Fellow officers must be willing to get involved, Kates emphasizes. He says officers can take a number of approaches in this effort. They might take the onus off themselves and relate an instance where they were having problems and talked to their priest, therapist or wife. Or they might say, "I noticed you're not quite on your game and what you went through was pretty big. Do you want to talk?," he says.
Like most problems, a little communication goes a long way. Supervisors, coworkers and family members must be trained and willing to talk. Supervisors must be encouraged to deal with solvable stress-related problems at an administrative level. Resources should be offered and followed up on, but unless an officer commits an act contrary to his oath, disciplinary action should be avoided. This is especially important if a department wants to quell officers' fears of seeking help and losing their job.
Even though quantification of police suicide has divided many professionals, they all have one thing in common: saving lives. "We are killing ourselves faster than the bad guys are," Meador says, "It's such a tragedy. Just open your eyes and heart for just a minute."
The IACP is putting together a clearinghouse of best practices for prevention and intervention. "A lot of agencies around the country have terrific programs and everyone is kind of reinventing their own wheel," Honig states. "We need to refine it and make the information available to all agencies."
Many police suicides can be prevented with awareness and access to accurate information and support services. Unfortunately, as Gillan points out, "Until we can talk about this in an open form, sit down and talk about what is going on in our family, we won't be able to resolve any issues." If breaking through stigma and old ways of perception can save the life of just one of our brothers or sisters, it is worth the effort.
Additional written resources
"Death with no Valor" by Robert Douglas
"Police Suicide: Tactics for Prevention 2003" by Dell Hackett and John Violanti
"CopShock: Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)" by Allen R. Kates
"Police Suicide: Epidemic in Blue," 2nd Edition, by John Violanti
-All books listed are available online at www.amazon.com.
Additional online resources
Central Florida Police Stress Unit
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation
Love a Cop
National P.O.L.I.C.E Suicide Foundation
Tears of a Cop
The Heavy Badge
Warning signs of suicide
The following are some signs of suicidal intentions from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
- Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, pills or other means.
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking.
- Feeling trapped - like there's no way out.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society.
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
Michelle Perin is a freelance writer who worked as a police telecommunications operator with the Phoenix (Arizona) Police Department for eight years. Currently, she is working on her M.A. in Criminology from Indiana State University. For more information visit www.thewritinghand.net.