For the third straight year, police officer suicides exceed all combined causes of line-of-duty deaths, according to statistics released by the group BlueH.E.L.P.
In 2018, at least 159 officers died by suicide, nine percent more than the total number of line-of-duty deaths resulting from 15 other causes such as felonious assault, patrol vehicle accident, heart attack, duty-related illness.
“The reports of 144 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during 2018 is a tremendous loss,” said Jeff McGill, co-founder of BlueH.E.L.P., an organization that tracks officer suicides while simultaneously seeking to prevent such tragedies from occurring.
“As tragic as these duty deaths are, the single greatest cause of death for law enforcement officers each year is suicide,” McGill added.
California (12), Texas (12) and Florida/New York (10) had the highest number of officer suicides. At least 12 officers killed themselves on duty—in their patrol car or at their agency.
Of the 2018 officers who died as a result of suicide, 151 were male and 8 were female. The average age was 41 years with an average length of 15 years of service.
In December alone, 20 officers died by suicide. In contrast, there were 10 line-of-duty deaths.
December was not an unusual month. Deaths by suicide exceeded all combined causes of duty death nearly every month in 2018.
Nor was 2018 an unusual year. Last year, the number of officers dying by suicide was 159. In contrast, the total number of duty deaths in 2017 was 137—roughly half of those deaths were the result of felonious assault such as gunfire, vehicular assault, and the like.
Other causes included patrol vehicle accidents, heart attacks, duty-related illness, and others.
In fact, the ratio of felonious deaths to other causes has remained at about 1:1 for decades.
“We’ve collected as much information as we possibly can on the names of officers who die by suicide every year,” said Steven Hough, co-founder of Blue H.E.L.P.
“The problem is, we know there are other tragic deaths by suicide that we don’t know about. So as bad a number as we have this year, we’re saddened by the fact that we know in reality the number is higher,” Hough added.
BlueH.E.L.P. has pushed to improve the availability of mental health resources for officers across the country and to normalize the treatment of post-traumatic stress symptoms.
“There is very little money being spent to reduce the numbers of officer suicides,” said Karen Solomon, co-founder of BlueH.E.L.P. “We hope that by raising awareness about the scope of this problem—and shining a light on the need for increased mental health resources directed to officers approaching crisis—we can ultimately reduce the number of officers who die by suicide.”
Solomon concluded, “Taking a real stance on officer safety will require us to address the elephant in the room. Addressing officer wellness which includes spiritual, mental, social, and physical health should be the number one priority for each agency head in 2019.”
The statistics released herein are based on preliminary data compiled by Blue H.E.L.P. and do not represent a final list of individual officers who died as a result of suicide during 2018.
Information provided by BlueH.E.L.P.