One study found that more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, but no one is sure. “If you don’t know your problem, if you don’t know what size it is, how are you going deal with it?” asked Ron Clark, a retired Connecticut trooper who heads Badge of Life, which focuses on police suicide prevention.
The number of police suicides seems to be rising. Badge of Life, a nonprofit that unofficially tracks police suicides, reports that 140 officers died at their own hands in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016, the Houston Chronicle reports. There’s no federal database on police suicides, and many departments don’t officially track those deaths. Of 31 agencies surveyed by the Chronicle, fewer than a dozen initially provided official numbers. At least 20 Houston Police Department officers have killed themselves since 2007. More police officers died by suicide across the U.S. than in the line of duty, found a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, based in Boston. “If you don’t know your problem, if you don’t know what size it is, how are you going deal with it?” asked Ron Clark, a retired Connecticut trooper who heads Badge of Life, which focuses on police suicide prevention.
There’s growing recognition about the need for mental health support and awareness in law enforcement. Because of the “constant exposure to death and destruction,” police officers can face job-related stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Ruderman study. They often are unwilling to tell their co-workers that they are struggling, seeing it as a sign of weakness. The Houston Police Department has seven full-time psychologists and offers free mental health services for officers for the rest of their lives. “Just having a program isn’t good enough,” said James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police. “The problem, as best as we can tell, has gotten worse and not better.” Still, only about 3 to 5 percent of law enforcement agencies have suicide prevention training programs. Last year, Congress passed a Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act to create grants for peer support programs, fund studies examining crisis hotlines and help departments address mental health challenges.