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  1. #1
    chp7016's Avatar
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    2008 Police Suicide Study

    Our group, the Badge of Life (a nonprofit charity) just published the first-ever comprehensive report on a full year's suicide statistics across all 50 states.

    Suicides were gathered through a web-based, year-long surveillance of news reports on police suicide. This strategy was found to provide the most reliable return of near real-time news information from radio, television and press, both local and national. Approximately 119,000 suicide-specific news articles were reviewed during the year for information relating to police suicides in the United States. Accomodations were made in the study for nonreportings and researcher error (a generous 17 and 20 percent, respectively).

    The study has some surprises. Not the least among them, it puts into proper perspective some of the unverifiable figures that have been put out for some time on the numbers of police suicides. Our finding of 141 police suicides during 2008 may not be "spectacular" but it is both valid and in concert with serious research, prior studies of a more limited scope and CDC/NOMS data. It can be backed up, in other words, and it's scientifically solid.

    You can read the study at www.PoliceSuicideStudy.com

    On the second page, we offer the case-by-case incidents from which we formed the study. No one giving out such numbers and information should do so without the background data accompanying it or immediately available. Your comments are welcome. We're a nonprofit charity, by the way, and everything we do and give out is free.

    If you'd like a PDF of the study, by the way, just drop us a note at BadgeOfLife@yahoo.com.
    Badge of Life Suicide Prevention
    http://www.badgeoflife.com/

  2. #2
    Retdetsgt's Avatar
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    One glaring thing I see missing is the alcohol/drug factor in any of these. During my tenure, 6 people on my dept committed suicide. In five, I know alcohol/drug dependence was a big problem. The other one, I didn't know the officer that well.

    We like to pretend that drugs are never a problem with cops, but that's bullshit, especially concerning prescription drugs such as pain killers. Just recently, a deputy from a neighboring county was arrested for doing armed robberies of drug stores to get oxycotin. And of course, good old federally taxed alcohol creates lots of problems.

    At least now most depts don't look the other way, but no study on police suicide is valid w/o taking that into consideration. It's easy to just call it PTSD because that sounds much more clinical and sterile. But as someone who is a recovering alcoholic and taking meds for PTSD, I know a little about both.
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    Alas, it seems that the very nature of police suicide precludes us from getting a truly accurate analysis of what leads to these suicides. In some cases, as your report shows, the reason is relatively obvious....such as facing investigations for illegal activities. Then it makes sense not being able to live with the shame of tarnishing the badge. But many suicides, again as cited by your study, just don't come with any answers. Those answers normally die with the officer. Depending on what the reason really was, sometimes there is someone who knows, but doesn't tell anyone. Sometimes that is the reason. Sometimes the officer has something going on or some kind of secret, or something that they don't want anyone to know. Sometimes the pressure of keeping that inside can erupt into self violence. And with problems of this nature, the officer feels they cannot get help because to ask for help would be to reveal their secret. Also, the nature of police culture gets in the way because even if a dept. has some kind of means of officers getting counseling, the officers are afraid to for being labeled as weak, or worse yet not getting promotions/positions because of it. It's very sad, but a problem that is hard to break up.
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  4. #4
    chp7016's Avatar
    chp7016 is offline Ret. Ca Highway Patrol Sgt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retdetsgt View Post
    One glaring thing I see missing is the alcohol/drug factor in any of these. During my tenure, 6 people on my dept committed suicide. In five, I know alcohol/drug dependence was a big problem. The other one, I didn't know the officer that well.

    We like to pretend that drugs are never a problem with cops, but that's bullshit, especially concerning prescription drugs such as pain killers. Just recently, a deputy from a neighboring county was arrested for doing armed robberies of drug stores to get oxycotin. And of course, good old federally taxed alcohol creates lots of problems.

    At least now most depts don't look the other way, but no study on police suicide is valid w/o taking that into consideration. It's easy to just call it PTSD because that sounds much more clinical and sterile. But as someone who is a recovering alcoholic and taking meds for PTSD, I know a little about both.
    You bring up some interesting points. These are the very things we hope that someone with greater resources can address.

