POLICE Magazine

APR 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

Issue link: https://policemag.epubxp.com/i/1099237

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Page 38 of 60

36 POLICE APRIL 2019 UNREPORTED AND UNDERREPORTED T he suicide deaths reported by BlueH.E.L.P. are just those that are confirmed to the organization by either the family or the officer's agency. So it is likely that the actual num- ber is much higher. is is because an unknown number of deaths may have been reported as accidental—with ei- ther family members or police agencies saying the officer "died by accidental discharge" or "died as a result of a sud- den medical problem." A self-inflicted gunshot wound can certainly be described as a "sudden medical problem," but that doesn't really reveal what actually happened, does it? Sadly, the practice of sweeping this pandemic of preventable officer deaths "under the rug" has a long history in American law enforcement. Happily, the practice of hiding the is- sue of police suicide may be coming to an end. MEDIA ATTENTION R ecently, news headlines in local and national media told of a spate of Chi- cago officers dying by suicide. Four cur- rently serving CPD officers reportedly died by suicide in the span of just a few months—one recently retired officer also died by suicide. is gave some observers the impres- sion that there was a sudden "spike" in Chicago PD suicides. However, ac- cording to BlueH.E.L.P.—and several anonymous sources in the Chicagoland area—the only "spike" was the sudden media interest. A Chicago-area mental health profes- sional with access to Chicago Police De- partment information—who spoke on the condition of anonymity—says that suicides such as those recently reported have been happening for a long time. "ey've been able to hide [these sui- cides] because the officers were killing themselves at their homes," he says. "ey'd say, 'He was cleaning his gun and it accidentally discharged.' Yeah, because everyone has a full magazine and one in the chamber when they're cleaning their gun." "We know that people lie about sui- cide," says Karen Solomon, one of the three co-founders of BlueH.E.L.P. "We know that a sharp shooter doesn't 'ac- cidentally' shoot himself with an acci- dental discharge. We know an officer at the range doesn't 'accidentally' shoot WARNING SIGNS AND AVAILABLE RESOURCES Families of officers who died by suicide—as well as department colleagues left behind—frequently say the officers displayed visible warning signs of life-threatening mental or emotional crisis that only really registered after the officer's death. Some of those signs include: • Displaying feelings of hopelessness • Withdrawing from friends and family • Increase in alcohol consumption • Noticeable change in weight—either gain or loss • Ending typically beloved recreational activities • Sudden, unexpected outbursts of anger or sadness • Increased risk-taking both on and off duty • A change in attitude or personal demeanor • Saying things like, "You'll take care of my family if I die, right?" • Threatening suicide—many suicide victims verbally telegraph their death Some of these behaviors are far more likely to be observed by an officer's colleagues than his family. If you observe in your co-worker or spouse any of these behaviors, let them know that you care enough about them to suggest that they get help. They can seek the assistance of a department resource like a mental health counselor or chaplain. They can talk with an outside psychiatrist or psychologist. Further, there is plenty of literature available to help officers in crisis. Books like "Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement" by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, "I Love a Cop" by Dr. Ellen Kirshman, and "Armor Your Self" by John Marx can be great resources for officers who may be approaching crisis. Add to that list books like "The Price they Pay" by Karen Solomon and Jeffry McGill—two of the founders of BlueH.E.L.P. Then, there is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. Safe Call Now (1-206-459-3020) offers those services specifically for first responders. Finally, there is BlueH.E.L.P. On its website the organization maintains, a first responder need only enter a few data points—such as their location and what kind of assistance is needed—and the individual will be provided with a list of options for help from a searchable database dedicated to helping first respond- ers find emotional, financial, spiritual, and other forms of assistance. BlueH.E.L.P. says officers need to know it's OK to NOT be OK. It's OK to ask for help. IS OFFICER SUICIDE ON THE RISE? PHOTO: GET T Y IMAGES

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