Police Suicide Is A Growing National Problem
Stress is working on law enforcement everywhere in the country. Not many agencies want to talk publicly.
“It’s hard to put your arms around the challenge when so few are willing to speak out,” said Philadelphia Councilman Michael Nutter. “Everybody knows it’s a significant problem. Not many will discuss it.”
New York City officials are aware and have taken a proactive stance. Alarmed by the number of suicides among cops, the city developed a new program to recruit, train and monitor cops willing to serve as peer counselors.
With more than 30,000 officers suicides in the city’s law enforcement ranks has risen. In 2016, fourteen uniformed officers killed themselves. Others attempted suicided buy alert officers intervened.
New York City officers kill themselves at a rate of 29, per 100K annually. The general population sees a rate of 12 per 100K. Most of the law enforcement incidents are y oung males without a record of misconduct, and they shoot themselves off duty.
Across the country, about twice as many cops, about 300 each year, commit suicide as are killed in the line of duty.
Philadelphia cops may receive help from the department’s Employee Assistance Program. Officers go to the EAP with concerns ranging from job stress to personal issues which have become overwhelming.
A clinical psychologist, Michael Broader, has woked with the EAP since July and said the job dynamics often lead officers to kill themselves. Having a weapon handy and at their disposal at all times plays a role as well.
Alcohol is occasionally a favor as are troubled marriages and relationships. Many cops live with additional pressure from families who complain they are never at home.
Philadelphia police deny keeping statistics, so it’s difficult to determine why cops take their own lives.
Gus Carre, the EAP’s commanding officer, points out that stress among cops is not out of the ordinary. “It’s a difficult job and made more difficult by the people which officers deal with every day.”
Cops see a steady stream of the gritty underside of life most persons seldom see. They are first at the scene when babies are killed, wives are battered or when addicts die of an overdose. It all tallies up.
Several years ago in Northeast Philadelphia, a cop sat with his gun pressed to his temple for four hours. Finally, a fellow police officer talked him into putting his gun down.
Not every situation is easily resolved. Several times in 2016 Philadelphia cops killed themselves before help appeared.
Many cops throughout the nation refuse to see help fearing it will result in being labeled weak. “Cops are always high on the list of suicide groups,” says Mort Feldman, vice president of the chiefs’ group. Feldman, copy in Florida for thirty-years, adds, “This is a national problem. We need to separate the EAP from the police department.”
To avoid stigmatizing families many suicides by law enforcement officers go unreported. Another reason is to allow family members to collect insurance claims and additional compensation as suicide is typically not an insurable event.
Feldman admits his organization doesn’t keep statistics on police suicides “because I know we wouldn’t be given accurate numbers.”
While Philadelphia police refuse to share numbers they are aware of how many cops kill themselves. While management may believe hiding the problem will make it go away, the truth may the number of incidents are higher than most think.