Suicides on the rise in police departments! Not Cool!

As Simone Biles demonstrated, even individuals known for exhibiting steadiness and strength sometimes need to sideline themselves and seek help. While Biles reemerged to win a bronze medal, four police officers on duty during the Capitol insurrection will never be heard from again. This crushing reality, coupled with the recruiting and retention crisis in American law enforcement, warrants urgent action to promote officer wellness.

Much remains to be learned about the degree to which the traumatic Jan. 6 experiences of the four officers may have contributed to their deaths by suicide. The outnumbered officers at the Capitol would ideally draw sustenance from being celebrated as heroes by most Americans and receiving a Congressional Gold Medal. They could also be devastated by how some national leaders minimized and distorted the events of that day, with some going so far as to blame the FBI.

Regardless of what may have led to these four officer deaths, the urgency of improving officer wellness is clear. Here’s one disturbing fact: there were 174 officer suicides in 2020, making officers more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty — even as shootings of officers increase.

Rising vacancies are another warning signal. From April 2020 to April 2021, officer retirements increased 45 percent, a trend that shows no sign of abating.

Despite the pressing need, a Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing brief on officer wellness noted that only 29 percent of police departments have wellness programs or trainings. The review also found that long shifts — 13 hours instead of 10 hours — result not just in fatigue, induced in part by sleep deprivation, but also significantly lower performance, including slower reaction time and more complaints. Shrinking police ranks could lead to longer shifts for the officers who remain, potentially precipitating more errors and misconduct.

In addition, there is evidence showing a link between compromised wellness and impacts on officers’ families and community interactions. While more research is needed, one correlational study suggests that PTSD could account for up to 46 percent of cases of excessive force.

Story continues at: Suicide

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