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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Attempts to Prevent the High Police Suicide Rate

USATODAY.com: The California Highway Patrol is developing training for suicide awareness and prevention after eight troopers killed themselves in eight months last year, for a total of 13 since September 2003. The CHP toll is "the largest cluster I've seen for a department that size," says Robert Douglas, executive director of the National Police Suicide Foundation.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police is circulating a proposal to make suicide prevention tools available to all of the nation's nearly 18,000 state and local police agencies. "Current police culture … tends to be entirely avoidant of the issue," leaving suicidal officers with "no place to turn," a draft of the proposal says.

The suicide foundation says it has verified an average of 450 law enforcement suicides in each of the last three years, compared with about 150 officers who died annually in the line of duty. Douglas says no more than 2% of the nation's law enforcement agencies have prevention programs.

Suicide rates for police — at least 18 per 100,000 — are higher than for the general population, according to Audrey Honig, chief psychologist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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Having suffered, and still suffering from, PTSD myself, I am well aware of the toll it takes on you and your family. The last straw for me took place on 06/06/2004 and I am still in therapy. I have seen first hand the effects of this disease and am well aware of the lack of understanding as well as the inadequate treatment that is available to the line officer that finds himself in this situation. I was one of the few that was able to retire with relatively few obstacles to overcome. I worked for a small department, 15 officers, and there was little help available for this type of problem. Oh we had a hostage negotiation team, a SWAT team, a drug unit (with no drug problem I might add), but when it came to taking care of the officers themselves it just wasn't a priority. After returning from a seminar on Critical Incident Stress Management I wanted to set up a unit to help with these issues and was told there weren't any funds available. When I offered to do it for free I was told there just wasn't time to deal with it. In our village the major issue is suicide. We seem to kill ourselves at a greater rate then most cities our size. Being a city of less than 5000 people there is a better than average chance that when you show up at a suicide scene you will likely know that person. It might even be a friend of yours. This happened to me many times. I believe that the single most important thing that a department can do for its officer is to set up a COMPLETELY separate unit where an officer can go to talk about what is bothering him or her before it gets so bad that you find yourself sitting in your living room with a bottle in one hand and a pistol in the other. The main reason that most officers won't seek help is because they know that they will be labeled as being weak, nuts, ect. and may well lose their job. That unit, while having access to mental health professionals, should be staffed with other cops whether active duty or retired and they should have no degrees or licenses of any kind. They should, however, be someone that has survived PTSD and understands the affect of same sort of like Alcoholics Anonymous. Under these circumstances the officer could feel comfortable talking about things that he or she might otherwise not want to talk about. With the assistance of some friends of mine in the medical profession as well as the judicial profession I am going to try and start up a group such as this and see how it goes. Considering that one of kills themselves every 24 hours or so, and that figure seems to remain pretty much constant, it would appear that the things that we are doing now simply aren't working. I truly believe that if we can get to the suffering officer sooner it might be possible to help he or she recover faster, suffer less, and possibly even make it possible for them to return to duty. It's a situation where everyone wins. A little time spent on prevention is a lot less expensive then replacing a trained, experienced police officer. I only added the last part because the bottom line seems to be all that police management, pension funds, and insurance companies care about. It's time to start taking care of those that take care of us and talking about it isn't going to get the job done.

Posted by: Det. W. Lockridge Ret. | Feb 26, 2007 8:42:51 AM

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