The Badge of Life (BOL) just released their initial report on law enforcement suicides over the past year. The good news is that the police suicide rate dropped in 2012 when compared to 2009 (the last time a study was completed). The bad news is it didn’t drop enough. 126 law enforcement officers committed suicide last year. Additionally, in 2012, 129 officers “died in the line on duty”. This is sad folks. Way too many officers are dying. And even worse, cops are killing themselves at the same rate as they do in the line of duty.
This national study of police suicides (NSOPS) has only completed two other studies related to police suicide, those were in 2008 and 2009. There were 141 suicides and 143 suicides respectively. So yes, compared, to 3 years ago there has been a 12% drop in the suicide rate. Whereas, the “in the line of duty” deaths dropped 22% in 2012 compared to 2011. I don’t know how many of the in line of duty deaths could have been deemed preventable. I do know that every single death by suicide by was preventable. The average age of the suicidal officers was 42 years, the average years on the job was 16.
Suicides can happen in any profession, but they occur 1.5 times more frequently in law enforcement compared to the general population. LEOs kill themselves at a rate of 18/100,000 vs. 12/100,000 of the rest of the US. Quite truthfully, the actual rate is probably higher as law enforcement suicides are more likely to be underreported or misclassified as accidental deaths. This misclassification usually occurs to protect the family, other survivors, or the agency from the stigma of suicide.
It will take us several months for the Badge of Life to evaluate all of their data and case profiles. But so far they are crediting the decreased suicide rate to an increase in the number of departments adopting peer support programs and the increased willingness of officers to seek professional assistance as needed.
A tragic example of a high profile enforcement officer suicide this year was the case of NYPD’s Sgt. Stephanie Moses. Moses represented the NYPD at numerous public events, including President Barack Obama last year at a Ground Zero ceremony. She was 40 years old, had been on the force for 18 years, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 12, 2012 after an argument with her significant other.
Factors Contributing to Police Suicides
Constant exposure to human suffering: death, destruction, disaster, ghastly accidents, and unspeakable crimes can take its toll on any officer. It is estimated that there are 125,000 US police officers who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For each and every police suicide (126 per year), almost 1,000 officers continue to work while suffering through the painful symptoms of PTSD. Obviously, PTSD is not the cause of suicide. Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. The CDC reports that one in ten Americans suffer with depression. Other suicide risk factors include:
- Relationship difficulties (also consistent with general population suicide research)
- Shift work
- Alcohol or other substance abuse (steroids or pain pills)
- Personal legal troubles
- Facing prosecution
- Negative public image
- Financial problems
- Physical pain/illness
- Inconsistencies in the criminal justice system
- Unrealistic expectations of self or by others
- Instant access to highly effective means of suicide (96+% use firearms)
Additionally, officers frequently become desensitized to violence. The thought of dying by gunshot is not shocking and strange; it is familiar and known.
What Can Departments Do?