    One thing we must remember, however, is that elements of PTSD include substance abuse (avoidance and numbing) and personal problems (lack of emotional control). To say that an officer committed suicide because he was an alcoholic begs the question of "why?"

    141 suicides out of 900,000 officers is not at all making a generalization about PTSD. Quite the contrary, it suggests that, in an environment such as law enforcement, there are many more officers dealing with undiagnosed trauma because of what we find to still be the prevalent culture of "suck it up." We are concerned about the "walking wounded" as much as we are the dead officers.

    I do have to disagree, after a year of looking at these cases and others in which suicide was not completed, that departments no longer "look the other way." Over 60% of the cases were claimed to have been a "surprise" to the officer's superiors. One can only draw one's own conclusions--either departments are remarkably ignorant of their officers, or officers are remarkably good at maintaining a facade--which we train them to do. I suspect it's both.

    Worse, we continue to see cases in which widows and children are "shunned" by the departments and given little or no assistance, as though the children were to blame for the suicide. I have heard suicidal officers called "cowards" by peers who fail to understand the bewildering pain and hopelessness of PTSD and depression (which go hand in hand).

    We have far to go. In time, we hope, departments will begin to take the mental health of their officers seriously and begin programs to help them long BEFORE they get into crisis--not just after.

    Good comments--thanks!!!
    Badge of Life Suicide Prevention
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by IndianaFuzz View Post
    Alas, it seems that the very nature of police suicide precludes us from getting a truly accurate analysis of what leads to these suicides. In some cases, as your report shows, the reason is relatively obvious....such as facing investigations for illegal activities. Then it makes sense not being able to live with the shame of tarnishing the badge. But many suicides, again as cited by your study, just don't come with any answers. Those answers normally die with the officer. Depending on what the reason really was, sometimes there is someone who knows, but doesn't tell anyone. Sometimes that is the reason. Sometimes the officer has something going on or some kind of secret, or something that they don't want anyone to know. Sometimes the pressure of keeping that inside can erupt into self violence. And with problems of this nature, the officer feels they cannot get help because to ask for help would be to reveal their secret. Also, the nature of police culture gets in the way because even if a dept. has some kind of means of officers getting counseling, the officers are afraid to for being labeled as weak, or worse yet not getting promotions/positions because of it. It's very sad, but a problem that is hard to break up.
    Excellent points. It was interesting, though, that of the 141 suicides, only 7 were facing criminal charges and 10 were facing only departmental discipline.

    SHAME: You bet. We "want" our trauma in police work to be "heroic." We want to be able to say it was the big shootout, the flaming wreck, the dead child we couldn't save. Those are the "admirable" ones. The public accepts them and, more importantly, our peers accept them.

    Far worse, however, are the cases in which an officer has fallen short. He got lost when an officer needed help and was injured. He made a wrong decision that brought him terrible embarrassment. Early in my 24-year career, I was overpowered by an arrestee on a deserted road, trapped in a coil of barbed wire, and could feel him breaking loose my revolver. I begged for my life and said I'd let him go. He ran away. I did nothing. I was in shock, went home and changed uniforms, cleaned off the blood and never told a soul. I "forgot" him.

    But I never truly forgot him. He (and other faces) would come back many years later. He would laugh at me and call me, "Coward." I knew I should have let him kill me--the "honorable" thing. I should have turned the hounds on him, after. I didn't. I numbly went back to work.

    After almost taking my life, I would find other officers who had secrets, too. Had I succeeded in killing myself, however, I'd have probably been brushed off as just an alcoholic with "personal problems." Too bad. Don't know why. Just a coward.

    I've learned better. Now we need to reach other officers with that message before the faces come--not after.
    Badge of Life Suicide Prevention
    http://www.badgeoflife.com/

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    There have been two officer suicides in my department since I started 5 years ago...one was sadly incomplete, and he remains in a vegetative state. I say sadly, because of the continuing pain for his family.

