As a retired law enforcement officer (served 1977 – 2002) thinking back to when I was a rookie and assigned to a Field Training Officer (FTO) I vividly remember that when he wanted me to pay close attention to what he was about to say, he would preface his remarks with “Hey, Rookie pay attention to what I am about to tell you!” On this day he then relayed to me that our Sergeant’s father was also a police officer who had retired a few years back and in retirement he “committed suicide”. I found this statement interesting but wondered why I needed to pay special attention to this information? My FTO then went on to tell me that when we are dispatched to such calls of this nature and it happens to be a retired police officer, we never title the Incident Report as Suicide!
Well, that directive took me by surprise, one because it was bordering on making a false statement, and two I could not imagine officer suicides would happen very often. But in my 25 year career I found that it happened more than I thought it would.
Actually out of the 40 Recruits in my Academy Class so far several of them have completed suicide in retirement. And before I retired, on a couple of occasions supervisors had to be sent to off-duty officers homes to intervene in depressed and possible suicidal situations.
The point I am getting to is this; because law enforcement officers see the worst in people on almost a daily basis and respond to horrible accidents, shootings, knifings, hangings, beatings etc. and people actually die in their arms it takes an accumulative toll on their own well-being. Let alone having to use their firearm to take a life, or being sued for doing their job, and most recently being vilified for doing just that in order to protect themselves and the public.
Then along came CIT. I believe this 40-hr. course not only opened police officers eyes to mental illness issues, but also opened the mental health provider community’s eyes to first responder issues. Since the CIT course uses quite a few MH Providers to teach the course they got to know the officers in the classroom and started looking at such things as PTSD in law enforcement and suicides among our “Knights in Shining Armor”.
A recent study by researchers showed that a police officer is six times more likely than the general public to complete a suicide. There has been no study on retired police officers though. I believe that the number would be much higher in this category.
After the first CIT Class I facilitated within my own department back in 2000 a few weeks later one of the new CIT officers came to me with a problem. He would not give me a name, and I did not ask, but he told me that a fellow officer that knew he had completed the CIT course was asking him some questions which led the CIT officer to believe this officer was having psychological problems. I advised my new CIT officer as best I could but it made sense that an officer with problems might confide in another officer he/she trusted.
I am encouraging CIT Coordinators to introduce skills for CIT officers to preliminarily give good advice when approached by other officers deemed to have problems. Also I am asking for Researchers to study the number of suicides completed by retired police officers in order to find solutions.