Rookie Chicago police officer Scott Tracz sat in a black sports car outside his girlfriend’s suburban house late last year, put his gun to his head and fatally shot himself.
The normally upbeat Tracz, 30, had become withdrawn and sullen, struggling with the violence he witnessed as an officer but rejecting advice from friends and family to seek help, fearing it would end his career, relatives said.
“He said, ‘I will lose my job,'” his cousin, Ark Maciaszek, said. “Just like that.”
Tracz is believed to be the latest contributor to the Chicago Police Department’s suicide rate, which stands 60 percent higher than the national average according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report.
Critics say the problem has been exacerbated by a lack of mental health resources. Chicago officials said they are working to improve their mental health services.
The pressure on Chicago’s police officers has intensified as the city has dealt with a surge in murders and increased scrutiny around tactics following the 2015 release of video showing the shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer.
In 2016, the number of murders in the city jumped nearly 60 percent to over 760, more than New York and Los Angeles combined. There were more than 4,300 shooting victims in the city last year, according to police.
The McDonald video sparked outrage and thrust Chicago into the nationwide debate over police use of force. The subsequent Justice Department report in January found Chicago police routinely violated civil rights, and also cited suicide as a “significant problem” for the city’s officers.
“Chicago is a war zone,” said Alexa James, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Chicago. “They (officers) are seeing the worst day of everybody’s life every day.”
Chicago police’s suicide rate was 29.4 per 100,000 department members between 2013 and 2015, the report said, citing police union figures. The department disagreed in the report, putting the rate at 22.7 suicides per 100,000 members. Both estimates were higher than the national average of 18.1 law enforcement suicides per 100,000.