My heart filled with utter sadness when I read the headline “159 American Police Officers Died by Suicide in 2018 – More than then the number of police officers killed in the line of duty.” One hundred and 59 law enforcement officers, whose jobs were to protect people and to save lives, quickly put an end to their own. That’s an average of 13 officers each month or three officers each week. This is as tragic as losing an officer killed in the line of duty. It means, despite everything we have learned about the stresses of police work and post-traumatic stress syndrome, we are not taking great care of our own. We are somehow missing the signs, we are missing the opportunities to help, and we are not emphasizing mental health check-ups.
Think about it! Officers are periodically required to go to the range to satisfy department qualification requirements. There’s no “maybe,” or “when I get to it,” or “I don’t think I really need it.” When is the last time your department instructed you, point blank, to pull out the revolving thoughts in your head and fire away – at a target that can actually help – a mental health professional?
When those who save lives for a living put an end to their own, we must ask if there is more that we can do. How can we keep stress from manifesting into suicide? We protect an officer’s heart with a bulletproof vest, how are we protecting the officer’s mind? How do we better watch out for those who serve and protect? We tell the public, if you see something, say something! Are we as law enforcement officers practicing what we preach? Or do we find an unsettled mind a sign of weakness or just a mood that an officer will snap out of? We can describe a suspect after one glance, we can drive code three to a call without error, we can maneuver our cars 180 degrees – faster than someone can say, “Did you see that?” – all of which requires training.
We are trained professionals who brave danger like most walk into a grocery store, with little or no thought for our own safety. That’s what makes law enforcement officers so heroic. But when the badge comes off, the radio is silent, and an officer is left with the stress and thoughts that can haunt the mind – is there any kind of training to fall back on? Can mental health checks and classes be required like days at the range? Or are we afraid we’ll be required to sit the next call out, be benched, lose our jobs? We don’t want to lose lives, we shouldn’t be losing lives, to suicide. Let’s help our heroes learn to help themselves! Let’s help those who do nothing but help. When we take the oath to protect and serve, let’s make sure we are protecting and serving our brothers and sisters in addition to the public. Ours is a job that takes a toll, let’s find a way to help so it doesn’t take a soul.