Saturday, November 28, 2009

Most Houston police suicides received no treatment

According to the Houston Chronicle (Nov. 28), 90% of HPD police officers who commit suicide had not previously received counseling, even though a psych unit was created at the department in 1979 after six officer committed suicide in two years. Four HPD officers have committed suicide in 2009.

The story reminded me of an excellent post from October at the Dallas News Crime Blog by Tanya Eiserer, who provided some broader context on law-enforcement suicides. She wrote:

Far more cops die every year from suicide than being killed in the line of duty.

Frankly, I was stunned by the figures I heard during a session on police suicide.

Roughly, 150 officers die in the line of duty each year. Meanwhile, police suicides number at least 250 every year.

Consider that suicides account for about 12 per 100,000 deaths in the general populations. Among white males, it was 18 deaths per 100,000. One study found suicides number about 22 deaths per 100,000 among cops. ...

About 89 percent of documented police suicides involve alcohol abuse

Those rates are well above the number of officers who die on the job every year from traffic accidents, shootings and other occupational hazards, adding to the dangers inherent in police work. Body armor won't protect the officer who puts a service revolver in his mouth and pulls the trigger.

For that matter, the rates of suicide among the general public, according to Eiserer's data, are more than double Texas' homicide rate. Yet how may public resources are spent on suicide prevention compared to all the criminal justice resources expended on murder?

Earlier this year, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee issued recommendations for ways to reduce job-related police officer deaths. Regrettably, however, the issue of suicide was not much discussed. Given that police suicides are substantially more common than other types of job-related deaths, perhaps a starting point might be requiring agencies employing licensed peace officers to provide meaningful access to mental health treatment, either through the department or their health-care plan.

This is a topic that deserves more attention than it usually receives.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now Scott, that is common sense, very good sir, very good.

Common Sense Cop

Anonymous said...

I've heard police officers laugh about people who have committed suicide. Even if treatment were available I don't know that most officers would be willing to participate.

Todd said...

The culture won't allow it. As an officer I know that most would never go to counseling for fear that it would become known to co-workers. I really don't know how to change it but I hope we can.

I personally know two cops who killed themselves. One of them seemed just fine and nobody saw it coming. Turns out he was haunted by a shooting he was in and just kept it bottled up.

Anon 2,

Officers do make jokes about people who commit suicide, crazy people, people who get hit by cars, blah blah blah. It's called gallows humor and we do it to blunt the shock of some of the crap we see everyday.

Anonymous said...

Actually, about 50, not 150 officers are killed by felony gunfire or weaponry ( almost exclusively illegal handguns) each year “in the line of duty”, per the FBI which keeps the statistics on these incidents. There are roughly 1 million law enforcement personnel within the U.S. and its’ territories.

The rest of the “line of duty” death’s are from anything from having a heart attack, falling, airplane crashes and mainly – simple traffic accidents. The latter type of death having been correlated with the fact that many police departments are allowed to not wear seatbelts because it is “uncomfortable” while wearing their holsters.

These second type of deaths, while regrettable, happen to everybody everyday regardless of their profession.

So the words “line of duty” must be held in the context of their user. If you are getting stats from the one of the very fine officer memorial sites, then virtually any death by any cause is counted as “in the line of duty”.

Consider however, that if a doctor or a social worker is killed in a traffic accident as happens every day, you’ll never hear the words “they died in the line of duty”.

My point in making this comment is to correct a very widely held, yet utterly false, perception that police officers die each year in droves; killed by automatic weapons toting and body armored hoards of hardened criminals. That myth is simply that – a myth and it always has been according to FBI statistics. I love and respect good police officers, they do a hard job.

But the problem with this myth is that it has led to an enormous militarization of civilian police forces (SWAT, ERT, etc. ), to include things like armored personnel carriers, unmanned drones, automatic weaponry, and other highly dangerous, unnecessary and expensive war making materiel. The question is: exactly who are these pseudo- warriors with military, in lieu peace officer, mindsets waging war against?

Anonymous said...

"Officers do make jokes about people who commit suicide, crazy people, people who get hit by cars, blah blah blah. It's called gallows humor and we do it to blunt the shock of some of the crap we see everyday."

