Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Suicide by Cop

On this blog, I deal with relationship issues. Often of the romantic flavor, but not always. Sometimes I deal with family, occasionally I touch on a topic that is about individuals. Today is one of the latter.

I had heard that some professions are more dangerous. We all have. There was even a TV show with that theme. But I was reminded recently how danger can come in many forms.

Usually when we hear or read the phrase, “suicide by cop”, we think of the sadly deranged individuals who are unable to take their own lives, so they bait police officers to do it for them. They threaten the lives and well-being of our officers so they will be shot dead.

Sad as this situation is, a more horrifying definition of “suicide by cop” is the one in which our law enforcement officers take their own lives.

Leading cause of death among police officers is suicide. Police officers are two to three (some say four) times more likely to die by their own hand than through a felonious act.

I recently got these statistics at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Portland. The panel, “Talking Shop: Getting Law Enforcement Details Right”, included Neal Griffin as moderator, Ellen Kirschman, Terry Odell, Adam Plantinga, and David Putnam. All but one of the panelists had experience in some aspect of law enforcement, so they knew what they were talking about.

Ellen Kirschman’s experience was as a psychologist with law enforcement. She has written informational books about issues that confront law enforcement officers and their families. But most recently, she published her first novel, Burying Ben, that is the story of a young police officer who blames the department psychologist for his decision to take his own life.

Disheartening statistics I found with some investigation was that the national suicide rate in 2009 was 18.1 per 100,000 officers. That translated to about 300 police suicides annually. (Other studies are not that high.)

91% of law enforcement suicides are by males. Ages 35-44 (depending on year) were at greatest risk over the years of the study. 63% were single. Time on the job: most risk at 15-19 years. Suicides occurred most often with their own service weapons.

In a study of law enforcement suicides in 2008-2012, there was a slight drop in law enforcement officer suicides 2012. This was the first drop since the group had been tracking suicides.

A number of factors have been identified as stressors that might lead officers to take their own lives: shift work, frustrations with the criminal justice system, alcohol/drug abuse, personal legal difficulties, and negative view by the public. Stress with alcohol and depression was the most likely combination in suicides.

A number of groups are looking at the risk factors and are trying to come up with support structures for troubled officers. Let’s hope they are given the resources to do so.

It is horrifying that so many of the people we depend upon for our safety, people who serve as our buffer between what is right and what is wrong, are in so much pain.

Next time you encounter an officer, in either an official or unofficial capacity, remember to thank him or her for their service. It is the one small thing each of us can do. With enough small things, maybe we get a starfish thing going for someone.

Read More:
I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, Ellen Kirschman

Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, Ellen Kirschman

“A Study of Police Suicides in 2008-2012” http://www.policesuicidestudy.com/

“Law Enforcement Suicide: Current Knowledge and Future Directions” http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2669&issue_id=52012


  1. Sure didn't know that sad statistic about our police. Excellent post.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. It is very sad. I know people kind of know this happens, but I'm not sure they know just how common it is. I surely didn't until I heard the presentation and did some reading.