Walter A. McNeil, Chief of Police, Quincy Police Department, Quincy, Florida
he IACP’s top priority is and always will be officer safety. In 2002, the IACP, through the Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP), initiated the SafeShield Project, with a goal of zero officers killed or injured. The work of the SafeShield initiative has grown to span a wide range of IACP officer safety initiatives including
- the Reducing Officer Injuries: Developing Policy Responses grant,
- the Highway Safety Committee’s Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee,
- the IACP/Dupont Kevlar Survivors’ Club,
- the IACP Tribute to Slain Officers, and
- the IACP National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police.
One component of officer safety that is often overlooked is police officer suicides.
While the law enforcement profession often entails a number of dangers, officer suicide, specifically, is a serious and growing matter. The consequences of even a single incident are devastating to a department. One of my priorities as IACP president is to focus, from an international policing perspective, on preventing police officer suicides. According to the 2010 Badge of Life Report, there were 145 police officer suicides in the United States that year, which is an alarmingly higher rate than that of the general population.
And yet, agencies and individual officers looking for guidance and assistance will find scant resources specifically devoted to law enforcement suicide prevention or mental health. Some states and individual agencies have robust prevention and intervention programs while others have none. Further, in many cases, suicide and mental health are virtually verboten topics, seen as signs of weakness contrary to the strong, fearless image law officers are expected to project. As a result, many agencies and officers have nowhere to turn in a time of crisis. There is a great need in the field to advance research, evaluation, and advocacy on the topics of coping with officer suicide, preventing officer suicide, and maintain officer mental well-being and to address inconsistencies in agency preparedness. It is time for a coordinated, national effort.
The IACP is committed to action on suicide prevention as a critical component of officer safety. Building on the good work of our Police Psychological Services Section completed many years ago and the work completed by the Defense Military Chiefs Section, I asked IACP Second Vice President Yost Zakhary to lead the association’s efforts to take a deeper look at the tragedy of suicides by police officers. I am proud to report that the IACP is steadfastly addressing this issue.
The IACP recently partnered with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the number one public-private partnership pushing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. In conjunction with the National Action Alliance, the IACP will continue to support long-term suicide prevention programs. The goal is to improve the physical and mental safety precautions for our officers—both in the United States and around the world. With the vast resources of the National Action Alliance and the IACP, this partnership will work tirelessly to increase prevention efforts, combat social stigmas, and raise awareness. Establishing accessible resources for individual officers and agencies will provide the means to recognize signs and symptoms and foster public dialogue. With many people—especially in the law enforcement community—viewing mental health as a taboo issue, it is imperative that we work to dispel these myths and reach out to officers who invest in our communities every day.
The subject of police officer suicide will also be extensively covered at the 119th Annual IACP Conference in San Diego, California, September 29–October 3. In addition to regular workshops, I want to personally invite you to attend a plenary session titled, “Let’s Not Talk About It: Addressing Myths about Police Suicide and Implementing a National Initiative for Suicide Awareness and Prevention.” The plenary, which will be held on Tuesday, October 2, at 1 p.m. in room 6A of the San Diego Convention Center, will offer an open, public dialogue and a national initiative for prevention of police suicides. The panelists—Bernard K. Melekian, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Office; John M. Violanti, PhD, associate research professor, University at Buffalo, State University of New York; and Andy O’Hara, founder, director of research and development, Badge of Life—will address suicide from a preventive perspective, dispelling myths and focusing on mental health and wellness.
For immediate resources, I encourage you to view the IACP’s Preventing Law Enforcement Officer Suicide CD-ROM, which represents a baseline of best practice information. The video is available free of charge on the IACP’s website.
I also encourage you to visit the website “In Harm’s Way: Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention” at http://policesuicide.spcollege.edu (accessed August 2, 2012). It provides several resources to aid law enforcement executives, provide training to their departments, reduce the stigma associated with seeking help, and encourage officers to create a support system for each other. Further, the IACP will be participating in this project’s Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention Conference in November. I urge you to seek information about this important event.
What I hope will come of our focus on this important topic is an increase in dialogue among law enforcement leaders and officers. By working together to raise our awareness and our understanding of suicide and mental health issues, my hope is that we can prevent any future law enforcement suicides—if we demand zero tolerance, it will benefit our officers, agencies, and the communities we serve. ♦
Please cite as:
Walter A. McNeil, "Police Officer Suicide: It’s Time to Talk About It," President's Message, The Police Chief 79 (September 2012): 6&150;7.