Now it’s clear: police suicides and the mental health issues that lead to these tragedies are endemic that have shattered departments across the country.
According to studies, more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, and police officers are 54% more likely to kill themselves than those working in other professions.
Chicago is far from immune. A 2017 US Department of Justice report found the city’s officer suicide rate was 60% higher than the national law enforcement average.
This month so far, three Chicago police officers – Sgt. Andrew Dodba and officers Durand Lee and Patricia Swank – died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Two of those officers just died this weekend. So far this year, four officers have committed suicide.
The loss of those lives is a sobering reminder that the mental health needs of the men and women in blue must remain at the forefront of top brass priorities.
In the wake of deaths and criticism that overworked officers are having their days off routinely cancelled, Superintendent. David Brown assured the public on Monday that providing help to mentally challenged officers is an issue the department takes seriously.
Another mental health professional will start at CPD on Friday, and two more will start next month, joining the group of 11 licensed clinicians who currently provide round-the-clock services to current and former employees and their families.
Eventually, the department will hire eight additional counselors, ensuring that each of the 22 districts has a designated mental health professional, Tom Schuba of the Sun-Times reported.
The department is also in the process of hiring a chief medical officer “as part of additional management oversight” of the counseling plan, Brown said, adding that support is also available through a patient assistance program. employees and chaplaincy services.
This is encouraging news when the lives of police officers are at stake and could potentially crumble due to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
Agents who deal with these issues are prone to physically lash out at home, and when they’re at work, they’re likely candidates for misconduct, according to a 2021 report on agent wellbeing by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
An officer with an untreated mental health issue is certainly not suited to deal with a member of the public who may be going through a crisis themselves.
“Discourage any sign of weakness”
It is equally important to continue to assert that it is acceptable to disagree – that it is just as heroic and courageous for an officer to seek advice to save his own life as it is for him to save that of another. This message must be constantly conveyed to those who serve and protect.
Some officers believe asking for advice is a sign of weakness and fear being ostracized if they reach out, according to the 2017 Justice Department report. A sergeant quoted in the report said officers are unwilling signal when their partners are in crisis, because they don’t want to be known as “rats”.
This stigma is what keeps 90% of officers from reaching out, according to a national study last year that analyzed police mental health and behaviors related to it.
“The culture of law enforcement discourages any sign of weakness, including asking for help,” as Jason Johnson, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and veteran former police officer, wrote the year last in a Sun-Times editorial. “He often failed to meet the human needs of the officers.”
If the shame around mental health — which Brown acknowledged on Monday — isn’t eliminated from the culture of CPD, the guidance and safeguards put in place will be for naught.
Alexa James, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago and the department’s former senior wellness adviser, also warned that canceling days off is detrimental to officers who deal with trauma day in and day out at the work.
Brown said curtailing furloughs had been routine for decades and was necessary to keep the streets safe. The shortage of officers did not help the situation.
This is a clear sign that more hiring, as well as better deployment strategies, are also needed. Relying on canceled days off to keep the streets safe is not sustainable.
Cooperation and a focus on the mental and physical health of officers are things the city needs to take seriously – for the welfare of officers and for the city that relies on them to serve and protect.
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