Suicide in Law Enforcement: Protecting Those Who Serve

Ray Bernier

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The men and women of law enforcement are the first line of defense for the United States’ homeland security. Their mental wellbeing is essential, as they are required to make life-or-death decisions in the course of protecting the citizens they serve. Yet more than 100 law enforcement professionals take their lives through suicide each year.[1] Suicide rates also have increased in the post-9/11 armed forces as the United States continues to participate in conflicts.[2] Although both of these communities—law enforcement and the military—address suicide intervention and prevention through strategies and programs, the problem persists.

The purpose of this research was to analyze various suicide intervention and prevention programs used by military and law enforcement communities to determine whether they are effective in reducing suicides over a measured period of time. Two case studies were compared: the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program, and the Montreal Police Department’s Together for Life suicide prevention program. In addition to the case studies, the research analyzed four individual prevention strategies: pre-employment psychological screening, peer counseling programs, gatekeeper programs, and employee assistance programs. Although no empirical data was found to quantify their degree of effectiveness, each protocol showed some utility as part of an intervention or prevention strategy.

The research concluded that, as shown in the case study comparison and backed by preexisting data, when programs combine several individual suicide prevention strategies they create a synergistic effect that significantly reduces suicides.[3]

Organizations that adopt a holistic approach to suicide prevention are more likely to prevent suicide than those that rely on individual strategies. When leadership, first line supervisors, employees, family members, and union representatives are included in early intervention efforts, at-risk employees are less likely to be isolated from the care they need. Inclusion of leadership also plays a pivotal role in messaging the importance of suicide prevention, which mitigates the stigma and cultural barriers associated with seeking psychological care.

While these findings are based on the limited research conducted for this thesis, they do provide a starting point for leadership to resolve a significant issue that faces this country’s security institutions.

 

[1] Badge of Life, accessed November 13, 2017, http://www.badgeoflife.com/.

[2] Update on Military Suicide Prevention Programs: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, 114th Cong., 56 (2015) (statement of Honorable Susan A. Davis, representative from California, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel).

[3] For case studies, see Kerry L. Knox et al., “The U.S. Air Force Suicide Prevention Program: Implications for Public Health Policy,” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. 12 (December 2010): 2458, http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.159871; Brian L. Mishara and Martin Normand, “Effects of a Comprehensive Police Suicide Prevention Program,” Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention 33, no. 3 (2012): 162–168.

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