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Suicide cops: in the line of duty
Depression overwhelms a cop after he kills in the line of duty
Dec. 26 — They are asked to put their lives on the line for us every single minute of every day. When they are shot, they die a hero’s death. And on TV and in movies, when they do the shooting, we make them heroes too. But in real life, beneath the gleaming badges, most cops don’t shoot. Most cops don’t kill people — but when they do, they aren’t always made to feel heroic. For two cops, officers Salvatore Glibbery and Thomas Rogers of the 105th Precinct in Queens, New York, Dec. 29, 1987, started as a night like any other.



       IT WAS BITTER COLD — they’d just finished some routine paperwork when they got this call:
       911 tape: “Female complainant, private house she says... male at the door is armed with a gun...”
       As Glibbery and Rogers rushed to the scene, they braced themselves to deal with a man armed with a gun. Tom Rogers remembers what happened next.
       Thomas A. Rogers: “You sit up a little bit, and your own adrenaline starts to flow automatically.”
       When the officers arrived at the house, they found a woman inside, protecting herself and her young son. Outside, the boy’s father, 39-year-old Alfred Sanders — enraged, and according to the officers, armed not with a gun but with a knife.
       Officer Rogers: “Sal would say to him, ‘Alright, you need to put the knife down,’ or I’d tell him, ‘Put the knife down.’ And he said, ‘No.’”
       This was one of the scenarios cops dread the most — an armed disturbed person who wasn’t listening. The police maintained their distance, using what is now known as the zone of safety, and kept him safely at bay for nearly 10 minutes. But they say he continued to taunt them and threaten to stab himself with the knife.
       Police radio call to headquarters: “Yeah, he’s out on the street Central, he’s holding the knife on himself, he’s threatening to stab himself Central.”
       And the officers had few options, because back then, cops carried none of the non-lethal devices — the tasers, water cannons or shields — now frequently used to subdue an emotionally disturbed person.
       Thomas A. Rogers: “I remember him yelling something about, ‘Shoot me! I’m not putting down the knife!’ And then, you know, ah, then he just decided that was it. He charged.”
       Hoda Kotbe: “Charged?”
       Rogers: “I mean, he charged. You could see it. It’s like a bull coming after a flag. And then, all hell broke loose.” The police opened fire on Sanders. You can hear how agitated Officer Glibbery sounded just seconds later when he called Central Dispatch.
       911 tape: “Shots fired! Central... the perp is down Central, shots fired!”
       And just seconds after that, neighbors were also frantically dialing 911.
       911 tape: “Yeah, we need an ambulance right away somebody’s shot! He’s dead. Well the cops shot him. They shot him dead!”
       Glibbery fired six times, and a third officer on the scene fired five times — 11 shots in all, from a five-to-10 foot range. According to the autopsy report, at least eight of them hit Sanders. As Alfred Sanders lay bleeding on the pavement, Officer Rogers remembers kicking a knife out of his hand. Then he looked at his partner, Officer Glibbery. For Glibbery, a nightmare had just begun.
       Officer Rogers: “I could see that, you know, that look of shock in his face. Something that you’d probably say, ‘Oh God, you know, why? Why did it have to go this way?’”
       For Officer Glibbery, this was indeed one of those times when a cop is called upon to protect others. He had just shot and killed a man, emptying his weapon at point-blank range. And Glibbery was not about to be considered a hero — in fact, anything but.
Tears of a Cop
Police suicide statistics and resource links

