Darrin Harris, 56, an active-duty commander of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was one of four members of the LASD who killed themselves within a 24 hour period this week.
The first death was reported on Monday morning at 10:30 a.m., the second one a little after noon the same day, the third one in the early evening, and the fourth one on Tuesday around 7:30 a.m., according to the department.
The string of four suicides has left many reeling.
“Our LASD family has experienced a significant amount of loss and tragedies this year,” said Sheriff Robert Luna in a written statement. “We are stunned to learn of these deaths, and it has sent shockwaves of emotions throughout the department as we try to cope with the loss of not just one, but four beloved active and retired members of our department family.”
Luna urged department members, regardless of rank or position, “to check on the well-being of other colleagues and friends.”
Commander Harris was a spokesman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station who was then promoted to become a lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. After that, he was a captain who led the department’s transportation services.
Another of the four, Greg Hovland, was a retired sergeant who worked in the Antelope Valley. Hovland is the only retiree of the four.
The other two department members were not initially named, but both are believed to have worked in the LASD’s custody facilities. One, a woman, age 60, was reportedly a custody assistant at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.
The fourth, a male, was located at a hospital in the city of Pomona, and is believed to have worked at the North County Correctional Facility, also in Castaic, CA.
A retired member of the department who had supervised Harris early in the commander’s career, texted us his thoughts about the painful news.
Causes and effects
“He was squared away,” the retiree wrote of Harris. “He survived the Tanaka b.s. and had a good career.”
But something changed.
Another retired LASD member who has known colleagues who have committed suicide, wrote about what he saw, in retrospect, as signs and symptoms.
“Feeling that supervisors don’t care about you” is one of those signs, he wrote.
According to Boston University researcher Anthony Ford, in recent years, police officers are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.
Former police officer turned clinician, John Becker, writes on the topic that supervisors have a role to play in changing those numbers by ensuring open communication.
“Simply asking a subordinate how their shift went that day would encourage communication,” he writes.
A healthy department will have fewer complaints and lawsuits, fewer officers calling in sick, fewer grievances and resignations, and even fewer on-the-job injuries, and fewer suicides, according to Becker.
Another well-connected LASD retiree echoed Becker when he wrote to us about watching deputies pushed into much more overtime and extra shifts than is healthy.
“It’s a freaking nightmare,” he said.
And that nightmare must be addressed from the top.
“We are urgently exploring avenues to reduce work stress factors to support our employees’ work and personal lives,” said Sheriff Luna in one of his statements regarding this week’s suicides.
May it be so.