I was a police officer at the time I was talking about (seeing other officers laugh about suicide). This wasn't about blunting the effect of things they were exposed to. I know what you are talking about and that can be the case. However, the kind of thing I am talking about comes from arrogance and callousness. I think its part of that sociopathic personality that too many police officers have in which they are unable to feel empathy and are drawn to the profession because they want power over others. I'm not trying to impugn all officers. There are plenty of good ones out there and those are probably the ones most affected by things. But, its the sociopathic ones who laugh at suicides because they are unable to feel empathy or anything other than arrogance and superiority that create this culture you talk about that keeps others from seeking help.

Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly why does Houston Metro police have their own SWAT team? Metro police are there to protect Metro buses and enforce traffic laws. Are there dozens of buses that need to be stormed each year? Is there even one? But hey, they get nifty equipment and get to wear military boots and gear and get special badges. They get their own SWAT van and equipment. I wonder how much of their budget those items eat? And yet they want a tax increase each year. Seems to me that the Harris County Sheriff's Dept and HPD could handle any SWAT situations that occur. I won't even start on the constables' offices that have SWAT equipment and other special units.
Also, officers that make jokes about suicides and other inappropriate topics aren't generally the ones that don't care or don't feel. Just like suicides, they are the ones that feel too much.

Todd said...

"I think its part of that sociopathic personality that too many police officers have in which they are unable to feel empathy and are drawn to the profession because they want power over others."

So did they become cops because they can't feel empathy or do they not feel empathy because they are cops? If you are an ex-LEO, how long did you do it? I think it is only natural to become hardened to the things we see.

When I went through the academy I was a lot more compassionate than I am today. After being lied to every day and constantly seeing the things that people do to each other on a regular basis, it is very hard to maintain an empathetic mindset.

I know one officer who used to be a social worker before he became a LEO. He used to talk about how the homeless just need help and that people are basically good. After ten years he is now one of the most cynical people I know and absolutely detests the homeless. due to his experiences with them.

I think that pretty much anyone who does this job for a while will become like that to some degree. Even screaming liberals typically change their minds and become much less compassionate.

As for the arguments about the militarization of police, I would think many like to wear the new gear because it is more comfortable and is safer. Try to arrest someone while wearing polyester slacks and dress shoes. Then try it wearing BDU type pants and combat boots. Tell me which one was easier for you. Also, get into a firefight while carrying a revolver and then get into one while carrying an AR-15. Which one would you prefer?

An armored personnel carrier is not a war making machine when SWAT uses it as cover when dealing with a hostage situation. I don't see why police shouldn't use the best equipment to make their job safer.

Take a look at the Ft Hood shooting. The DoD police on that base didn't have a SWAT team so Killeen PD had to respond. If that had been a longer incident, how many lives would that time delay end up costing?

Bottom line is this isn't the 1950s and life isn't a Norman Rockwell painting.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Todd, Regarding your question, "did they become cops because they can't feel empathy or do they not feel empathy because they are cops?" IMO the answer is different for each person. It's undeniable some become cops for the power trip; it's equally undeniable many do not. Many do it for noble reasons, others for more creepy ones. Quite a few just do it for the paycheck. There are a lot of cops out there, it's not an either or question - there are pockets of officers for whom each explanation applies.

I'd like to hear more about the aspect of police culture you say "won't allow" officers to seek treatment. Why wouldn't it be allowed? It sounds like you're saying other officers would disdain, discriminate against, tease or otherwise abuse a colleague who sought mental health treatment (and I agree that's probably accurate). I'd be very interested to hear your opinions about the cultural origins and especially the purpose of that taboo?

Todd said...

Grits, I think it would be held against that person as a personality flaw. Some would wonder if that person getting treatment could keep it together during a stressful call or would they crack? It would be something considered when that person puts in for transfers to other units. There would whispers behind that person's back and a sense that the person was weak.

Police work places a great emphasis on being in-control and able to handle any situation. This is a myth but it is a myth we hang on it. I think that if one person admits they have problems, it may force others to think about their own issues.

