Retired NYPD Detective Lou Yero grew so traumatized by the horrors he witnessed on the job that he took to drink — and ended up putting a loaded gun to his head.
“And then I looked in the mirror and saw my son’s room,” Yero recalled last week at the first seminar by a group dedicated to helping traumatized cops. “I said, ‘I can’t let my son find me.’ I even unloaded my gun, but then I reloaded it.”
He never pulled the trigger, Yero told the Staten Island gathering.
Instead, he sought out the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance, a nonprofit focused on helping cops cope with their gut-wrenching experiences.
“They saved my life,” Yero said at POPPA’s two-day seminar.
More than 50 police officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants attended the seminar, which came in the wake of suicides by at least three cops last year — among them a veteran detective who killed himself inside his Queens home.
In April 2021, two other police officers also took their lives, one inside his Manhattan apartment and the other, an NYPD precinct commander, in his department vehicle.
In 2019, 10 city cops committed suicide.
POPPA said it plans to hold more seminars for those in need.
For Yero, his trauma came from the horrific cases he worked on.
Just one day before Thanksgiving in 2009, the veteran cop worked a case where a 2-month-old boy was found buried in a concrete container.
In 2011, he investigated the case of a missing 8-year-old boy whose body was found in a suitcase — and the youngster’s feet inside a freezer, he told the POPPA audience.
“I started drinking more every day, as soon as I got home from work,” he said. “It got to the point where I gained weight. My suits didn’t fit. I had high blood pressure, cholesterol and became a diabetic. Things were bad at home.”
Founded in 1996, POPPA puts traumatized cops like Yero in touch with mental-health professionals — literally saving their lives. It also relies on specially trained volunteer officers and former cops to help their Finest comrades.
“Cops are exposed to horrific incidents every day,” Dr. Jennifer Taylor, a clinical psychologist, said at the seminar. “It can be overwhelming. We try to help them cope. We look for red flags.
“We look for signs of PTSD, ask them if there have been changes in their eating, sleeping habits,” Taylor said. “You have to get them over the stigma of seeking help.”
POPPA Director John Petrullo, a retired NYPD cop, said the group gets between 600 to 700 calls every year from active cops — and hundreds more from retired cops.
The department averages four or five suicides every year, he said.
“We hope to teach participants how to take better care of themselves, deal with stress, learn how to separate their job from their outside life,” Petrullo said.
“We are dealing with a population that is resistant to mental health,” he said. “We have to try to make them understand it is alright to seek and get help.”
Brooke DiPalma said she still remembers the last time she saw her then-cop father — one of the department’s hundreds of officers who struggled with trauma.
Then just 14, DiPalma said, her dad dropped her off at school April 23, 2010, telling her, ‘I love you.’ ” She told him, “I love you back.”
She ran in the school and never saw her father alive again. She was pulled out of class at 11 a.m. and was told her dad had committed suicide.
I was in shock,” DiPalma, who spoke at the seminar, told The Post. “The whole family, his friends were in shock. How could this happen? My father loved to have a party. He was the life of the party, wherever, whatever he did. I was totally distraught for months.”
Seven months later, DiPalma, recalling her father’s last words to her, joined with classmates to create “P.S. I Love You Day,” which is held the second Friday every February to combat bullying, depression and, ultimately, suicide.
A young cop recalled at the seminar of getting a call from a fellow officer who wanted to talk — but she had no time to chat, as she was getting on a plane to go out of town.
“When I got back a week later, I found out he committed suicide,” she said. “I felt terrible. Maybe if I had talked to him I could’ve helped him. POPPA helped me through that.
“I have known cops who thought about suicide, and POPPA helped them,” she added. “I know firsthand how they have helped me and others. We have a stressful job and sometimes you need outside help.”
Retired NYPD Lt. Rich Mack, a peer support officer with POPPA, said he joined the group after a cop friend involved in a shooting became distraught.
“I also knew cops that needed help and never got it — their problems escalated, and they got into more trouble, and some were fired,” Mack said. “Things might have turned out different if they had help.
“I have known people with drinking problems,” he said. “I have talked to close to 200 people and during 9/11 I assisted close to 1,000 cops.”
Cops seeking help can reach out to POPPA at 1-800-COPSCOP.
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