Every day in America Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s) come face to face with evil and death and are asked to perform super hero (human) tasks as frail imperfect humans. Their split second life & death actions are judged by not only their peers, but the law and society as a whole. They are under constant “fight or flight” resulting in higher elements of stress, causing physical ailments such as headaches, stomach ulcers and heart issues. What can’t be seen and is often undetected is the psychological injury many LEOs in the form of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression suffer each day in America. This silent killer of LEOs is responsible for 125 to 150 deaths in the form of suicide each year in America. Notice I’m not using the word “self inflicted” to do so underscores a naive understanding of the police culture and heroic actions performed each day by our brothers and sisters. On average, each year more officers die from suicide in the United States than from “on the job injuries”.
Much more needs to be be done to call attention to this taboo (silent killer) and understand these deaths are in fact “job related” injuries to the mind. In addition to PTSD, suicides are usually triggered by a series of events in one’s personal or professional life that propels an officer on a path of self destruction or keeps them in a “dark place”. It is critical that departments offer mandatory wellness training to ALL staff and their families who are often forgotten, but are in the best position to recognize psychological injuries and seek help for their love ones. In addition, departments need to encourages a culture that promotes a holistic rigorous mental health program not just a “check the box” program. Professional and peer counseling groups need to be offered to all officers and family members and mandatory for officers involved in traumatic events. Our LEOs and their families need not suffer in silence anymore and our elected officials must provide the necessary funding.
I say, the next time a politician criticizes Law Enforcement Officers, or want to play Monday morning quarterback, let’s remind them of the aforementioned statistics and the spouse less partners and parent less children. I dare these critics to wear the badge of courage for just one day or night. Then let’s hear what they have to say.
Our LEOs, their families and the greater community will all be better served by LEOs who are not just physically strong but mentally too. We all must recognize every life lost to suicide is a result of an “on the job injury” and work tirelessly for the year where there is not a single tragic suicide by a LEO.
Finally, if the NFL can induct a former player into the NFL Hall of Fame for playing a game; surely officers who die from suicide should be recognized on the Law Enforcement Memorial for their service and sacrifice. As of today, they are NOT… this must change!