The suicide of a retired Palm Bay, Florida, police chief is raising awareness of the mental health struggles faced by law enforcement officers.
Jim Rogers, who joined the Palm Bay Police Department in 1987 and served as its chief from 2017 to 2019, died by suicide on March 13 at the age of 57.
Family, friends, colleagues and members of the community gathered to pay their final respects to Rogers’ memory at Centerpointe Church on March 19. The ceremony focused on Rogers’ life and the impact he had on others, while also addressing the burden of mental health issues in law enforcement.
“I don’t know of another Christian man who reflected the light of Christ more than Jim,” said Mark Mynheir, a retired Palm Bay homicide detective currently serving with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Mynheir said that mental health issues and their stigma continue to plague the profession.
“We still whisper when we talk about depression in a way that we don’t when we talk about cancer, heart disease or any other illness,” he said. “Those wounds are every bit as real and debilitating as physical wounds and injuries. The stigma of mental health issues is still with us, and to remain silent while so many of our friend and colleagues are suffering is not compassion, but rather is cowardice.”
Rogers’ son Joel said the family did not want to hide the cause of death.
“He would want people to get help,” he said. “[God] didn’t want this to happen, but he allowed it for a greater purpose. For people to be saved, for people to be helped.”
Palm Bay Police Chief Nelson Moya, who succeeded Rogers after his retirement in 2019, called him a mentor and asked everyone to cherish their memories of the man.
“Mental [illness] is a disease,” Moya said. “[The] Jim Rogers who passed was not the Jim Rogers that we all knew, I assure you. Let’s not judge him today. Let’s love him, his memory and his family. That is the impact he had on all of us.”
Following the news of Rogers’ death, Moya released a statement on social media praising his qualities as a human being and officer.
“Chief Rogers’ leadership, professionalism, and compassion for others were certainly felt by everyone who knew him. He was a mentor to many of us here at the Police Department and will truly be missed,” Moya wrote. He added that Rogers was instrumental in developing outreach programs to build positive relationships between the police and the community.
“He was big on community policing and stayed involved with the citizens and with his officers from the ground up. It speaks volumes about his character,” Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson told Florida Today. “Really, his presence caused you to want to level up. This is a huge loss.”
Rogers’ death hit the department hard, especially because the agency is also mourning two recent losses to COVID-19 — Corporal Frank Tobar and retired Officer John Masse, who both passed in August 2021.
According to nationwide statistics from the nonprofit Blue Help, there were 173 police officer suicides in 2021, and 38 so far this year. Suicide was the second-highest cause of death for police officers in 2021 after COVID-19.
Palm Bay P.D. has been shifting more focus toward mental health over the last few years, with Rogers serving as a catalyst for the change during his tenure. Moya, who plans to retire soon, promised that the agency’s next chief would continue those priorities.
“There is nothing as important as the health of the people, the men and women, that serve our communities. I promise you that,” he said.