify. Anyone know anything about this?

    • pacovilla says:

      It’s a tough way to go. Get an attorney before you do anything. I recommend the Mastagni Law Firm.

      • kl2008a says:

        SCIF has been denying a lot of stress claims, including PTSD claims, making it harder for those who need help in getting it. Officer Down, follows Paco’s advice and know that your brothers are behind you and that it WILL get better!

  3. Howie Katz says:

    While I share your concern about the high rate of suicides among correctional officer, I must take strong exception to the thought that depression is a form of insanity. There is a marked difference between a mental illness and clinical insanity. I realize that some suicides are committed by the insane, but many are committed by people who are not clinically insane.

    There may be good reasons why a person who is not insane would want to end his life. That is why four states – Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – have legalized physician-assisted suicide.

    Dr. Kevorkian has been wrongly painted as a monster because he helped people whose quality of life and physical suffering had reached the point where life was no longer worth living. True, he broke the law and he paid for it, but his intentions were good, not evil.

    Now for those of you who cannot see any reason for a sane person to commit suicide, why don’t you get your legislators to pass a law making suicide a capital offense.

    • pacovilla says:

      I’m not seeing where we disagree. I certainly did not mean to imply depression is insanity. However, we must all be mindful of a work and legal environment which makes little distinction. A diagnosis of clinical depression is sufficient to land on the prohibited persons list, lose a gun, lose a job. So, whatever you call it, depression has a stigma that won’t go away.

      • FXSTC1 says:

        Hey there Officer Down. You obviously have been going through a lot for quite a while. You honor we that read this site by sharing such deep feelings. Revealing sensitive issues such as depression to non professionals shows a clear desire to get help and get better. What you might not be getting is guidance that is appropriate for you and your particular issue. We have all seen and been involved in the snake pits of society. How can we not be effected. The brave ones, such as yourself, share it with others as you did in this blog. That is very, very difficult to do. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2002. It started way before that. Anyway, I began going to a group. For me it was a mens group. I am not sure of your status. It was very helpful to unload in front of people and get their feed back. Sometimes it got a little crazy but the group makes sure all is safe. I told no one outside the group of my diagnosis. Certainly no one in the department. There are a lot of options out there and there is a lot to live for. You can let me know through this blog if you are interested in sharing with me. It would be a big step in feeling better.

  4. Officer Down says:

    I haven’t been to Paco Villa in a while. Just decided to take a look while sitting in the waiting room at Psychiatry. I’m here because I suffer from major depression. Diagnosed in 2007. Did not tell my job about it because I was afraid they would take my badge. But now it’s overwhelming. It is the worst it has ever been. I don’t want to commit suicide, but part of me feels I inevitably will. I’m on workers comp, and am afraid they will never declare me fit to return to work. My partner committed suicide. It was like he just disappeared. No word from the department. We just see too much.

    • Howie Katz says:

      Officer Down, I sincerely hope and pray that psychiatry will be able to help you overcome any thoughts about committing suicide. And I know for sure that Paco and his PACOVILLA followers join me in those hopes and prayers.

      Please do not see yourself as insane. The fact that you are able to share your depression and thoughts with us shows me that you are definitely not insane.

      I wish I were in a position to help you, but obviously I am not. Let me just say that regardless of what you have experienced in your duties, those experiences should not lead you to commit suicide. If you were a cancer patient suffering from excruciating pain not relived by pain medication, you would have good cause to want to end your life. But that is not what is wrong with you. So please hang in there pal and know that all of us are behind you. God bless you my friend!