       Next to the badge, nothing defines a cop more clearly than the gun. Police officers train regularly to aim, fire, and hit a practice target. But most cops go through a full career without firing their weapons even once on duty and there’s not much they can do to prepare for how they’ll feel when a bullet actually hits a human target. In a matter of seconds, Officer Glibbery fired six shots at Alfred Sanders. Other than at the firing range, it was the only time he’d discharged his weapon in four years on the job.
       At the time of the shooting, Glibbery was 28, married with two small children, a devoted father and family man.
       Sal, the life of the party, is seen playing Santa in a family video taken just five days before the shooting. Even as a little boy, he was a promising amateur artist. After high school, he served a four-year stint in the Marine Corps, with a good conduct medal, a clean record both physically and mentally, and an honorable discharge.
“I think he always knew he did the right thing. But I think he always — he always wished it could have been different.”
       But Sal’s real dream was to be a cop — and not just any cop, an NYPD cop. Sal passed the department’s battery of psychological tests, and joined New York’s finest in 1983. By the end of the next year, he had earned several awards and commendations.
       “He, you know, he put his heart and soul in it,” Sal’s father, Tom Glibbery says.
       Hoda Kotbe: “So he was proud to put that uniform on?”
       Tom Glibbery: “Oh, definitely. He said, ‘I gotta make some sort of a difference.’”
       Sal’s wife Nancy wasn’t so enthusiastic.
       Hoda Kotbe: “He walked out the door and was excited. What about you?”
       Nancy Glibbery: “Oh, I was petrified. I was petrified that he wasn’t gonna come home.”
       But every night he did come home. And even on Dec. 29, 1987, the night Alfred Sanders died in a hail of bullets five feet in front of him, Sal did walk away. He called his father and Nancy to tell them what had happened. The next day, he called his best friend, Long Island cop Matt Endres.
       Matt Endres: “There was a confidence in the rightness of what he did but there was a tremendous amount of discomfort of having to shoot somebody.”
       Sal’s confidence was not shared by everyone. According to police records, Sanders did have a knife, but “Dateline” spoke with several witnesses that night who insist Sanders was unarmed and did not run toward the cops. To the Sanders family, Alfred’s death was an outrage, another senseless racial murder by the NYPD. The family filed a lawsuit against the city. Quickly the story became front page news.
       “I saw it as another example of police being allowed to be the judge, jury and executioner,” says civil rights activist A Sharpton.
       While it wasn’t uncommon for community activists to denounce cops, what was unusual was the blistering reaction of then-Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward. Commissioner Ward quickly criticized his own men in the media, saying they got too close to Sanders and shot too soon.
       Hoda Kotbe: “Did it hurt his feelings, when the commissioner came out and said that?”
       Tom Glibbery: “Sure. He was very upset.”
       The story played in the press over and over again. To Sal, it was a relentless barrage of criticism and humiliation.
       Matt Endres: “He just told me he couldn’t believe it. It was something he had to live with, but his name was in the paper a lot and his family saw that and it didn’t paint a pretty picture and of course that lessens you as a ... as a police officer when you know you did the right thing.”
       On January 5, seven days after the shooting, a grand jury began weighing whether or not to charge the officers with murder. It was Sal’s 29th birthday. Civil rights leaders said the cops should stand trial, but within weeks, the grand jury cleared them. And according to Michael Julian, who was public information officer for the NYPD at the time, an internal department review cleared them as well.
       Mike Julian: “We looked at this case and said that these officers did the right thing, they maintained the zone of safety. But at some point he approached them and they had nowhere to turn, and that’s why they shot.”
       According to Julian, the cops performed so well that night — by keeping an armed man at a distance for as long as they could, and then firing only when they perceived their lives to be in danger — their tactics actually became part of new departmental procedures for dealing with similar situations.
       But for Sal, nothing erased his boss’s stinging criticisms and the public outcry in the aftermath of the shooting.
       Hoda Kotbe: “Was there a point where he thought, ‘I didn’t do the right thing?’”
       Nancy Glibbery: “I think he always knew he did the right thing. But I think he always — he always wished it could have been different.”
       Al Benner is a 35-year veteran of the San Francisco police force and a psychologist who helped write national guidelines advising police departments on how to support officers after shootings. To him, a boss’s negative comments right after a trauma can actually contribute to long-lasting psychological problems for the cop.
       Al Benner: “It is as though someone in their own court has stabbed them in the back.”
       The other officers at the scene that night went on with their lives, and Sal tried hard, too. Sal said he was OK, but his wife Nancy began to notice subtle changes. He seemed a little edgy, and was slightly more irritable with the kids.
“That’s what bothered my son. He says, ‘I took somebody’s life. Some father. That child’s father, I took.’”
       And then there was this — Sal had begun a folder documenting the shooting which he showed to Nancy and even their friends. In it, to Nancy’s horror, was a close-up photograph of the man he’d shot just moments after he died. And there was something else Sal saved — a copy of the police dispatch tape, which he listened to over and over again.
       Sal wasn’t telling anyone, even his wife, what he was really going through. Flashbacks, horrifying nightmares of the shooting, panic attacks triggered by sirens or cop shows on TV — these he kept secret from everyone.
       Al Benner: “Sal’s reaction to the shooting and to his emotional upheaval is pretty classic. He went into avoidance and denial and everything else.”
       Experts know many cops doubt they can get confidential help through their departments, and fear that even reporting weakness to department psychologists will derail their careers — and Sal was no exception. Instead of going for help, Sal quietly asked to be taken off patrol and was assigned to traffic duty at a Queens racetrack. He felt safe here, he told friends, and was enjoying his time with his children. But inside, Sal was hurting.
       Tom Glibbery: “Sal was the type of guy, that if he ran over a dog, that would bother him. So let alone shooting somebody. And don’t forget, we’re talking maybe, what, five or six feet away, that you see the person’s expression, and, you know in time, it started to bother him.”
       Nancy was prepared for many things in her marriage, but not for this. Gradually, over the next few years, she watched as Sal became jumpy and developed insomnia — symptoms of a mental disorder they wouldn’t learn about for several years. But even now Sal still wasn’t going for help, and when he finally did tell Nancy about his haunting symptoms, she didn’t push him to go get help either.
       Sal was still a devoted father to his son and daughter. But as time passed and his world began to crumble, drawing became his primary refuge.
       In 1994, more than six years after the shooting, Sal learned that his safe haven — the racetrack unit — was being disbanded, and he’d be forced back on patrol. The very thought that he might have to shoot someone again horrified him. Nancy says he became irritable, and his nightmare’s increased. Once again Sal quietly asked for a different assignment, but — as he reported years later to a psychologist — was told to “forget that.”
       And so, filled with dread, Sal returned to patrol. One night, when he responded to a routine dispute between a man and a woman, his anxiety turned to horror. Sal pulled his gun, but then froze — and had to be convinced it was safe to put it away. He was terrified he’d put his partner — and civilians — in danger.
       Matt Endres: “He said, ‘this, this is unbelievable.’ He felt like he was underwater, is what he told me. He knew he wasn’t as good as he used to be.”
       Sal knew he’d lost his nerve. He took an extended leave to be with his family. Sal worked hard to stay happy for his kids, but sometimes the pain showed through.
       Tom Glibbery: “I mean, how long can you keep thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking, ‘Did I do wrong, or did I do right?’ You know? ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have done it.’”
       And one thing troubled him most of all. Being the loving father he was, Sal couldn’t bear having left Sander’s young son without his dad.
       Tom Glibbery: “That’s what bothered my son. He says, ‘I took somebody’s life. Some father. That child’s father, I took.’”
       Sal did something difficult for any macho cop — he went to the police department for psychological help — to psyche services, the division for cops with mental problems. He hoped that there, someone would be able to rescue him.
Little psychological help for officers

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