Suicide has now become the number one killer of police officers in the U.S. That’s according to Blue H.E.L.P., a group that is helping police departments with the problem.
In 2018, 153 police officers were killed in the U.S. in the line of duty. That same year another 163 died by suicide, figures only brought to light because of Blue H.E.L.P. and its president, Karen Solomon.
“We are the only organization in the country that has three years of consecutive data. We have narratives from the families, we have their names, departments, race and gender. We collect a lot of information.”
Formed in 2015, Blue H.E.L.P. offers families care and support in the aftermath of a suicide and trains law enforcement agencies.
And while in-the-line-of-duty police deaths continue to fall, Blue H.E.L.P.’s data show suicides are on the rise.
From January 2016 through December 2018, 13 officers in Connecticut and 37 in New York died by suicide.
Kristen Clifford is the widow of Nassau County Police Officer Steven Clifford, who died by suicide in May 2017.
“Because of his job as a police officer, he felt he couldn’t talk to anyone or get help. He was afraid of the stigma, he was afraid of being labelled and he was afraid of losing his job.”
John Rich, chief of Ledyard Police in Connecticut, says many police departments have adopted peer support programs, training officers to spot warning signs in their colleagues, but that more needs to be done “to educate our people and to make our officers understand that what you may experience, how you may react, is an absolutely normal human reaction to a very abnormal situation.”
Lawmakers are looking at changing laws to help tackle the problem. Several bills in Connecticut and New York, if passed, would provide more training and resources to reduce police suicides – and recognize the problem to start with.