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One was a veteran deputy chief found dead in his police vehicle in the neighborhood where he worked. The other was a longtime homicide detective, discovered lifeless hours later in the dark marshlands of southern Brooklyn.
Both men had killed themselves, startling back-to-back suicides that prompted senior police officials to make direct pleas to troubled officers on the 36,000-member force to seek help.
“To the cops here today, I need you to know, help is available to you,” said the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, in a news conference on Thursday. “Help is here, you are never alone.”
He wanted to make our great city a better place for all, and he certainly did that, every day. pic.twitter.com/lhQn1quiuH
— Commissioner O’Neill (@NYPDONeill) June 6, 2019
“No situation is hopeless,” Chief Terence A. Monahan, the Police Department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, said in one video posted on social media. “You put strangers first every day. Now it’s time to prioritize your own health and well-being. And don’t forget to check in with your fellow cops.”
The two men, who died Wednesday and Thursday, had a combined experience of almost 80 years and had seen other officers take their lives before finally taking the same route.
On Wednesday, the body of Deputy Chief Steven J. Silks, 62, was found shortly before sunset near Forest Hills Stadium and the precinct station house where he worked. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the police said.
Stunned by the death of the popular chief, the department found itself the next day scrambling to find a missing detective, Joseph Calabrese, 58, after his empty vehicle was found beside the Belt Parkway near a beach. A massive search was launched by air and sea — with helicopters, divers and about 100 officers — before the detective’s body was found Thursday afternoon near Plumb Beach.
The suicides brought to the fore a longstanding problem for New York City police and officers all over the country. The hardships of police work and the proximity of a deadly weapon can often bring about a tragic result — almost every other day in the United States last year, with 159 deaths.
Over the last decade, 48 New York City officers have killed themselves, officials said. Four died last year, and three so far this year.
Officials praised both men as two of the most exemplary officers on the force. “I am shocked and shattered beyond belief,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “Joseph Calabrese was a dedicated detective, union official, husband and father. He was the salt of the earth.”
Chief Silks, who had previously served in Queens South, Brooklyn, the department’s Counterterrorism division and as commanding officer of the firing range at Rodman’s Neck, was praised as “one of the most capable and most dependable cops this job has ever seen” by Mr. O’Neill.
“His whole life in fact was devoted to New York City, to its police officers and to fighting crime and to protecting all the people we serve,” Mr. O’Neill said. “He wanted to make our great city a better place for all, and he certainly did exactly that every day.”
Assistant Chief Martin Morales, the commanding officer of Queens North, said about Chief Silks on Twitter: “He was a one-of-a-kind, well-accomplished individual & an amazing storyteller.”
Both men had spent decades with the Police Department; Chief Silks for 38 years, Detective Calabrese, 37 years. It is unclear whether they knew one another. Chief Silks, an avid outdoorsman, marathoner and mountaineer, had just put in his retirement paperwork. He faced mandatory retirement before his 63rd birthday next month.
In April, the department held a symposium on officer suicide at Police Headquarters, bringing together more than 300 researchers and officers. More law enforcement officers in the United States have died by suicide in recent years than have been killed in the line of duty, the police said.
“We can’t hide from this discussion,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We should not and we will not.”
Ali Watkins and Emily Palmer contributed reporting.
[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.]