Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country. There were 38,364 reported suicides in 2010, the latest figures available from the Centers for Disease Control. In fact there are about double the number of suicides as there are homicides in America.
Additionally there are more than a half-million attempted suicides annually that result in someone being admitted or treated at a hospital.
That suicide is an important public health issue is without question, but how to report on suicides is much less certain. Some suicides may be newsworthy and some not. Journalists have no clear formula to guide their coverage.
Of course, the main concern is to avoid to promoting copycat suicides that studies suggest can occur with insensitive or irresponsible reporting. The publisher of this newspaper certainly concurs with that practice.
We do not place suicide stories on the cover of our newspaper.
We do not sensationalize suicides.
We do not romanticize suicides.
We never portray suicides as heroic.
We never say that a suicide "ended pain" or "ended suffering."
Suicide causes pain for suicide survivors.
Suicide causes pain.
In the issue at hand, this newspaper reported in last week's editions on Page 12 that a Niagara Falls police lieutenant had taken his own life, in his home, with a pistol he kept at his home. We updated the story later on the newspaper's website (www.niagarafallsreporter.com) that the officer's death had been officially classified as a suicide following an investigation and that contrary to previously believed information it was determined that the fatal bullet came from the lieutenant's police issued handgun.
We reported this story because we believe that a police officer is a public person and that the manner in which he died is a public issue and should be reported. The story was reported responsibly, and did not mention the officer's past troubles in the department, focusing primarily on his contributions to his family and community. A police officer is a man trained in the use of firearms and a man trained in enforcing the laws of the state.
A man who is supposed to talk people down from the ledge is the man who went over the ledge, metaphorically.
This is a man that said, "I am the law."
He broke the law.
Obviously, this is a very sensitive time for family and friends of the deceased and it was not our intention to cause them any further pain over the loss of their loved one. But we need to make the best decisions we can on issues like this one, and it was the judgment of the publisher that a police officer's death is a matter of public interest.
The suicide prevention hotline number for Niagara County is 716-285-3515, and for Erie County the number is 716-834-3131.