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Suicide on the Force


Yesterday, the LAPD’s chief psychologist, Kevin Jablonski,
told the Police Commission that cops were twice as likely to kill themselves as to be killed in the line of duty. And to help turn those stats around, the Los Angeles Police Department is starting its first suicide prevention program. (Both the Daily News and the LA Times have short articles on Jablonski’s report.)

The LAPD’s suicide rate is higher than that of New York’s police and most other big city forces. Most, but not all. San Diego’s is higher. Higher still is the FBI. And highest of all are the suicide rates for US Customs officers.

The National Police Suicide Foundation
has some interesting articles on the subject. Here’s a thoughtful clip from one of them:

Ernesto Banuelos did not die on the street. He shot himself to death one morning in 1997. Despite a growing acknowledgement of the problem, the topic of suicide remains taboo among much of law enforcement’s rank and file. To some extent, psychologists say, that is merely a reflection of society as a whole — uncomfortable with the idea of people taking their own lives. But experts say that those who make their living projecting strength and control are especially reluctant to admit that they need psychological help. They fear they will be perceived as weak.

”Cops don’t talk about that kind of stuff,” says Jerry Sanders, former San Diego police chief. ”They either do it. Or they don’t.”

In many departments, ”if it’s known you’ve thought about suicide,
or you’re depressed, it’s next to impossible for you to progress through the ranks,” says Ivanoff, who worked on a 1994 project that evaluated New York City police officers’ attitudes about suicide. ”Because of the negative effect it can have on your career, officers are extremely reluctant to identify each other as needing help and will go to great lengths to ‘protect’ somebody who needs help rather than helping them get it.”

The stress that often leads an officer to commit suicide is at least partially the result of unrealistically high expectations of being a successful cop. ”If you’re a carpenter and you drop your hammer, you bend over and pick it up,” says Don Sheehan, director of the stress management program at the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit. ”What happens to a police officer who drops his gun during a bank robbery or misspeaks during a trial? They have to always be in control. Officers learn very early on that they have to always be right.”

It’s been my experience that police officers, like soldiers, often feel that there are few others outside their own ranks with whom they can discuss the intensity of what they experience on the job—and that’s not good.

Not an easy problem to solve. But kudos to the LAPD for taking it on.


  • “Officers learn very early on that they have to always be right.”

    And who is it that is always suing or attacking police for every little thing that wasn’t done perfectly? It’s the ACLU, the liberals, the media, and spineless politicians. A criticism that I had for the police is that it took too many blows to get Rodney King under control.

  • Thanks Woody. What the majority of people do not understand in regards to Rodney King is that the police officers involved were following department policy. They were taught a use of force policy that starts with verbal commands, when those don’t work, you attempt compliance through wrist locks or joint locks, when that deosn’t work you have to escalate into a higher level of use of force all the way up to deadly force. What everyone saw, or should I say didn’t see, was that the officers involved had reached that higher level of use of force where nothing prior worked, King was continually compbative, they even swarmeed him, and with the aid of a PCP-induced state of mind, he effortlessly shrugged 800 pounds of officers off of him. What do you do? You refer to your training that you were taught in the academy and you escalate your use of force to accommodate an aggressive-combative suspect. Well into using verbal commands, non-compliant joint locks, swarming, the officers had to finally pull out their batons (they actually have a purpose) and begin to give distraction strikes to gain compliance. You strike, back off, and then give commands. None of this was working on King and he continually resisted and even charged at police officers. Complinace was eventually gained, but not before a recording captured the entire incident completely out of context. The recording was then shown to an audience largely unfamiliar with police or LAPD use of force training, and drawn further out of context by a liberal media. Those officers NEVER should have faced discipline. Police work is not pretty, sometimes you have to use force!

  • If that was “policy”
    no wonder we had riots in ’92. And thank God we got rid of Daryl Gates,

    Here’s a hint: Police are CIVIL Law Enforcement. Not an occupying Army. Sorry guys if you want to fight join the real Army and give the rest of us a break!

  • Richard, what do you expect the cops to do? Ask him nicely to stop resisting and hope and pray that he does? All critics like yourself have no answer for that. Sometimes when you make an arrest or just talk to someone they want to fight you. Should we just stand there and take it? Again, policing is NOT pretty, sometimes violence occurs. That is the unfortunate reality. It’s very easy easy to tell you are not a police officer because you have no clue as to what is REALLY happening.
    Educate yourself before you pop off at the mouth.

  • Oh by the way it IS policy. If you resist an LAPD officer today we are trained and authorized to ask again when non-communicative, apply a hands-on joint or wrist lock when non-compliant, use less-than-lethal force (baton, pepper-spray, distraction strikes, bean-bag shotgun, etc) when a subject is aggressive or combative with us, and finally deadly force when we have an In-Defense-Of-Life situation either my own or someone elses.

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