    My department has a Peer Support team, and we receive training in this area.
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  7. #7
    chp7016's Avatar
    chp7016 is offline Ret. Ca Highway Patrol Sgt
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    There have been two officer suicides in my department since I started 5 years ago...one was sadly incomplete, and he remains in a vegetative state. I say sadly, because of the continuing pain for his family.

    My department has a Peer Support team, and we receive training in this area.


    That is so sad. I'm familiar with another case where the officer failed but, thankfully, came out functional. I'm glad to see your department has a program, and I wish it well.
    Badge of Life Suicide Prevention
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  8. #8
    chp7016's Avatar
    chp7016 is offline Ret. Ca Highway Patrol Sgt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retdetsgt View Post
    Just recently, a deputy from a neighboring county was arrested for doing armed robberies of drug stores to get oxycotin. And of course, good old federally taxed alcohol creates lots of problems.

    But as someone who is a recovering alcoholic and taking meds for PTSD, I know a little about both.
    We're familiar with this tragic case of the Utah deputy, by the way. This appears, from the information provided, to have been a classic case of "signs missed."

    The deputy was one of Utah's best, described as a stellar sergeant headed for another promotion when he was injured in an on-duty accident that was not his fault. Shortly after, this outstanding deputy's behavior suddenly became completely bizarre--a non-drinker, he went on a drinking binge in his patrol car and threatened suicide. His department arrested him and, however it happened, he left the department.

    We will never know, I guess, if he suffered emotional trauma, a brain injury or some other neurological disorder. We do know the end result--he showed up in Dallas, stole the oxycontin and killed three motorists.

    It isn't a leap of faith to figure out that something changed radically with the accident. What it was will never be known. An autopsy was performed, but of course his brain was scrambled by a self-inflicted bullet wound. The important thing is that it's safely under the carpet, not to be revealed.

    The saddest part is that we can all learn from such cases, but never will as long as departments continue to turn their heads and deny their existence. We will keep pushing and trying to make a difference wherever we can.

    Our hearts go out to you with your PTSD. We are all police trauma survivors, widows and parents of officers who killed themselves, and medical/research experts in the field. I myself am also an alcoholic--I quit about 4 years before my suicide attempt.

    Best wishes to you from all of us!
    Badge of Life Suicide Prevention
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  9. #9
    Retdetsgt's Avatar
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    A bunch of us got together and created a Police Alcohol Recovery Team. We got the blessing of the chief and operated on our own. Mostly we confronted officers with alcohol drug problems and did our best to get them into treatment. The agreement we had with the chief was that we would never be compelled to tell anyone about what we found out about the officer and we never wanted to be an alternative to discipline. The last thing we wanted was someone coming to us just to get out of a beef.

    We had (and guys still there have) a pretty good success rate. The chiefs have loved us because we've saved the careers of a lot of people who were otherwise good cops.

    I've gotten more than a few calls in the middle of the night about some cop that was going over the edge and often were suicidal. I just called another member and off we went.

    I don't know the relationship between the PTSD and the alcoholism. My PTSD no doubt has it's intial roots in Vietnam, but I didn't feel any effects of it until many years later. The drinking started, got worse and I was finally suicidal too. My wife came home one morning when I was trying to aim my gun at the brain stem so I wouldn't be a vegetable. She got me into treatment and the rest is history.

    To be honest the PTSD didn't get bad until about 15 years after I sobered up. But that was 15 years of working child abuse, sex crimes and homicide with a short break working drugs. The PTSD has never made me feel suicidal, but the alcoholism sure did. And as I said, every cop I know except one that committed suicide had alcohol drug problems. And most really didn't have a background that would make you think they would have very bad PTSD yet.

    In one case, another cop and I were in a guy's house trying to get him into treatment. He's missed work numerous times and was in pretty bad shape. He finally agreed and was getting ready to leave. He said he had to go to the bathroom. My police instinct was to search him, but I thought, no, I might piss him off and he could be looking for an excuse to change his mind. He got in the bathroom and we heard the POP from a .22. He shot himself in the temple. He lived for a few months with a lobotomy, but finally died. I still haven't worked that one through.

