Digging Deeper into Causes, Statistics of Police Suicide Rates
Western Mass News
WEST SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — Our men and women in blue face adversity each and everyday in the line of duty.
They are the ones who are there when we need them most, but how much pressure is behind the badge?
Suicide rates among police offers are increasing and the statistics are alarming.
Bluehelp.org, a non-profit dedicated to tracking police suicide and raising awareness, reports that by the end of 2019, 228 officers took their own lives and as of today in 2020, 24 police officers have died by suicide.
“They are seeing…you are talking about a 25, 30-plus year career and you’re responding to hundreds of these calls throughout your career. It takes a toll mentally and, sometimes, physically,” said West Springfield Police Sgt. Joseph LaFrance,
Western Mass News reached out to multiple police departments across the area looking to discuss this difficult issue. We were able to speak with LaFrance, who believes this stigma surrounding police officers and mental health is no longer around.
“But over the last 20-plus years, that has shifted. It’s much more accepted now…officers needing help and seeking help,” LaFrance explained.
As LaFrance was going through their post-traumatic stress procedures during our interview, he told Western Mass News there where times he struggled with his mental health after calls.
“Sometimes. it’s not the incident itself. We are so focused on dealing with that incident, it’s after the incident. It’s harder…when the adrenaline wears off and then you’re reliving that incident over and over in your mind and you’re wondering ‘Could I have done something differently?’ and then you’re trying to sleep at night and it can affect your sleep. You’ll have terrible dreams, so I’ve read this list and I’m like ‘I’ve had this, I’ve gone through this’ and thankfully, you know, slowly, it goes away,” LaFrance explained.
However, he said at the West Springfield Police Department, the men and women who have these same issues are no longer afraid to admit it.
“We have officers that openly tell other officers ‘Yeah, I’ve been to some counseling sessions and it’s helped me tremendously cope with some of the things that I’ve seen and we’ve been dealing with,'” LaFrance said.
Western Mass News, digging deeper, showed LaFrance the recent suicide numbers on bluehelp.org, a database that keeps track of reported police suicides.
[Reporter: I know you said that you guys think stigma is gone, but the numbers…228 in 2019…]
“…and this is strictly police officers. That’s not even first responders. Yeah, it’s higher than I thought and it’s…it’s…it can be a difficult career at times, so I don’t know, I don’t know if we’re missing the signs…you know, families and friends. A lot of these officers are still keeping that inside,” LaFrance noted.
Jeff Farnsworth, Hampden police chief and president of the Massachusetts Chief of Police, said police suicides are exceeding line-of-duty deaths by double, if not more.
“The profession is difficult, it becomes more difficult by the day. Thankfully, there are people who still want to do it and we need to take care of those people,” Farnsworth added.
Farnsworth believes responding to numerous critical incidents throughout your career and not having community support adds to the weight of the badge.
“You think day-in and day-out that our officers see humanity at its worst and then also to have ridicule on what they do and how they do things definitely weighs into it,” Farnsworth said.
That’s why training and awareness is crucial.
“We do the QPR training for everybody. We’ve actually trained a number of officers in what’s called a CIT program. They’re like a critical incident response where they have more training on how to identify issues and problems and have more resources,” Farnsworth noted.
Hampden Police said they also bring in mental health professional for their men and women, but in Massachusetts, these trainings are not mandatory.
“It’s department-by-department and, you know, I think it’s gaining momentum,” Farnsworth said.
The alarming number of suicides within police departments has been identified by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, leaving many departments optimistic about the direction the law enforcement community is heading.
“It’s been a few years, probably four or five years, we’ve been trying to look at it and, like anything else, it’s a scary thing to look at, but as you begin to learn more about it, the causes, and hopefully some solutions, it becomes a little more normalized to discuss it,” Farnsworth added.
Farnsworth said talking about this issue and reassuring officers they are not alone with be beneficial.
“I mean, just this report simply can help that individual that feels isolated that they’re the only ones going through this, they are the only ones feeling this way, and go ‘Wait a minute, it’s not just me,'” Farnsworth said.
This article was originally published here: