Suicide leading cause of death among police officers

TPD Mental health initiatives

TOLEDO (WTOL) - A new report shows a police officer is more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty. This info surfacing as we recognize National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

At least 159 officers around the country took their lives in 2018. Duty deaths stop at 144. For the third year in row, suicides outnumber duty deaths. This is something leaders at the Toledo Police Department want to prevent.

“That’s probably one of the most important things that I look at,” Chief George Kral said.

According to non-profit Blue H.E.L.P., the single greatest cause of death for law enforcement officers is suicide. Five officers committed suicide in Ohio last year.

Nationally, suicides outnumber line of duty deaths by 9 percent.

”These officers, these first responders, they see the worst of the worst every day. And there’s no way that doesn’t affect them in some way. We may stand up straight and say ‘I’m tough, we can handle it.’ But it gets to you,” Kral said.

The department offers a variety of resources to help officers cope with what they experience on the streets.

All first responders must debrief together after traumatic events, like an officer involved shooting. Officers can also visit with a peer-support group or attend private professional counseling.

Finally, the department offers $275 gym stipends so officers can tackle their mental health through physical fitness.

"A lot of it is, our supervisors need to keep an eye on their people. They know their officers' personalities and when they’re in a bad mood, when they’re happy. If they see something over time, it’s our responsibility as leaders to make sure we get them, not just physically fit, but mentally fit as well,” Kral said.

Officers do say little things mean a lot from citizens. Just a ‘hello’ or a ‘thank you’ or words of encouragement go a long way in making their jobs easier.

Deaths by suicide exceeded all combined causes of duty death nearly each month in 2018. And Blue H.E.L.P. suspects there are more they haven’t accounted for.

While mental health can be a difficult topic to face, police leaders say officers can’t NOT face it. No one is invincible, and even one suicide is one too many.

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