    The one exception was a terrible case. He was going through a divorce, killed his wife, called 911 and then killed himself. He was the son of an asst chief, no one had a clue, including his father that he was going off the edge. Everyone has trouble with divorces, but I'm not convinced it was the job that caused him to do that. But who knows?
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  10. #10
    chp7016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retdetsgt View Post

    I don't know the relationship between the PTSD and the alcoholism. My PTSD no doubt has it's intial roots in Vietnam, but I didn't feel any effects of it until many years later. The drinking started, got worse and I was finally suicidal too. My wife came home one morning when I was trying to aim my gun at the brain stem so I wouldn't be a vegetable. She got me into treatment and the rest is history.

    To be honest the PTSD didn't get bad until about 15 years after I sobered up. But that was 15 years of working child abuse, sex crimes and homicide with a short break working drugs. The PTSD has never made me feel suicidal, but the alcoholism sure did. And as I said, every cop I know except one that committed suicide had alcohol drug problems. And most really didn't have a background that would make you think they would have very bad PTSD yet.
    Our stories are remarkably similar, with the exception that I had given up the booze some years before i was staring into the barrel of my gun. Alcohol is great for "numbing" the emotions and it works well. It kept the demons, the faces, the flashbacks at bay for me. Trouble is, it screws up the rest of your life and becomes a downward spiral that soon becomes out of control.

    Stripped of the alcohol, I was now prey to the full impact of the horrors that had been hidden so long. It took a while for them to wear me down, but they almost killed me.

    For the officer who continues to rely on alcohol/drugs, the other element--lack of judgement and self control--come into it. Families are abused, fights with neighbors happen, the volatility increases. The smart drunk shows up for work sober, guilty, and goes into rebellion with superiors or reckless behaviors on the road.

    Ya see, isolated by themselves, these symptoms are nothing. Hey, you just have an alcoholic, abusive problem employee or worse, one who does the "great facade." What's missed is that there are deep, underlying traumas haunting the officer. No, not the glorious shootout, perhaps, but the deep hurt, pain, shame, guilt, horror, revulsion, fear, dread...sometimes many or all of them. He's dead before he shoots himself.

    But he just had "personal problems"

    So yes, alcohol is one of the best, most effective self medications for trauma and PTSD. You bet. That's why so many pick it. If they kick the bottle, it's not enough. They need some heavy therapy and medications to carry them the rest of the way.

    If not, it will get them later.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chp7016 View Post
    That is so sad. I'm familiar with another case where the officer failed but, thankfully, came out functional. I'm glad to see your department has a program, and I wish it well.
    But sometimes, even if the officer comes out of the attempt "functional", they won't be allowed to be a cop anymore, and for some that would be worse than having been successful in the attempt. For some cops, the police job is their identity. Losing their police job is just like or is worse than losing their life.
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  12. #12
    Retdetsgt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by IndianaFuzz View Post
    But sometimes, even if the officer comes out of the attempt "functional", they won't be allowed to For some cops, the police job is their identity. Losing their police job is just like or is worse than losing their life.
    Which is why some are driven to suicide, I think. They can't distinquish their job from who they are. I have to admit being like that for a number of years. Then I started distancing what I did for a living from who I really was.

    You have to take the job seriously, but you shouldn't take it personally.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retdetsgt View Post
    Which is why some are driven to suicide, I think. They can't distinquish their job from who they are. I have to admit being like that for a number of years. Then I started distancing what I did for a living from who I really was.

    You have to take the job seriously, but you shouldn't take it personally.
    Wisely said, my friend. This is why the core of our program is the annual visit with a therapist by all officers, starting at the academy. We need to keep track of who we are--and "we" are not the badge. We need help keeping track of who we are before it takes us over.

    And it starts so quickly, the transformation. It took me a long time in therapy to come back to who I really was--it was nice to meet me again
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    I just went to a funeral for a cop friend who committed suicide several months ago. That really sucked. The guys who found him are friends so I got details of the scene and what led up to it. We were all shocked because nobody saw this coming. Our best guess is relationship issues.

    Another friend lost his job due to alcohol. He did a good job hiding it for a long time.

    Regardless of the roots this job seems to have a way of attracting demons and then magnifying them.
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