San Diego When San Diego police captain Lesli Lord killed herself on August 25, Joanne Archambault was furious. "I went home raging about who would do this to their children," says Archambault, a sergeant in SDPD's sex crimes division. "But I have a sister who's manic depressive. She happened to be home the day Lesli killed herself. And she quickly put me in my place. She said, 'People who do this are obviously in a psychotic episode. They feel that their children are better off without them because they've sunk to such low [self-esteem], their perception of themselves is so bad at that point.' "
But why would a fast-track cop like Lesli Lord sink so low? She was a success story in the SDPD, one of the department's top five women. Why would she take her own life? Because of the stress, says Archambault, stress every cop shares. Because, she believes, the city won't help cops coordinate home life with stressful police work. "Bottom line is they want you to have these [university] degrees. Most of us come on [the police force] at age 21, 22, so you're supposed to be involved with the community off-duty, plus you're supposed to go to school, get your advanced degrees [if you want to be promoted], and yet you're supposed to work 45 and 50 hours a week. It's really nice to be able to say that 'We think family's important,' but I'm not sure how much we support that [in the department]."
And Archambault's not just talking about female cops. The day after Lord shot herself, 37-year-old detective Tony Castellini committed suicide. He was also reportedly a model cop. He also reportedly had family problems.
After the two deaths, a distraught Police Chief Jerry Sanders said he was determined to take "aggressive action to address the problems that place such heavy emotional burdens on police," according to the Union-Tribune.
Stress is certainly part of Archambault's job. "I supervise sex crimes. We have 13 detectives in here. There's another sergeant. We handle all felony sexual assaults in the city of San Diego, and then we handle the sex-offender registration program. It's a very high-stress job, a lot of tragic circumstances, and working with high-profile cases. Sex crimes, like child abuse, but 14 and above. We deal with all of it -- in-house, out-of-house, strangers, just straight rape, hot prowls, kidnappings -- you name it."
Archambault says she gets midnight calls. "The [officers] call me up and ask, 'What do I do?' Any time there's a major incident, like a rape, and they don't know what to do out in the field, we're available to the field officers, 24 hours a day."
That sort of intrusion carries over to her marriage -- her second. Her first was to a cop. Now she's married to a "civilian," a commercial landscaper. "He copes well with the phone ringing five and six times a night sometimes, which must be really stressful. I know there are nights when Rick, my [police] partner, doesn't sleep in the same room with his wife when he's on duty, because she can't get back to sleep after he gets called."
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There came a moment in Lesli Lord's and Joanne Archambault's lives when they knew they were going to have to make a decision between career and family. Lesli Lord went one way; Joanne Archambault went the other. Lord rose to captain. Archambault remains a sergeant.
"My decision to have a child came with the decision that this job wasn't all-important to me," says Archambault. "If I died today, what would I have missed out on? If I'm just going to school every night and working, the people that mean the most to me -- which are my family and my loved ones -- I haven't been able to be with because I'm doing all this crap over here. So for me it was just making that decision.
"When I came on the [police] department at 22, I'd done a lot of traveling, I was the bottle on the ocean bobbing around whichever way the waves took me. Then, all of a sudden, I'm almost 40, and I can't bob around anymore. You've got this biological clock ticking here. It was now or never.
"I made the conscious decision to stop going to school. I had 170-some units. And that could definitely hurt you [professionally]. The [top brass] are looking at people with advanced degrees [for promotion]. I speak Spanish and Portuguese. I could have gotten a degree in Spanish and rode through.... Sometimes it's all the hoops. I seriously think this department needs to look at the hoops that we put up. How we tend to try to cut people out of the herd. So, in the meantime, [officers] are just giving everything to this job [to make the cut].
"It would be interesting to do a poll of the ranking officers on this department to see how much [unused] leave they have on the books. Because they don't take their leave! I know that my captain, who was just promoted, was telling us that he was maxed out on the books, and any more leave that he accrued, he was going to lose. [The department] just keeps demanding more."
Archambault, on the other hand, took her leaves. "That's one thing that my first husband and I did really well. We did take really nice vacations."
And since she had her daughter in November 1996, she's cut back on her hours too. "I went back to the five-eight -- working five days a week and eight hours a day versus the ten, because the ten was just getting too stressful. I was getting home at a quarter to seven, and [my daughter] was so young, I'd put her in bed by eight o'clock, and I'd have an hour a day with her. That's all. [Now] I get home at 4:30, 4:40 at the latest.
"But the problem is that I'm very limited. For example, I couldn't work homicide right now. Because I can't go on call-out. A lot of us find this. My husband leaves for work at five o'clock in the morning, so if I got called out for a homicide at three [in the morning], there's no way. There'd be no one at home. I would have to go back to having a nanny, which is very expensive. I'm just very limited to where I can go [professionally] right now."