HOOVER, AL – Sadly, we have to report that another officer has tragically taken their own life.
We’re told that the on-duty officer was found dead from an apparent suicide in the parking lot of the Hoover Police Department.
Hoover Police Department Chief Nick Derzis said:
“As a department and a family, we are deeply saddened by the tragic situation that occurred today. This is an incredibly sad and emotional time for everyone and it’s something that our department has never experienced before.
We ask for thoughts and prayers for the officer’s family and the entire Hoover Police Department during this extremely difficult time.”
The unnamed officer was found in the parking lot on Friday. The coroner’s office says that evidence indicates that the death was self-inflicted.
This is not the first time this month that we have lost an officer at their own hands.
Early in March, a 34-year-old officer took her own life in the locker room of New York Transit District 1 headquarters.
Commissioner Shea took to Twitter to implore officers to reach out for help.
Today, the NYPD mourns as we’ve lost a fellow officer to death by suicide. Our thoughts & prayers are with their family & friends.
You are never alone, help is always available. Law enforcement text BLUE to 741741 (others text TALK)— to be connected to someone who can help 24/7. pic.twitter.com/nolHq8fFKf
— Commissioner Shea (@NYPDShea) March 13, 2020
After 228 reported LEO suicides in 2019, this pandemic of police suicide has finally started to open some eyes.
The U.S. Department of Justice created the National Suicide Awareness for Law Enforcement Officers Program (SAFLEO). The program provides law enforcement agencies with training an technical assistance.
In conjunction with the DOJ, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and several other groups, the National officer Safety Initiatives created a brief for preventing suicide among law enforcement officers.
The brief states:
“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 48,000 lives in 2018 alone. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors affect persons of all ages, leading to long-lasting effects on families, friends, workplaces, and communities. Law enforcement professionals are not immune to this serious public health problem.
Studies suggest that suicide rates are particularly high among officers and others in public safety occupations. Although the exact number of officers who die by suicide each year is not currently known, existing research suggests that officers may be more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.”
The non-profit organization BLUE H.E.L.P. has estimated that these deaths increased from 143 to 228, from 2016 to 2019. However, these numbers are likely to represent an under-count, as they are derived from Internet searches and volunteer reports made by family members, friends, colleagues, and others. Moreover, suicide deaths are often unreported or misreported due to stigma and other reasons.
NOSI points to the following risk factors that contribute to the elevated number of police suicides.
Exposure to traumatic events is associated with an increased risk for suicide.
This risk factor is particularly relevant to law enforcement officers and others in protective services occupations, who are more likely than people in most other professions to be exposed to critical and traumatic incidents in their daily work, such as motor vehicle crashes, child abuse, or the violent death of a victim or coworker.
In a survey with 193 officers from small to midsize departments, officers typically witnessed 188 such incidents during their careers.
Exposure to Suicide.
Studies suggest that exposure to suicide increases the risk for subsequent suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Law enforcement officers may see suicide up close as they may be the first on the scene as well as responsible for notifying family members.
This job-related exposure to suicide has been found to impact officers’ emotional and psychological well-being and to be associated with PTSD symptoms and persistent thoughts of a suicide scene.
Another important stressor identified in the literature is shift work, which has been found to be associated with suicide ideation, particularly among officers who may already have other risk factors for suicide, such as symptoms of depression or PTSD.
Rotating shifts can also lead to inadequate sleep, which can make it harder for officers to cope with stress. Among police officers, shift work has been associated with sleep complaints, work discontent, and increased social stress.
Researchers also note that sleep deprivation and fatigue resulting from shift work may negatively affect thinking and decision-making, thereby increasing suicide risk.
Other related stressors include irregular work hours and mandatory overtime.
Unpredictable schedules can limit time available for maintaining relationships with friends and family, which can contribute to social isolation.
Being assigned to work on holidays and during special family (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries) and/or social occasions can make it difficult for officers to develop social relationships outside of the work environment.
Research suggests that other aspects of police culture may also contribute to social isolation, such as socialization practices that promote internal solidarity but can also lead officers to mistrust outsiders, creating an “us versus them” mentality.
In a study, John Violanti notes that low social integration into society may make it difficult for police officers to develop an outside network of social support that can help them during psychological crises.
Relationship, Financial, and/or Legal Problems.
Personal stressors, such as relationship problems, have been linked to serious thoughts of suicide among police officers.
In many cases, these stressors are attributed to work-related factors. For example, interviews with 110 officers found that, when asked about personal stressors, officers often referred to family problems that were either caused by the job directly or linked to the job, such as alcohol use, divorce, financial strain, unpredictable childcare needs, and inability to socialize.
Other researchers note that long hours at work and having to work during holidays and family events can contribute to or exacerbate domestic problems, placing an added stress on family relationships.
Unaddressed work-related stress and frustrations may also spill over to the home environment, taking a toll on officers’ marriages or relationships with their significant others. Other personal stressors related to work include legal problems, such as being under criminal or administrative investigation.
Social-Political Context of Policing.
Relationships with the public and the community can also be a source of stress, particularly when officers feel that their efforts are not appreciated. Research suggests that public confidence in the police has decreased in recent years due to racial tensions over the use of force.
In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, officers reported that these high profile incidents have made policing more challenging and are leading to tense interactions with African American communities.
The report also notes that the number of fatal attacks on officers has increased. As a result, more than 9 in 10 officers (93 percent) report worrying more about their personal safety than in the past.
Constant scrutiny from the media, particularly in the context of a 24-hour news cycle, is yet another source of stress. The increased use of social media, combined with personal videotaping, allows police actions to be presented out of context and become viral stories.
Other emerging sources of stress identified by officers include cyber-crime, terrorism, active shooters, drug epidemics, and responding to community members who have a mental illness.
The brief then identifies eight methods to help combat this dilemma. They are: mental health and wellness services, training programs, peer support, Identification of persons at risk, family support, crisis lines, event response protocols and limiting access to lethal means.
That last one creates a bit of a problem for law enforcement.
While limiting access to lethal means is an effective strategy for suicide prevention, implementing this approach in a law enforcement context can also be challenging. When asked about restricting access to lethal means, agencies reported providing annual training to officers on proper use and storage of firearms, rather than temporarily transferring the firearms to someone legally authorized to receive them.
The DoD has protocols in place that allow leaders to arrange for military and civilian-issued weapons to be sequestered in armories for individuals under treatment for behavioral health conditions, or for any person who is showing behaviors of concern.
However, any effort to restrict access to lethal means among officers should consider potential negative consequences, including psychological distress. Removing an officer’s firearm should be a temporary measure and should not represent the end of one’s career.
One of the items of that was left off the list by NOSI was an important one: prayer.
I, for one, am praying for law enforcement daily…not only for their physical protection, but also that of their mental and emotional well-being.
Please join me!
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