It is a very macho culture and is similar to the military. That is why they have so many suicides with soldiers and most never take advantage of the counseling offered.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that that those who seek mental health counseling will be seen with the stigma, and isolated, as being mentally disturbed. However, if everyone were educated about mental health issues, by competant people and their peers, perhaps everyone may benefit. Anyone can be mentally disturbed, everyone handles it in their own way, not everyone is suicidal. But, how do you incorporate mental health issues into the police beauracracy?

Anonymous said...

Ummm. You teach about it. Like any other training at any other business in any other profession in any other place in the world.

This macho excuse is just that. An excuse by lazy or unitelligent persons too worried abou how they look and much less so about being a professional.

What acomplete load of crybaby nonsense. The excuse is you're not enough of a "man" to learn and train about things that impact yourself and your profession?

Laughable. No sympathy from here.

And I have to agree with the comments about SWAT - yeah, we REALLY need to take resources AWAY from normal police officers to equip SWAT primadonnas who tend to be sociopathic. METRO SWAT? What a joke.

Todd said...

Anon,

I am merely trying to explain to you the culture of the PD. It is the same as the culture of the military, fire departments, or any other male-dominated macho sub-culture.

You can have training classes all year round but if people don't agree with the msg, it is a waste of time.

SWAT guys are socialpathic? I doubt you know beans about it. Officers in SWAT are some of the most professional LEOs I know. They train constantly and are passionate about doing their jobs safely. If your family is ever held hostage, just call for the dog catcher to help if you hate SWAT so much.

Oh and for Anon 02:01, read the papers about what happened in Washington State and then tell the families of those officers that the dangers of police work are a "myth". How do those words taste?

nemo said...

So...how much of the stress that results in these suicides can be laid directly at the feet of drug prohibition? How many of the circumstances that originated the impulse to self-terminate are directly (or even indirectly) attributable to prosecuting the War on Drugs?

When I was much younger, I recall my mother telling me that if I was lost or in trouble to look for the man or woman wearing the uniform, badge and sidearm of the police and ask for help. That was the very early 1960's.

I wouldn't dream of doing so now.

The degree of social alienation police feel, courtesy of the War on Drugs turning them into what amounts to an occupying power, rather than an integral part of society, has fostered an understandable resentment on the part of police towards their fellow citizens...whom they no longer perceive as such.

I once overheard an Ocean City, Maryland cop state that there were only two types of 'civilians' (as if they weren't civilians, themselves): '@$$holes and victims'. The implication was that there was no distinction between the two categories.

That kind of attitude engenders the kind of behavior that winds up being fodder for Internal Affairs bureaus...as well as mistrust and disrespect for police in general. But how much of that can be blamed on the impossible job cops have been handed with regards to the drug laws?

We ask too much of them in that regard. Is it any wonder, then, when some of them see no other way out but to eat their own gun?

Supremacy Claus said...

The paramilitary, command structure of the police makes the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program useful.

http://afspp.afms.mil/idc/groups/public/documents/webcontent/knowledgejunction.hcst?functionalarea=AFSuicidePreventionPrgm&doctype=subpage&docname=CTB_018094&incbanner=0

This is history's greatest suicide prevention program. And it comes at little or no cost to the government.

Anonymous said...

Todd Said:

“Oh and for Anon 02:01, read the papers about what happened in Washington State and then tell the families of those officers that the dangers of police work are a "myth". How do those words taste?”

Tastes just like the sweet pie of truth about what I said in the first place.

That only 50 or so police officers out of roughly 1 million in LE die per year by felonious use of weapons (almost all illegal handguns) in the line of duty.

Sadly, these recent officers deaths will just be added in to make up the same roughly 50 LE personnel who die each year – again. This despite rapid population growth.

The only lie being told is your misquote of my words claiming I said “that the dangers of police work are a ‘myth’”. I said nothing of the kind, and you are the one trying to perpetuate a myth.

I merely pointed out the truth about the hype that police officers die in droves each year, etc. – they don’t and never have.

Further I pointed out that this myth has led to an ever increasing, unnecessary, wasteful, dangerous and un-American militarization of police forces accompanied by an “at war with the populace” mindset. Every nickel and dime outfit has their own SWAT team. So much so that SWAT is regularly and almost exclusively used to serve warrants.

Given there are an estimated 50 thousand SWAT raids per year – 99% to simply serve warrants – I’m wondering why the papers are not flooded with daily barrages of incidents of hostage taking, riots and terrorist situations – you know the purported purpose FOR SWAT teams? Perhaps it’s because those incidents hardly ever occur?

And recognizing that would cause one to reflect upon why the proliferation of such “teams” continues?

Perhaps because it’s “fun to play soldier” … particularly when you are not fighting against enemy soldiers in a real war?

Give normal police officers the resources instead of creating para-military troops on American soil whose sole use is against the populace itself.

Todd said...

It's funny when you are obviously just complaining for the sake of complaining. SWAT teams serve a very important function. They are able to handle situations that regular patrol officers aren't equipped for.

Just because there isn't a hostage situation every day doesn't mean that SWAT isn't needed. When you do need them, you need them ASAP and it takes too long to assemble an ad-hoc team of patrol officers with the proper equipment. You need a group that works together and trains together constantly.

SWAT teams are used much more often for high risk stuff than you think. There are many times that police will chase a guy into a house and the person barricades them. It is much safer for SWAT to form a perimeter and deal with the guy than it would be for the patrol guys to run in the house after him. Just because SWAT incidents don't make the front page doesn't mean they aren't used for their original purpose. Most incidents don't get reported on unless something goes wrong. Think of them as quiet professionals.

As for using them to serve warrants, so what? They don't kick in the door and flashbang folks over traffic warrants. They are only used on high-risk warrants where the subject is armed or known to be extremely violent. Once again, this is much safer than normal patrol units trying to serve the warrant. Look at the manhunt for that human garbage who shot the Wash State officers. The SWAT team is the one doing the house search.

SWAT teams will never go away. You need to come to grips with this. If anything, police will become better armed and equipped (or "militarized" to you)as time goes on because better equipment and training means less officer deaths.

Have you ever thought that this "militarization" and the increased reliance on tactical teams (SWAT) that you are so concerned about is part of the reason police deaths have stayed constant even though the population has increased? Many cops have much better equipment and tactical training than they did 20 years ago. Police aren't rushing into sniper fire now and instead are using armored vehicles and heavier firepower to deal with the threat.

Life is not a Norman Rockwell painting as any trip into the city would tell you. Officers have to be prepared for danger and this means giving them the tools for it. Those cops that died yesterday left behind 8 kids between them. Why wouldn't the police use the best tools available to keep that from happening again.

Think about it and realize the police are just people who want to go home safe at the end of the night. Why take those tools away?

Archie said...

Here's a GREAT reason to stop using SWAT teams to serve warrants:

http://www.cato.org/raidmap/

SWAT teams take time to assemble in emergency situations, by definition.

And there are very, very few such dire situation to warrant the vast proliferation of militarized police using the same equipment as our fine soldiers. Of course, without the downside faced by our soldiers – real enemy combatants. It’s an adrenaline rush for you isn’t it – to play soldier without a comparable risk?

So with all these SWAT teams sitting around with nothing to do we are now using them to serve warrants. Last time I looked that was the job of, er, hmmmm, oh yeah – our regular police and sheriffs.

Perhaps you grew up in a dictatorship or former totalitarian regime run country? You know where the police wear BDU’s have automatic weapons, use APC’s, stun grenades, as they walk their everyday patrols?

You see, here in AMERICA most folks want peace officers – not play soldiers. We also don’t want to foot the bill for you to play soldier, directly or through Federal or state/local taxes.

Of course your mindset is very clear by your own words. All about cop safety over that of the populace. That’s a warrior mentality and is appropriate when fighting war. Not appropriate for peace officers – remember “serve and protect”? Our safety first? Remember?

People, innocent people, are being killed.

Todd said...

@Archie

Your comments show that you want the police to protect and serve but you don't respect them enough to let them have the tools to protect themselves.

"And there are very, very few such dire situation to warrant the vast proliferation of militarized police using the same equipment as our fine soldiers."

"Last time I looked that was the job of, er, hmmmm, oh yeah – our regular police and sheriffs."
"

Spoken like a true desk jockey. You sure seem eager to get some patrol officers killed. Until you have the guts to do this job, how about you let the people actually taking the risks protect themselves as best they can?

You say you want peace officers. Sounds more like you want cannon fodder that won't offend you by trying to do their job safely.

I know you don't know much about the police but last I checked the police don't use frag grenades, crew served weapons, armed helicopters, artillery, napalm, ect, ect...

Please enlighten me on how you think an officer should be equipped. Perhaps a .38 revolver? No OC or Taser of course. Could they have a shotgun? What if they are trying to find a bad guy hiding in a field at night? Are night vision goggles allowed or is that too militant?

This should be good.

Anonymous said...

"I think its part of that sociopathic personality that too many police officers have ..."

Smearing police officers with the label sociopathic personality with no empathy is a favorite tactic of the irresponible far left. Personality testing of police officers does not support this biased belief.

The left, being so focused on the supposed mistreatment of criminals, has a real hard time understanding the empathy police officers show to potential victims of crime. Police officer's empathy may be a bit different - and ther gratification comes from protecting the weaker members of society and in capturing those who have destroyed the lives of the truely innocent. The left has empathy for criminals and sees them as innocent - even when their hands are covered with blood from previous crimes.

Anonymous said...

I would advise any police officer who's mentally breaking to become a public school teacher.

Every police officer I know who has become a teacher has done well. The kids respect someone with that kind of presence.

Todd said...

But I shoot spit balls at teachers whenever they turn around.

Donald said...

I don't know any officers who have committed suicide, but I've known many with mental health issues, particularly depression, alcohol and substance abuse issues. And I've seen some of these handled very poorly by their department.

I had one client who had become deeply addicted to Adderol, to the point where he was doctor-shopping for prescriptions. His co-workers all knew he had a problem. When he self-reported his problem, seemingly BECAUSE his co-workers and supervisor already knew he had a problem, it led to his forced separation from the department. I was livid....that's not supposed to happen....and just because the officer is "the last to know," that shouldn't negate whatever benefit department policy says there is for self-reporting.

Knowing what I know about how that situation was handled, if I was an officer in that department and I had a substance abuse problem, I wouldn't report it, either.

Emily said...

The high rate of suicide among police officers might be explained by the fact that every police officer owns a gun and successful suicide rates are extra high among gun owners.
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/211982/suicide_rates_significantly_higher.html

Anonymous said...

Todd, you have done a great job intelligently defending our position against the anti-police rhetoric that I have heard in this strain.

The reason we need SWAT is because they are one of the greatest life saving organizations ever invented.

They can take custody of someone that a normal peace officer with regular equipment would have to shoot or storm a building with great loss of life on both sides of the law.

They train constantly to save lives. Is their job exciting? Yes. Is it boring at times? Yes.

Just because peace officers have a warrior ethos does not mean that we do not have empathy for others.

I am a criminal investigator and I believe that one of my greatest duties is to have empathy and compassion for those who have been victims of crime.

I have to admit that I have less compassion for criminals, but I also feel bad for those who grew up in criminal families or those who were sexually abused into the monsters that they became.

I would challenge anyone who has anti-police sentiments to ride along with officers of your local department; I think for many of you it would change your mind.

Oh, Scott, I still love the article and I believe that mental health should be a priority in law enforcement as in any public service.

Common Sense Cop

Anonymous said...

Hey Ya, let's discuss the suspicious death of my son, Joshua (19), who was found dead in Amsler Park/McGregor, on February 16, 2006 Without investigating or asking me, the mother, any questions, the police presumed his death to be a suicide.
However, after using the FOIA to obtain 'any and all documents related to the death', I learned medical terminology and basic forensics, asked questions of the McGregor PD, contacted the Texas Rangers, McLennan County Sheriff, District Attorney, Senators Hutchinson, Carter, and Cornyn, Governor Perry, etc.
Via an FOIA, I specificallly asked for the time that the complainant called 911, but I was informed that this document had been destroyed! WHY?
After almost 4 years or research, I now believe that Joshua was murdered by McGregor police. To prove this, I have the autopsy report, that has NO etiological specific disease/injury to attribute to the death, such as "Asphyxia by Strangulation."
Read more: www.americaiswatching.org (Joshua Robinson) Attached documents within the story, click on the underlined phrases.
Any suggestions, thoughts, or ideas? Anyone care to help me in my fight for justice?