By Rich Alvarez
November 30, 2020
I know God led me to make the right choice in starting the Peacekeeper Initiative. I spent nearly 15 years enforcing the law in Northeast Ohio with two different departments and a brief stint with the Department of Corrections. I started my police career with the Greater Cleveland Transit Police Department, and I was fortunate enough for them to pay my way through the academy while also supplying me with a paycheck. They sent me to the Cleveland Heights Police Department's Police Academy. It was there that I met Mike Marko. He was an Inspector with the Traffic Division, if I recall correctly, and he taught in the academy, as well.
I didn't always want to be a cop. In fact, I really wanted to be a firefighter, because I also spent time as an EMT, but I had a child on the way, so I took police tests too. Without a college degree, I knew public service would provide a decent paycheck and benefits for my family. I did better on police tests than I did on fire tests, so my law enforcement career was born. I was also pretty young and immature at the time. I know I was a pain in the ass with my antics, but I did well. I won the top academic award and the crime scene award. Even with all my antics, I remember Inspector Marko being very patient and kind. He would chuckle a little bit at my humor and then get me back on track. By all accounts he was a really good guy, and I later worked with his son at the second department I worked for. He served as a jailer with our department and was just as good a guy as his dad.
A few days ago, I learned that Mike Marko, who had become the Chief of Police at another Ohio police department in New London, had passed away from suicide. He had recently announced his impending retirement, and the death was quite unexpected. I was truly saddened, but it confirmed why our organization exists. As a suicide survivor myself, I can tell you that First Responders suffer from mental health issues in silence. There is still a heavy stigma associated with seeking help. Prior to COVID-19, suicide was the leading cause of death for all First Responders. Approximately 30 percent of the profession will develop a behavioral health issue over the course of their career. This can't continue. There is already enough pressure on our police and negative public sentiment. The added stress of feeling unappreciated and even despised only compounds the regular stressors of the job and the added stress associated with COVID-19, which has increased mental health issues in the general public by about 20 percent. I don't know why Mike committed suicide, but the job most likely took its toll. The fear of retirement can also have a detrimental effect on those that have worked for their entire lives in the profession. First Responders often have their identity tied up with their career. They don't know what they'll be or do once they stop answering calls for service or being of service to the public. All I know is that the Mike Marko I knew was a true public servant and a good man. There are many like him. It's important that we continue in our mission and that we receive public support for it. Help us stop First Responder suicide by donating to the Peacekeeper Initiative. You can do this right on our website at www.peacekeeperusa.org or calling (727) 914-9988. Please keep Mike in mind when you make your decision. Thanks for reading.