St. Albans cop’s suicide brings issue to surface

An police officer committed suicide on Sunday. This is the fifth suicide by an active uniformed NYPD officer this year.
Photo by Mary Altaffer/AP
By Naeisha Rose

The suicide death of a 37-year-old male police officer at his home Sunday in St. Albans was the fifth in the city this year by an active, uniformed member of law enforcement, according to the NYPD, matching the total from all of 2016.

Police arrived on the scene and pronounced the man DOA from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to authorities.

There were a total of 108 suicides amongst officers nationally in 2016, according to a study on badgeoflife.com, a website that tracks suicides amongst police officers across the country. The site is managed by Ron Clark, a retired Sergeant for the Conneticut State Police, who is a licensed registered nurse and has a Masters degree in counseling from Central Connecticut State University.

That national figure was a 14 percent reduction compared to 2012, when there were 126, according to the study.

“We have roughly 875,000 officers in the United States,” Clark said. “For every suicide, we estimate that there are 85,000 to 100,000 active law enforcement officers who are active duty that are diagnosable for PTSD. That’s a frightening number.”

California had the highest number of law enforcement suicides, with New York being second, according to the National Surveillance of Police Suicide Study on the badgeoflife.com website.

Middle-aged men who were high-ranking and on the job for almost two decades accounted for most of the suicides in 2016, according to NSOPS.

The average age of officers who committed suicide was 42 and the average veteran was on the job for 17-years. Approximatley 87 percent were male, and 22 percent of law enforcement suicides were ranked sergeants or above. In 2016, five of those were chiefs, according to NSOPS.

Clark believes that if post traumatic stress disorder was covered by worker’s compensation for police, there would be fewer suicides among officers.

“Mental illness is still in the 1800s in the United States and is stigmatized to the zenith,” Clark said. “If officers had [worker’s compensation] they would come forward. You wouldn’t expect an officer to walk the beat with a broken leg, that would be ridiculous. So what would you do if you had a broken mind?”

The NYPD has been actively trying to combat suicide amongst its men and women in blue by initiating an “Are you OK?” campaign in 2014.

“The premise is that the men and women of the NYPD are dedicated to helping people in crisis every single day, they also need to make sure they are taking care of themselves,” according to an NYPD spokesperson. “The campaign also promotes external options for support such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line. As part of this outreach campaign, the NYPD created a handout card that provides officer suicide warning signs with tips on engaging a fellow officer.”

The NYPD has an Employee Assistant Unit and Chaplains Unit to help officers, according to a spokesperson.

“Departments should also have an active program to study emotional wellness as well as physical wellness,” said Clark.

There is also the Police Officers Providing Peer Assistance program, which is not a part of the NYPD, but the department endorses the support initiative. It consists of active and retired NYPD members volunteering their advice to those that need the help.

The NYPD also has a Twitter account through its “Are you Ok?” program called @TalktoMe.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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