Dead by His Own Hand

He's drinking too much. She's talking about eating her gun. As the mother hen, what can you do to help when an officer is hurting?

  • Unrelenting low mood
  • Hopelessness
  • Pessimism
  • Desperation
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Making a plan
  • Unexpected rage or anger

This is not an exhaustive list. As a dispatcher, you might observe these signs in different ways, such as an officer telling you he doesn't have anything to live for or one who is usually very safe who starts going solo to dangerous calls. Any changes in behavior could be a sign. There are things a dispatcher who is concerned can do. Doing nothing is not an option.

"If an officer is suicidal, you need to be confrontive," says Dr. Lorraine Greene, manager of the behavioral health service division of the Metro Nashville Police department. "Don't be afraid to ask the question." Be prepared if the answer is 'yes.' Have helpful information on hand, such as resources within the department, such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Peer Support Unit (PSU) numbers available. Also, know what resources exist outside of the department. Sites such as Tears of a Cop and The Heavy Badge all have excellent resources. Find out who the officer is close to, maybe a fellow officer or a family member, and let them know your concerns. You don't have to go to a supervisor, but you do need to seek help somewhere. A department chaplain is also an excellent resource. Most dispatchers won't sit back and listen as an officer calls for help on the radio, and do nothing. Handle a suicidal call for help the same way.

Sometimes the signs are missed or did not exist. When this happens and an officer loses his or her life at their own hand, survivors are left to heal. Support the officer's family. Support their co-workers. Suicide is a choice that person made. But, that choice does not encompass the whole person. Honor their memory. Be aware and have the resources. Hopefully, a next time won't occur, but if it comes up, be ready.

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