Thanks to American Police Beat and the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association for putting the issue of police officer suicides on the “front page”. On the front page of their February 2011 edition, American Police Beat magazine features an article by Gary Delagnes the president of the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association entitled: “We need to talk about suicides”.
Police officer suicides are an issue that is long since overdue for serious discussion within our profession. We need active discussion, awareness training and action because If we don’t care about it, who will. We are leaving a legacy for our police families to deal with because we are too ignorant or afraid to handle the fact that more of our brothers and sisters are falling at their own hands than are being murdered in the line of duty. This is an issue that should be discussed in Command Staff meetings as much as in Roll Call sessions about the world. CLICK HERE for a copy of our Roll Call discussion guide.
Statistics indicate that somewhere between 2-6 times more officers kill themselves each year than are killed by the bad guys.
A quarter of female police officers and nearly as many male officers assigned to shift work had thought about taking their own lives, a study of police work patterns and stress has shown*.
What to Do?
We Need to Discuss This Topic Now. It should be a part of Roll Call Training and at every level of your organization. We should ask:
Did You Know Someone Who Committed Suicide?
Have You Ever Contemplated Suicide Yourself?
How Should We Help Someone We Think May Be Contemplating Suicide?
Possible Warning Signs of Impending Suicide**
Talking about suicide or death
Giving direct verbal cues, such as “I wish I were dead” and “I’m going to end it all”
Giving less direct verbal cues, such as “What’s the point of living?”, “Soon you won’t have to worry about me,” and “Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?”
Isolating him- or herself from friends and family
Expressing the belief that life is meaningless or hopeless
Giving away cherished possessions
Exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn
Neglecting his or her appearance and hygiene
Warning Signs Specific to Cops**
Announce that they are going to do something that will ruin their careers, but that they don’t care.
Admit that they feel out of control.
Appear hostile, blaming, argumentative, and insubordinate OR appear passive, defeated, and hopeless.
Develop a morbid interest in suicide or homicide.
Indicate that they are overwhelmed and cannot find solutions to their problems.
Ask another officer to keep their weapon OR inappropriately use or display their weapon.
Begin behaving recklessly and taking unnecessary risks, on the job and/or in their personal lives.
Carry more weapons than is appropriate.
Exhibit deteriorating job performance (which may be the result of alcohol or drug abuse).
**Source: The Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Addiction to alcohol and sometimes prescription pain medications also can be a huge warning sign to problems leading up to a police officer’s suicide. A Chicago police department study documented alcohol abuse in 60% of police officer suicides.
In many cases other officers are left saying: “wow, I saw the problem growing and should have done something earlier”
If you feel that you are struggling with your own problems contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other health care or support provider or seek that help for one of your peers that is in trouble.
Build a strong network of support with families of your officers and staff. They are the first line of defense against police suicide and are also an amazing resource for your agency if you build that network early. CLICK HERE for our CopsAlive suggestions on starting a family support network within your organization.
Also visit the website of The Law Enforcement Family Support Network at http://lawenforcementfamilysupport.org/
They advocate on behalf of law enforcement families so that they may have the tools, education and support needed to remain healthy and connected. They also provide education and resources for officers, family members, departments and policy makers to understand and address the educational needs and cumulative stress issues of the law enforcement profession.
There are many peer to peer support networks out there and you can find them in many agencies now. Contact yours, or if need be, start a new one. The Critical Incident Stress Foundation or CISM International can offer guidance.
“True Blue Valor” – In our Law Enforcement Survival Institute Training Sessions we talk about the concept of “True Blue Valor”. True Blue Valor is when a cop has the courage to confront a buddy who is slipping professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. If you think it takes courage to confront an armed suspect, consider what it would take for you to confront one of your friends about their problems which are affecting their lives and job performance. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to foster and nurture the concept of True Blue Valor.
The Important Thing About Family & Peer Support Networks is Than You Have to Build Them NOW Before a Problem Arises!
If You Need Help Call Now!
Safe Call Now (206) 459-3020 or visit their website to learn more: http://www.safecallnow.org/
Safe Call Now was founded and is run by public safety employees. These are people from Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, Corrections, Civilian Support Staff and their Families, who want to help their peers in crisis. If you need help CALL THEM!
CopLine – 1-800-267-5463 – http://www.copline.org
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
CLICK HERE to download the CopsAlive 10 Minute Roll Call Training Topic: “Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention: Take Charge”. This is one of our Single Topic Training sessions designed to enable you to provide short but powerful training on a variety of topics in as little as ten minutes. This makes it easier to fit training into busy shift schedules and give officers a chance to discuss important, job related or self improvement topics.
Sources of Information on Police Suicide:
National Police Suicide Foundation http://www.psf.org/
Badge of Life http://www.badgeoflife.com/suicides.php
Pain Behind the Badge at www.thepainbehindthebadge.com/
Check out the book:
Police Suicide: Tactics for Prevention by Dell P. Hackett and John M. Violanti, Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Springfield, Illinois, 2003
Above all don’t let one more police suicide occur. Do your part today to protect your friends and loved ones. CopsAlive was founded after one of my peers committed suicide, and I wish that I had know more and done more before that happened.
CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.
We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond. We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career.
The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals. It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.
CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.
*Results of the study appear in the October 2008 edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Source: http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/10/19/42041.aspx
**Source: The Suicide Prevention Resource Center