AUSTIN – The rate of suicide for law enforcement officers is almost equal to that of military service men and women. The U.S. Department of Justice, under its Bureau of Justice Assistance, conducts officer safety and wellness initiatives.
They site, “by some estimates, more than 140 law enforcement officers committed suicide in each of the last four years, a startling and unacceptable number. Many law enforcement agencies lack the resources to prevent officer suicide and are unable to respond effectively when it occurs.” (http://ojp.gov/newsroom/suicideweb.htm)
The statistics of suicide in law enforcement may be skewed. The DOJ reports, “the discrepancy among reported suicides rates can be attributed to a number of different problems:
- Lack of homogeneity: The term law enforcement personnel, while often used as a general descriptor, may not describe as homogeneous a group as once thought. In particular, existing studies have included different classifications of personnel (retired personnel, custody officers, etc.) in their studies and/or have failed to define their population, making meaningful comparisons difficult.
- Regional factors: Just as with the general population, suicide rates among law enforcement personnel can vary significantly across states and counties.
- Variables related to agency culture and environment: Differences in suicide rates between agencies, even within the same geographic area, suggest that agency characteristics may be an important factor.
- Lack of records: Law enforcement agencies seem to be reticent to share (or even keep) statistics of this nature. Most of the existing studies are retrospective, based solely on the recollections of responding agency personnel.
- Mislabeling cause of death: Some research suggests a tendency for line staff and agencies to erroneously label a possible (or even obvious) suicide as an accidental death. While this may be done with the best intentions to protect the peace officer and his or her surviving family members, it further complicates the process of obtaining accurate numbers.
- Suicide as a low-frequency event: Statistical difficulties occur when analyzing data for events that occur infrequently.
- Preemployment psychological screening: The presence or absence of preemployment screening is a contaminant, as is the lack of uniformity between agencies in terms of how such evaluations are conducted.
- Prevention and intervention programs: The presence or absence of various organizational interventions may be factors affecting the different rates of suicide found among various agencies. Does the agency, for example, train supervisors and/or line personnel in early identification and intervention with individuals at risk for suicide?
- Definition of law enforcement personnel: Existing studies have included different classifications of personnel (retired personnel, custody officers, etc.) and/or have failed to define their population, making meaningful comparisons difficult.”
There are resources available for law enforcement: