New York, NY – The New York Police Department (NYPD) is reeling from a rash of officer suicides that are now approximately double the yearly average the agency has experienced in recent years.
Nine NYPD officers have taken their own lives in 2019, and seven of those suicides have occurred since June, CNN reported.
The department has experienced an average of four or five officer suicides each year since 2014, according to New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
“This is just absolutely devastating to each and every member of this police department,” Commissioner O’Neill said during an interview with WINS on Thursday. “But it’s real, it’s happening, and we have to take care of each other.”
The commissioner said that investigators have not found any common threads among the officers’ suicides, but acknowledged that there can be a “contagion effect” when an officer ends his or her own life.
In 1994, the department experienced a rash of 12 officer suicides, he told WINS.
“Just take a look what police officers do every day in this city,” Commissioner O’Neill said. “They go out of their way to help people that they don’t even know…and there’s no hesitation to help those people. We have to do the same with each other.”
“Look at the trauma police officers are exposed to every day,” he added. “Think about the shootings, homicides, vehicle accidents, kids that are injured…the trauma that [officers] hold within themselves…then add in their personal lives and any issues they might have personally.”
Commissioner O’Neill said the most important change that needs to be made is for officers to feel safe and supported enough to seek out help.
“It’s not a sign of weakness to come forward for help,” he continued. “It’s a sign of strength. We want you to get better.”
Commissioner O’Neill discussed multiple programs the department is implementing in an effort to provide much-needed resources for the city’s law enforcement officers.
One such resource is the Employee’s Assistance Unit smartphone app.
"Press on that app and it'll give you everything you need to know where help is, and most importantly, what the signs of suicide are," Commissioner O'Neill explained. "I urge every member of the department, as soon as that appears on your phone, take a look at it."
NYPD is also working to establish mental health services for officers who want to speak with someone outside the department, the commissioner said.
“We’re entering into a partnership with a major medical center in New York City right now that will have availability to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even by phone and Facetime, and will get [officers] an appointment within 24 hours,” he explained.
That service will be anonymous, the commissioner added.
NYPD also has a crisis text line, and is working to expand the insurance coverage network of mental health providers to give officers more options.
The department recently sent representatives to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to learn more about the programs they have in place to assist their officers, and has also reached out to other large departments and members of the medical community for guidance, Commissioner O’Neill told WINS.
LAPD has not experienced a report of a suicide by one of its officers since July of 2017, BuzzFeed News reported.
Clinical psychologist Denise Jablonski-Kaye, who is also the commanding officer of the LAPD’s behavioral science services, said that the department has 16 clinical psychologists on staff full-time.
Each of those providers is assigned to a station, jump in with police for ride-alongs, and provide limitless sessions for officers, BuzzFeed News reported.
The providers who work with the LAPD officers are not the same providers who oversee their “fitness for duty” examinations, according to BuzzFeed News.
As a result, officers tend to be more comfortable being open and honest with them, because they understand that what they disclose won’t have a bearing on their fitness examinations.
“With nine suicides, what you’re seeing is a system that’s broken,” Jablonski-Kaye said of the NYPD. “The police force there, a large part, must feel hopeless, that this is something that we can’t fix. And I think the agency, the NYPD, must feel hopeless as well.”
NYPD will send approximately 800 staff members to specialized training on stress, suicide, and mental health this month, with the goal of having at least one trained peer representative who officers in crisis can turn to in each district, Commissioner O’Neill told CNN.
“It’s extraordinarily painful,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the rash of officer suicides, according to the Associated Press. “We have lost officers in the past, but this concentration is devastating. We’re going to do everything conceivable to help officers and to stop this.”
President Donald Trump has also recently signed a bill that will provide up to $7.5 million annually for mental health training and suicide prevention for law enforcement officers.
“It is receiving much more visibility than ever,” Police Executive Research Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler told the Associated Press. “The nature and extent of this issue is not well known, and the numbers we have are probably underreported.”
According to a 2018 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, only three to five percent of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies have suicide prevention training programs, CNN reported.
At least 122 current or retired law enforcement officers have committed suicide in 2019, according to the Associated Press.