A Study of the Causes and Prevention of Suicide in the Police Force
By Larry Williams
They are known as the men and women of the blue, a police force consisting of almost one million officers nationwide. Ranging from different cultures, ethnicity, gender, and religion. The men and women of the police force respond to the call for help 24hrs a day and 365 days a year. Often putting their lives on the line while protecting the lives of others.
- In 2016, 108 law enforcement officers took their own life in a full study by the Badge of Life.
- 108 law enforcement officers took their own life compared to 126 suicides in 2012 (the last year of a full study by the Badge of Life)
- This represents a decrease of 14% in suicides compared to 2012
- This was also the second drop in suicide over the course of the Badge of Life studies; in 2009, law enforcement deaths from suicide were at their high with 143 deaths.
- One officer completed suicide every 81 hours.
- For every one police suicide, almost 1,000 officers continue to work while suffering the painful symptoms of PTSD.
Police officers have one of the most high-risk jobs in America. The risks that they take every day will eventually cause a burnout on their mind and health (Russell, 2014). Often times, this will lead to a battle of dealing with stress, depression, and suicide if no intervention is done.
The signs of depression and suicide don’t come from just the job of being a police officer; many factors can come from the home and family. Abusive police officers have been shown to hide behind their badge and use it as a shield to hide their abusive behavior (Martin, 2016). In 1991, Dr. Leanor Johnson testified before the U.S. Congress that out of the 728 police she surveyed, 40% of them have been abusive towards a spouse (Johnson, 1991).
Even though the police force is a male dominated profession doesn’t mean that the women of the police force don’t deal with the same issues. Women officers go through the same mental stress and depression as men. They respond to incidents and go through the issues as their male counterparts.
In 1999 (through 2000) a study was done to 115 randomly selected police officers to explore potential suicide ideation. Depression, gender, and marital status were among the highest factors for suicide. Depression symptoms were higher in women by 12.5% and men 6.2%. ). (Violanti, Fekedulegn, Charles, Andrew, Hartley, Mnatsakanova, & Burchfield, 2009).
What is unknown about the suicide rate of police officers is to go back to the beginning and look at the criteria for being a police officer. Many police departments have their recruits go through a mental evaluation to make sure they are fit for work. However, this is mainly for big police departments and may have the same criteria for small town police departments. The underlying question asks, are the test results being compromised to allow people into the police force when certain factors should keep them from entering. A few of these factors may be a lack of police officers in a small town that has a high crime area.
The situations that police officers face every day when interacting with the public eventually places a great deal of stress on their mind. Departments need to invest into more prevention training of all those in high-risk jobs. By bringing in more mental health professionals to conduct training will help reduce the suicide rate in the police force. Identifying the signs and symptoms of mental depression among police officers is important in getting them the help that they need. If nothing is done to help police officers deal with stress and depression, then officer suicide will continue to rise.
Johnson, L. B. (1991). On the front lines: Police stress and family well–being. Hearing before the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, House of Representatives: 102 Congress First Session May 20 (pp. 32–48). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Martin, D. (2016). Reducing Officer-Involved Domestic Violence: What Works? Domestic Violence Report, 21(3), 39–42.
Russell, L. M. (2014). An empirical investigation of high-risk occupations Leader influence on employee stress and burnout among police. Management Research Review, 37(4), 367. doi:10.1108/MRR-10–2012–0227
Violanti, J., Fekedulegn, D., Charles, L., Andrew, M., Hartley, T., Mnatsakanova, A., & Burchfield, C. (2009). Suicide in Police Work: Exploring Potential Contributing Influences. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 34(1/2), 41–53. doi:10.1007/s12103–008–9049–8