Ashamedly, until a New York Post article earlier this week detailing the suicide of the third NYPD officer stationed in Queens and the fourth to take his life since the middle of January, we were somewhat, actually totally unaware of this shockingly serious situation.
An international group of retired police officers, dubbed The Badge of Life, is comprised of clinicians and researchers in the field, as well as family survivors of police suicide. The organization is a not for profit educational organization striving to introduce new approaches to police mental health and psychological survival for officers. They also advocate for the rights and humane treatment of law enforcement trauma sufferers and suicide survivors.
Earlier this week Matthew Schindler, a 39-year-old 14-year veteran killed himself on his way home after finishing his shift in Queens. The married father of three children pulled his car over on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 40 in Jericho around 4:30 in the afternoon and shot himself under the chin. Moments before the beloved officer text messaged his sergeant that he would not be seeing him anymore.
Described by friends and fellow officers as a “great guy” the news was released to his fellow officers at the 115th Precinct in Jackson Heights when they were called back to the station house to receive the horrible news.
On Super Bowl Sunday, 20-year-veteran Brian Saar, the father of 5-year-old twin daughters, shot himself after arguing with his wife at a party.
It was the fourth suicide to hit the NYPD in 2012 and the second in eight days.
Less than two weeks earlier, on Jan. 19, 28-year-old Terrance Dean ended his life after receiving a phone call from his finance informing him she had called the 111th precinct about his increasing depression. Dean withdrew his service revolver from his belt and shot himself in the head in front of his partner and the car owner at the scene of a burglary they were investigating.
And on Jan. 15, 23-year-old rookie cop Patrick Werner ended his life at his parent’s home after getting into an auto accident and fleeing the scene. Police sources say he had been on the phone arguing at the time of the crash.
The general suicide rate in the United State in the year 2010 was 11/ 1000,000 while the average of police officers who took their lives nationwide is 17/100,000.
Troubled cops can call the outside counseling group POPPA, Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance, headed by Genet.
Ron Clark, chairman of Badge of Life, notes that these figures are preliminary but of “high confidence” because they are based on observation of patterns across the United States following the group’s two-year national study of police suicides in 2008 and 2009.
As published in the well-known Aamodt-Stalnaker study of police suicides in 1999, so often quoted, there is a small portion (usually unnoticed) in which their study points out that 11 to 31 percent of police suicides are directly attributable to police work. This matches the figures in other documentable studies, but this is hardly what anyone wants to hear, so basically it’s ignored and these 16 to 45 dead heroes are buried in the dead of night.
According to Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance a volunteer peer support network whose commitment is exclusively dedicated to providing a confidential, safe and supportive environment for police officers and their families, there were 11 suicides among NYPD Police Officers between 2008 and 2009 – a 15/100,000 suicide rate, and 19 suicides among city cops between 1994-1995, a 32/100,000 suicide rate.
The Badge of Life released statistics in 2009 there were 143 police suicides– an increase from 141 in 2008.
New York, California and New Jersey led the nation in police suicides both of those years.
Study results and reporting from the police departments involved in the suicides differ greatly on the nature of the acts themselves. Police authorities lean toward saying the suicides are basically unrelated with job related issues, yet all the work done by volunteer organizations comprised of professional mental health professionals, law makers and volunteers point strongly in the other direction.
Whatever the true breakdown of statistics is, it is evident that more services offering crucial mental health counseling for police officers and for their families is imperative and obviously the path to saving lives. Nothing less is acceptable.
For as much as the police have assumed the role of protecting us, we must accept some sort of responsibility for lending the shoulder that could save a life.