10 Recommended Actions for Preventing Officer Suicides

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a non-profit organization, led by Executive Director, Chuck Wexler, held a National Conference on Suicide Prevention on April 2, 2019 in partnership with the NYPD.  The conference had more than 300 participants consisting of leaders of law enforcement agencies, researchers, clinicians, support organizations, and advocacy groups.  From this conference, PERF has published the book, An Occupational Risk:  What Every Police Agency Should Do To Prevent Suicide Among Its Officers. The soft copy of the book can be downloaded here.  This is a summary of 10 recommend actions for preventing officer suicides.

  1. Data Collection: Obtaining more complete information about the extent and nature of police suicides needs to be a national priority. There must be a central repository for capturing and analyzing this data.
  1. Psychological Autopsies: Agencies should conduct psychological autopsies on police suicides, and they should use that data to inform their policies, practices, and programs.
  1. Routine Mental Health Checks: Agencies should consider requiring or, at a minimum, offering mental health checks for all employees on a regular basis, such as once a year, to reduce stigma and “normalize” a focus on mental health.
  1. Leadership from the Top: Police chiefs, sheriffs, and other leaders need to speak out about the issue of police suicides within their agencies and in the community. Leadership from the top is crucial to getting this issue out of the shadows. The leadership by police chiefs and sheriffs must be reinforced at all levels of the organization, including middle managers and first-line supervisors.
  1. Gun Removal Policy: Agencies should carefully structure their policies on the decision to take a firearm away from officers who are seeking mental health services, to minimize the risk of suicide, without discouraging officers from seeking help. Professional psychologists should be involved in making these decisions.
  1. Confidential Support Programs and Training: Agencies should offer a range of programs, including EAP and peer support, to assist personnel who may need help, and they should train employees on how to access those services—and how to identify and support fellow officers showing signs of stress, depression, or behavioral crisis.
  1. Easy-to-Access Tools*: Agencies should offer confidential, easy-to-access tools (including online tools) for officers to assess their well-being and obtain referrals for assistance.
  1. Regional Partnerships: Law enforcement agencies, especially small and mid-size departments that lack the resources of large agencies, should consider forming regional partnerships for programs such as peer support and Critical Incident Stress Management.
  1. Family Support: Following a police suicide, agencies should reach out to surviving family members and provide support, including assistance with obtaining any available benefits, and appropriate funeral honors. Family support should be provided throughout an officer’s career.
  1. Communications Plan: Law enforcement agencies should devise a communications plan for providing information to employees and to the public following a police suicide.

*Editor’s Note: CordicoShield is referenced on page 49 of the report