There were 124 law enforcement fatalities (LODD) nationwide in 2015. 51 officers were killed in felonious incidents; 42 of these officers were shot and killed. 73 officers died as a result of non-felonious incidents. The good news is that the number of felonious deaths this year decreased 16% from last year. However, there were many more lost LEO lives last year than the above 124 who will be honored at the National Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15, 2016 I Washington DC.
According to a Badge of Life study there were 51 deaths by suicide of law enforcement officers in the last six months of 2015. That would indicate that approximately 102 law enforcement suicides occurred last year. The good news is that deaths by suicide decreased for law enforcement officers in 2015 compared to the last study in 2012 by 19%. While these represent a good trend; it is simply not good enough.
Law enforcement suicide is real and yet the police culture continues to ignore the facts. The #1 one killer of police officers is law enforcement suicide. Law enforcement suicide occurs 1.5 times more frequently compared to the general population.
The Badge of Life has completed 3 previous full year studies yielding the following results:
- 141 in 2008
- 143 in 2009
- 126 in 2012
*Approximation of 102 in 2015 (based on 6-month study)
The last full year study (2012) broke down the 126 suicides into the following statistical data:
- Average age of officers dying by suicide was 42
- Average time on the job for officers dying by suicide was 16 years
- 15% – 18% (150,000) of officers suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress
- 91% of suicides were by male officers
- 63% of officers dying by suicide were single
- 11% of officers dying by suicide were military veterans
- Firearms were used in 91.5% of police suicides
- In 83% of the police officer suicides, personal problems appear prevalent prior to the suicide
- 11% of the police officers dying by suicide had legal problems pending
- California and New York had the highest reported police suicides
PTSD and Suicide
Not every call ends when the paperwork is filed. PTSD is far more rampant in law enforcement than anyone is really willing to discuss. PTSD statistics for law enforcement officers are hard to obtain, but range from 4-14%. The discrepancy in this range may be due to underreporting. Living through a traumatic event is hard enough for an officer, admitting that you are having problems related to that event is even harder. There are an estimated 150,000 officers who have symptoms of PTSD. Actually, recent research indicates that 1/3 of active-duty and retired officers suffer from post-traumatic stress; but most don't even realize it. Law enforcement officers are also at a much higher rate of developing a cumulative form of PTSD related to their exposure to multiple traumatic events. For every police suicide, almost 1,000 officers continue to work while suffering the painful symptoms of PTSD.
Call to Duty
The police profession can no longer ignore the silent suffering of officers with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can no longer be a shameful secret in the law enforcement culture; it is an established reality. The effects of PTSD need to be openly acknowledged and discussed in every law enforcement agency. Preventing police suicide is every officer’s and every department’s responsibility.
LEO Suicide Warning Signs (Chae and Boyle, 2013)
- The officer is talking about suicide or death, and even glorifying death.
- Officer is giving direct verbal cues such as “I wish I were dead” and “I am going to end it all.”
- Officer is 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?”
- The officer is self-isolating from friends and family.
- The officer is expressing the belief that life is meaningless or hopeless.
- The officer starts giving away cherished possessions.
- The officer is exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn.
- The officer is neglecting his/her appearance and hygiene.
- The officer is annoyed that they are going to do something that will ruin his/her career, but that they don’t care.
- Officer openly discusses that he/she feels out of control.
- The officer displays behavior changes that include appearing hostile, blaming, argumentative, and insubordinate or they appear passive, defeated, and hopeless.
- The officer develops a morbid interest in suicide or homicide.
- The officer indicates that he/she is overwhelmed and cannot find solutions to his/her problems.
- The officer asks another officer to keep his/her weapon.
- The officer is acting out of character by inappropriately using or displaying his/her weapon unnecessarily.
- The officer exhibits reckless behavior by taking unnecessary risks on the job and/or in his/her personal lives. The officer acts like he/she has a death wish.
- The officer carries weapons in a reckless, unsafe manner.
- The officer exhibits deteriorating job performance.
- The officer has recent issues with alcohol and/or drugs.
It is important for law enforcement leaders to identify these warning signs to establish a profile of potential at-risk officers and proactively intervene by providing mental health resources and departmental support. If you, as an officer, have noticed one or more of the above behaviors in a colleague, do something now. Ask the officer what is going on in his/her life. Ask if they are okay and how he/she is handling a current stressor. Ask them if they feel depressed, and ask them about suicidal thoughts. Help them get the help they need before they take a life - their own. If they won't seek help on their own go to a trusted supervisor with your concerns. Yes, this is one situation where you may have to break the code of silence. If something is still not being done, go to someone else: the chaplain, your union representative, the department clinician. You are willing to go to any lengths for an officer who needs assistance on a call; you are willing to risk your life for him at every scene. Do something today to prevent the loss of an officer by his or her own hands.
If you are an officer who is hurting and contemplating suicide, reach out now. There are many people who really do care about you, who really do want to help you, who don't want to attend your funeral. Seeking help is a sign of strength not of weakness. It is the first step in reestablishing control in your life. Always remember when there is life there is hope.
- Safe Call Now (crisis hotline specifically for first responders) 1-206–-459-3020.
- COPLINE ("There is always a cop on the other end of the line”) 1 -800-267-5463.
A Hopeful and Encouraging Trend
The statistical change over the course of four studies by the Badge of Life suggests that, as a profession, we are headed in the right direction. Ron Clark (Chairman of the Board at Badge if Life) suggests this change “is possibly due to the positive influences of peer support, voluntary mental health checks, classroom training and ongoing literature”.
2016 Study in Progress Now
The Badge of Life needs your help tracking police suicides again for its 4th annual study in the 2016 calendar year. They are asking that police personnel, private citizens, dispatchers, teachers, clinicians and others report law enforcement suicides as they happen. They will use this information to identify and classify these deaths in order to further develop and evaluate prevention programs. They will not publish the names of individuals or the names of the law enforcement departments in their study. To report these tragedies please contact Rom Clark at email@example.com.
Time to Change the Stigma of Police Officer Suicides
I attended the 2015 Police Memorial Week last year in Washington DC. The role-call included 127 of line of duty deaths (LODD) in 2014. That, however, did not include the officers who had fallen due to mental health issues brought on by duty related events. These LEOs also deserve to be recognized and honored for their services and sacrifices. These individuals put up a courageous battle for as long as they could, and also belong on the wall of heroes.
***In Loving Memory to the fine men and women, who dedicated themselves to helping others and saving lives, yet tragically took their own. It's not how you died, but how you lived.
For additional information I recommend the following video: Breaking the Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement